Nurseries ‘could close’ if free childcare hours double

Nursery pupil. PHOTO: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Nursery pupil. PHOTO: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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Hundreds of nursery schools could be forced to close if the Government goes ahead with plans to offer parents 30 hours of free childcare, a teaching union has warned.

Pre-schools in England would “cease to be financially viable” after the planned two years of financial support from the taxpayer ends, because of the costs associated with the extra places, the NAHT said.

The school leaders’ union said analysis carried out with the charity Early Education showed nurseries in the local authority areas with the highest number of nurseries - including Lancashire, Binrmingham city and Hertfordshire - would see huge cuts in funding if the proposal to double the current 15 hours of free time was introduced.

Its general secretary, Russell Hobby, contrasted the situation with Theresa May’s announcement to open a new wave of grammar schools, saying: “The Department for Education’s (DfE) own data shows that any funding approach that does not reflect these costs on an ongoing basis will be a body blow for early years education in nursery schools.

“There is additional funding available, but only for two years. After that point, England’s nursery schools will cease to be financially viable.

“The 30 hours offer will be doomed before it even gets started, additional places won’t materialise and current places will be lost as nursery schools across England close their doors for good. The government has the data - it must rethink before thousands of families, many in the poorest areas of the country, are left high and dry.

“In contrast to grammar schools, high-quality nursery education is a proven method of helping the most disadvantaged families. It is inexplicable that a government serious about social mobility would focus on one at the expense of the other.”

Thursday is the deadline for submissions to the Government’s consultation on the plan to extend early years funding for three- and four-year-old children.

In April, a poll of childcare providers carried out by the Pre-school Learning Alliance found that almost half of childcare providers feared they could be forced to close as a result of the 30-hour offer.

The online poll also found that 48% of providers felt they would have to reduce the number of places they offered to other age groups.

Valerie Daniel, headteacher of Washwood Heath Nursery School in Birmingham said: “The Government seems to recognise the quality of early years education such settings provide, but has no plans to secure their future beyond the two years of transitional funding set out.

“This will lead to a massive loss for nursery schools, with larger settings potentially losing more than £200,000 from their current budgets, which have already been hit by local budget cuts.

“I fear that a significant loss to maintained nursery budgets will create a ripple effect on safeguarding the most vulnerable children in the region.”

John Pugh, the Lib Dem education spokesman, said: “The Government are brick by brick dismantling many of the educational achievements of the coalition government. Evidence shows that solid progress in the nursery sector does more for social mobility than selection at 11 but yet again ideology trumps evidence.

“This lethal combination of haphazard planning and prejudice will decimate one of the most treasured and valued sectors of our educational system.”

However, the Department for Education said the funding was for at least two years and it planned to speak with the industry over funding after that.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Our proposals for supplementary funding, which takes account of maintained nursery schools’ current funding rates, are for at least two years.

“This extra funding will provide stability for nursery schools, which make a valuable contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children.

“The funding is part of our record investment in early years - £6 billion per year by 2020. We will be consulting with the maintained nursery schools’ sector on future funding in due course.”