Memorandum submitted by Anne Bell, Willow Nursery School

 

1. I am the Headteacher of a Nursery School in Central Bedfordshire. My school has had an "outstanding" Ofsted report and has received many awards for its good practice, including the Becta Award, the NACE Award and the Basic Skills Award.

2. As a Nursery Headteacher, I have represented my colleagues on the Schools Forum and on the Early Years Reference Group. Both groups have been looking at ways to implement the Early Years Single Funding Formula.

3. In September, I received the budget figures which will apply to my school once the EYSFF is implemented. The drop in funding will equate to approximately one quarter of my current budget.

4. I have since been looking at various scenarios which would enable my school to survive. Staffing cuts and staffing redundancies will be inevitable. I currently have two qualified teachers and myself on the staff, as well as nursery nurses and teaching assistants. The EYSFF will mean that we will only afford one teacher, with myself working on a part-time basis (2 days per week). We will also have to replace some of our current Level 3 staff with less expensive Level 2 staff. The loss of highly qualified staff can only lead to a lowering of standards, as it will mean that there will effectively be only one qualified teacher and one Level 3 teaching assistant to 100 children.

5. In our authority, the EYSFF has not been based on a detailed analysis of providers' costs, even though the DCSF guidance states that it should have been. The EYSFF has not taken account of the unavoidable costs in a Nursery School of paying qualified teachers, qualified Nursery Nurses, premises staff and premises costs. For instance, a teacher who is mid-range on the payscale would cost a school 40,000 and a premises officer would cost 20,000. We also have the unavoidable costs of being a maintained school e.g. buying back into the Local Authority's payroll provider, HR services, exchequer services, broadband provider etc. In my school, these expenses cost us over 10,000 each year.

6. If the EYFSS is implemented, the cuts in our capacity will mean that we will be unable to provide our outreach services or our Before/After School services, all of which most benefit our more disadvantaged families.

7. It has long been recognized and indeed proven by research, that maintained Nursery Schools provide the highest quality early years education and it has long been recognized (even by the DCSF) that there are added costs involved. However, the EYSFF in our LA has not taken account of this. Granted, there is a quality supplement of 10p included in the base rate but, in my school, that amounts to only 3,500 per annum, which goes nowhere towards paying two teachers on 40,000 each and two Nursery Nurses at 22,000 each per annum.

8. There are four Nursery Schools in Central Bedfordshire. All four have already consulted with HR regarding potential teacher and Headteacher redundancies. Obviously, if the schools can no longer afford Headteachers, then they will have to federate or amalgamate, thus losing one of the main advantages of being a Nursery School i.e. a dedicated, specialised Headteacher to lead strategy and direction.

9. The LA has recently had correspondence from Dawn Pimarolo, reinforcing the message that Nursery schools must not be "strangulated" into closing. However, without enough funding to adequately staff my school, there can be no other way out.

10. It also appears that different Local Authorities are interpreting the DCSF guidance differently and that some Nursery Schools, as a result, are being more protected than others.

11. One of the purposes of the EYSFF is, apparently, to improve funding for the Private, Voluntary and Independent sector. However, as this is being done by redistributing the funding previously allocated to the Nursery Schools, rather than an injection of new funding, the Nursery Schools lose out and the PVI sector gains by only very small amounts, if at all. For instance, in Central Bedfordshire, 150,000 from four Nursery Schools will be redistributed to 120 PVI settings, so they each gain 1,200 at most. Is it really worth teacher and Headteacher redundancies and the closure of the Nursery Schools for this small amount of money?

12. My school serves some of the most disadvantaged children in the Local Authority. Our data shows that these children, as a result of our intervention, make comparable progress with the rest of the cohort. This is due to the specialized, Early Years-trained staff who know how best to support nursery-aged children. This will be lost if we cannot afford to pay our staff.

13. The four Nursery Schools in Central Bedfordshire take the lead within the Local Authority with regard to Early Years practice. In the future, our staffing cuts will mean that we will no longer have the capacity to do this.

14. From an ethical standpoint, it is difficult to reconcile the fact that money that had previously been allocated to the public service will now be allocated to profit-making organizations. Also, these organizations are not subject to the same financial regulations that schools are subject to.

15. My Nursery School takes children in termly, the term after their third birthday. However, due to local admissions arrangements with the Lower Schools, most of the children leave us in the summer after their fourth birthday. This means that we have spare places in the Autumn term, which are then filled by the January intake of children. However, this penalizes us, as we are not full in the Autumn. Even if there were enough children in the area to enable us to fill up each September, and thereby maximize funding, this would create a fresh problem, as there would be no place for the January or Easter intakes and children would have to wait until the next September before being offered a place.

16. There is recorded evidence that Nursery Schools provide high quality education and care. There is no evidence that this will happen in the PVI sector and there is no planned quality assurance. What a risk to take with public funds! What happens if this redistribution of funds does nothing to raise standards in the PVI and yet lowers standards in the maintained sector? This means a net loss overall and the recipients of this loss are the children of the future.

17. This is a poorly thought out, irresponsible initiative. By all means, make every effort to raise standards in the PVI sector, but use fresh funding to do so. Otherwise, we are robbing Peter to pay Paul and everyone loses.

18. Possible ways forward:

An injection of new funding into the PVI sector, rather than redistributing funding that was previously allocated to Nursery Schools

LAs to be obliged to include a credible quality factor (not a mere 10p per hour) that recognizes the costs of nursery teachers and nursery nurses

LAs to be obliged to include a factor to cover premises costs

Nursery Schools not to be charged for the unavoidable services that are part and parcel of being a maintained school within a Local Authority e.g the costs of buying back the HR service, the broadband service etc.

Continue to fund on a place-led basis

November 2009