Memorandum submitted by Aclet Close Nursery School
1. Professional Background
i. I am Headteacher of Aclet Close Nursery School, a maintained Nursery School in Bishop Auckland County Durham. I have been Headteacher here for 7 years, and before that Headteacher of a similar school in Cumbria for 6 years. Before coming in to Early Years Education I had a successful business career, at an executive level, principally in the Food Industry, and therefore I bring a degree of detachment to financial issues. As a headteacher I currently work with the National College for School and Centre Leadership, sitting on their graduation boards.
ii. I have been involved with Early Years issues for many years, having been involved in the early stages of Early Excellence Centres (from which Children's Centres developed), and also was a member of the Early Years Forum in Cumbria, working alongside the PVI sector as well as schools with early years units.
iii. I represent all County Durham's maintained nursery schools on the Durham County Council (DCC) Schools' Forum, and (as a side issue) am a member of the local Children's Board for the Durham Dales, part of the County's Children's Trust arrangements.
iv. With this background I believe I am well positioned to make objective comment about progress and potential impact of the EYSFF.
2. Progress in County Durham
i. There is a general groundswell of support for Nursery Schools within the local authority. This is because there has always been an awareness of the significance of early intervention to the progress children make throughout their education, and the high quality education consistently delivered by Nursery Schools throughout the County.
ii. Most importantly there are 12 Nursery Schools in County Durham - 11 of them were judged to be "Outstanding" by Ofsted at their last inspection. They are seen as beacons of excellence, and many schools work in partnership with the PVI sector, for example assisting them with the new Self Evaluation Forms (SEF).
iii. Because of this, the School's Forum decided that Nursery School's budgets would be protected at current levels until 31 March 2011.
iv. As of today (12/11/09), no work has been presented to the Schools' Forum to indicate that preliminary work has been done as suggested in the official guidance, for example to establish a costs base for the PVI sector.
v. Schools were officially briefed about the potential changes during the last academic year, and volunteers sought for a working group. This group did not meet in 2008 - 9.
vi. The Schools Funding Team have finally convened a working group, of which I am a member, to start to work on these issues. It is due to have its first meeting on 13 November 2009.
3. Potential Issues
i. In advance of these meetings I cannot comment on the nature of the formula itself, other than to say that the Nursery Schools will be pressing hard to keep as much of their budgets as possible. They are not over generous even now, and merely allow a 1:13 ratio of staff. Schools have maintained modest surplus balances for many years aware that there would ultimately be a need to buffer staff from sudden budget shortages. The DCSF rulings on capping of surplus budgets have made this increasingly difficult.
ii. Whatever the nature of the formula, Nursery Schools in Durham will face a reduction in budget as they move from a strategic place-led funding to attendance led funding.
Aclet Close Nursery School as an example
Aclet Close Nursery School - outstanding in 2008 - is situated in an area of Local Authority housing, and an area of nationally significant social and economic deprivation. It is funded on the principle of 42 full-time - equivalent (fte) places. During the Autumn term there is usually an average of 65 part-time children (32.5 fte) in school, rising to near capacity in the Spring Term. This year the school is full from January, but this varies from year to year with the birth-rate.
A simple calculation will show that when funding is based on occupancy the school will lose as follows:
Change from 42 place funding to a capacity of 39 - LOSS of 7.1%
Actual likely occupancy, 88% over year - additional LOSS of: 12.0%
This produces a total budget reduction of: 19.1%
Of a TOTAL budget of approximately £260,000 - Budget Reduction £49,660
iv. This is effectively means that I must lose one of my three classroom staff. If this is not to be a teacher, it will mean losing more than one member of staff.
v. If it is a teacher I shall have to return to having a full-time teaching commitment, with no dedicated headship time, contrary to guidance in the School Teachers Pay & Conditions documents. I will be unable to play a full role in the developing Children's Trust arrangements, unable to develop Community Cohesion, unable to see the wider picture, and unable fully to engage with a wide variety of stakeholders.
vi. Other cutbacks would mean the loss of the schools ability to provide the required Flexible Free Offer, as we would have no ability to provide full days.
vii. If it is more than one member of staff to be cut then the school will close, as we would no longer have the statutorily required staff : pupil ratios.
viii. Effectively the school's staffing will become unviable.
ix. Whatever the staffing loss choice, it will INEVITABLY lead to a fall in standards, because there is ample evidence, accepted by the Government (and others) in numerous reports, that the quality of teaching and learning in settings is directly related to the quality and quantity of skilled practitioners. In practice it will result in the effective closure of the school.
x. It should be noted that Aclet Close is situated on Woodhouse Close, an area with nationally recognised issues of deprivation and disadvantage.
"At the individual LSOA level, it is Woodhouse Close Central in Bishop Auckland that again tops the rankings as the most needy LSOA in the County, and its national ranking has also deteriorated."
(Corporate Report to Cabinet, Jan 2008, Durham County Council).
xi. It is, surely, inconceivable that a Nursery School situated in this ward should be put under threat - and yet the current proposals indicate that this is the most likely outcome. Wear Valley is listed in the top 20 most disadvantaged districts in England and has been for many years.
xii. Select Committee members are asked to bear in mind that the cuts indicated above are the minimum likely - a badly designed formula will reduce the budget further which will automatically lead to closure through under-funding.
xiii. Additional problems will be created by the termly nature of funding - in the educational sector we cannot hire quality staff on a weekly basis - staff need to be in place on a continuous basis, to ensure Continuing Professional Development, and to ensure that high quality practitioners do not leave the profession.
4. Final Comments
i. In Durham the Local Authority has traditionally provided the bulk of early years provision, although a mixed economy of providers exist, many working with Primary Schools to provide nursery units and contribute to the Extended Schools Agenda. This is to be applauded.
ii. The high standard within the County has always been set by Nursery Schools, who are dedicated exclusively to the highest standards of early years development. Over recent years many of the Nursery Headteachers in the County have contributed to the development of initiatives like the national Early Years Foundation Stage and Early Excellence Centres through their expertise and experience, formally and informally via their professional networks, and training work.
County Durham, of course, includes the Wingate Nursery training base, a renowned centre for the development of training of practitioners country wide.
iii. It does not exist in isolation - it is part of a culture of excellence that will be irrevocably lost if budgets are reduced as seems likely in view of the current guidance.
iv. Whilst the need for efficient use of scarce resources is understood, these proposals as they stand are destroying an educational service which is acknowledged to be of the highest quality, is located usually in areas of multiple deprivation. and deserves to be given recognition and security to disseminate its good practice still further.