Nursery places for many of London’s most disadvantaged children under threat

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London’s maintained nursery schools provide places to thousands of the capital’s most vulnerable children.  Many of these schools may face closure within the next two years unless the government takes urgent action, London Councils research reveals.

Maintained nurseries are vital to delivering the government’s social mobility agenda. They prioritise working with the most disadvantaged children and provide high quality teaching and support that helps narrow the gap between deprived children and their peers. They also support a disproportionate number of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), particularly those with the most complex needs. Specialist teachers are employed who recognise signs of SEND at an early age and develop learning plans tailored to the needs of each child, ensuring that children with SEND are supported and ready for school.

However it is unclear how much longer these settings can continue to provide this support. The government has invested £60 million to ensure that maintained nursery schools can remain open – but this funding isn’t guaranteed past March 2020. A recent London Councils survey found that maintained nursery schools in over a third of London boroughs may be threatened with closure if the government were to remove this additional investment, and the majority of headteachers interviewed as part of the recent research have warned that they will soon have to begin turning away pupils with complex needs unless more funding is secured.

Cllr Nickie Aiken, London Councils Executive Member for Children’s Services, said: 

“Maintained Nursery Schools provide a vital service for our local communities, equipping some of London’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children with a high quality education to give them the best start in life.

“These schools are specialists in their field and need to be funded accordingly to ensure that this valuable resource is not lost.

“We need to work with government and other partners to ensure that maintained nurseries can continue to provide effective support to disadvantaged children and those with SEND.”

To ensure that maintained nursery schools can continue to provide effective support for the most vulnerable children, London Councils recommends that the government implements a sustainable funding solution for maintained nursery schools, which acknowledges their status as schools, their higher costs, and the distinct role they play in the early years system.

Notes to the editors

Download the report

London has 80 maintained nursery schools (MNSs) in total, across 24 out of 33 boroughs.  These MNSs provide 8,760 funded places to 2, 3 and 4 year olds in London. London Councils conducted interviews with 19 MNSs between March and May this year.

Key Findings

MNSs support a higher number of children with SEND, and a larger proportion of children with the most complex needs, than other provider types. Unlike private and voluntary settings (PVIs), MNSs have to employ qualified teachers, whose expertise and experience ensures that children with SEND are identified early and supported effectively. MNSs put in place targeted support to ensure that children with the most complex needs are able to progress and place a focus on supporting parents of children with SEND.

Disadvantaged children are also over-represented in MNSs for a variety of reasons. MNSs place importance on supporting disadvantaged children to access early years provision by prioritising them in admissions policies and saving spaces for them in the next classes. Staffing levels and qualifications ensure that children who enter MNSs with lower than average levels of development are ready for school when they leave. The emphasis that MNSs place on extra-curricular elements, such as outdoor provision and school trips, exposes children from less well-off backgrounds to a range of cultural opportunities that they may not otherwise experience.

Funding situation

MNSs have higher costs than other setting types, because they have the legal responsibilities of a primary school but are not able to achieve the same economies of scale. Recent policy changes, such as the introduction of 30 hours free entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds with working parents and the Early Years National Funding Formula (EYNFF) have impacted on the financial sustainability of the schools. Providing places for disadvantaged 2 year olds is a priority for MNSs, but the funding for this entitlement does not cover the costs. Finally, MNSs are not sufficiently funded to support the number of children with SEND that they do, with the complexity of needs they present. These factors are combining to create an unsustainable financial situation for MNSs. Headteachers are concerned that they will have to close their schools within the next couple of years, especially if the government were to remove the supplementary funding that is currently being provided to the majority of MNSs until March 2020.