Memorandum submitted by the National Union of Teachers

 

SUMMARY OF THE NUT'S SUBMISSION

 

1. As the EYSFF is based on participation rather than the number of places available at the setting, this gives a clear steer to settings that they must admit children as soon as possible in order to maximise the amount of funding they will receive for the free entitlement. The Government has proposed, however, that all children should be admitted to reception in the September after which they have their fourth birthday. This will reduce significantly the number of four year olds receiving the free entitlement and hence the funding such settings receive.

 

2. The extension of the free entitlement from 12.5 to 15 hours a week for all three and four year olds carries a significant cost implication for settings, particularly maintained nursery settings which employ qualified teachers. Settings cannot simply add the additional 2.5 hours to teachers' existing contact time. Additional staff and/or alternative EYFS activities have to be provided in order to meet the extended hours of the entitlement. This does not appear to have been taken into account by the DCSF.

 

3. A significant driver for the higher costs incurred by maintained nursery schools and classes is the range and type of staff they are required to employ. Local authorities must use the statutory ratios for maintained schools and classes, as set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage document, in order to calculate settings' staff costs. The EYSFF, however, must reflect these as minimum levels of staffing. In many areas these have not been used as the only measure. The levels have been based on the costs of inexperienced staff, and have ignored the costs of post-threshold teachers, those in receipt of Teaching and Learning Responsibility payments or in the Leadership Group.

 

4. The roles of the head teacher and deputy head teacher in maintained nursery settings which are most under threat from the introduction of the EYSFF because of their high costs. The DCSF is aware of this and has already advised local authorities to review senior staffing structures as part of their preparatory work for the EYSFF. Its guidance to local authorities has suggested that they may be replaced by head teachers of primary schools or Centre managers, by federating or amalgamating nursery schools with primary schools or by co-locating them with Children's Centres.

 

5. Nursery school head teachers are well qualified and experienced. They sustain the quality of educational provision and extended services and activities within maintained nursery schools. If this expertise is lost it can never be replaced.

 

6. The EYSFF should include a premium for leadership in maintained nursery schools, not co-location or mergers which will see early years specialist head teachers replaced by those who may have little early years or educational experience.

7. The decision by Government to make a deprivation factor a mandatory part of the formulation of the EYSFF locally was welcome. Full time nursery places, however, which are currently made available by local authorities for this group of children are unlikely to be able to continue to be offered because of the introduction of the EYSFF, as this is based purely on the delivery of the 15 hours of the free entitlement.

 

8. The funding of full time nursery places should be subject to urgent review and that whilst this review takes place, no existing full time places for this group of children should be removed.

 

9. The funding for early years settings which are situated in deprived areas or which admit significant numbers of disadvantaged children should be funded according to the model established for special schools, with the number of places for each setting identified and funded.

 

10. There is no separate allowance for SEN pupils within the EYSFF.

 

11. Local authorities should be able to consider settings which include large numbers of children with SEN on an individual basis. The DCSF should also introduce a supplement to the base rate or the 'deprivation factor' within the EYSFF which takes into account the additional costs for SEN and the inappropriateness of 'flexibility'.

 

12. Similarly as the EYSFF does not include English as an Additional Language (EAL) provision as a separate factor, local authorities should be able to introduce a supplement to the base rate or the 'deprivation factor' within the EYSFF which takes into account the additional costs for EAL early years provision.

 

13. The NUT supports the use of staff qualifications as a proxy indicator for the quality supplement but the additional costs associated with employing a qualified teacher need to be reflected in the calculations for the supplement. In this context it is worth noting that there is a strong correlation in numerous research studies between the employment of qualified early years teachers and the highest quality provision. A sliding scale for the quality supplement, which takes into account both employment of EYPs or graduates and of qualified teachers should be introduced.

 

14. A number of local authorities have proposed using OFSTED inspection judgements as the means of defining 'quality' for the purposes of the EYSFF. The NUT opposes this approach as in no other sector are OFSTED judgements linked to funding formula calculations.

 

15. A sophisticated measure that looks at 'quality' in the round should be used, such as the internationally recognised Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), which differentiates between 'teachers' and 'graduates' in terms of quality of provision.

 

16. There is no specific supplement within the EYSFF which reflects the fact that many maintained nursery schools do much more than provide education and care.

 

17. Settings which offer training and professional development to students or staff elsewhere should also be rewarded via the quality supplement, in recognition of the significant contributions such settings make to raising the quality of provision across the sectors.

 

18. It is very likely that there will be pressure to remove the best practice model of a phased entry or 'staggered start' to early years settings, as all children will be required to enter the setting at the beginning of the school year in order for the setting to secure maximum levels of funding.

 

19. The DCSF should consider ways in which the EYSFF can accommodate phased entry admission in order for children to join nursery provision when it is developmentally most appropriate for them, in order that they will gain the most benefit from attending the setting. It would suggest that local authorities should be able to count children who are registered at the setting but not attending immediately as 'participating' for the purposes of funding.

 

20. The EYSFF should accommodate the costs of home visits and review the timing of the allocation of funding. For example, funding for the home visits could be included in the previous year's budget based on projected numbers. The NUT would urge the Committee to recognise that a greater degree of flexibility is required under the EYSFF in order to continue to fund this important practice.

 

21. The NUT believes that the EYSFF should be used to invest in high quality provision for local children and not diverted into other activities, including profits for providers and any shareholders of larger nursery chains.

22. The DCSF should re-consider funding arrangements for profit-making settings, including with reference to the current arrangements for penalising schools which have significant surplus budgets.

 

23. The DCSF appears to have realised belatedly that maintained nursery schools and classes are under threat as a result of the introduction of the EYSFF. This is too little too late.

 

24. Urgent action is needed now to revise the guidance on the EYSFF as, once transitional protection funding has ended, it is unlikely that nursery schools will continue to exist in England. As an absolute minimum, there must be a commitment from Government to review the impact of the EYSFF on settings which are adversely affected once it has been fully introduced in 2010 and to reinstating, as a minimum, current levels of funding received.

 

25. The Committee should recommend to the Government in the strongest terms the need to stop and re-evaluate its policy on Early Years Funding before it is too late - once maintained nursery schools have gone, they will never be replaced.

 

 

THE FULL SUBMISSION FROM THE NUT

 

1. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) welcomes the Committee's decision to conduct an inquiry into the introduction of the Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF). The inquiry is particularly pertinent given the Government's timetable for the implementation of the EYSFF and that many local authorities' final proposals for the new funding arrangements are currently out for consultation, which have provided detailed information about potential future budgets for settings for the first time in many cases.

 

2. As a result of the level of casework and concern expressed by its members arising from local EYSFF proposals, the NUT is currently running a national survey of its early years members in a representative sample of local authorities in England. Preliminary data from the survey has been included in the submission to illustrate the NUT's views on this issue. The NUT would be delighted to forward to the Committee the final survey report when it is completed in early 2010.

 

LACK OF COHERENCE IN GOVERNMENT EARLY YEARS POLICY

 

3. The NUT believes that the combined effect of the introduction between April and September 2010 of the EYSFF, the extension of the free entitlement to early learning and care for three and four year olds and the proposed single point of entry into reception classes are already, and will continue to have serious implications for maintained early years settings in particular.

 

4. As the EYSFF is based on participation rather than the number of places available at the setting, this gives a clear steer to settings that they must admit children as soon as possible in order to maximise the amount of funding they will receive for the free entitlement. The Government has proposed, however, that all children should be admitted to reception in the September after which they have their fourth birthday. This will reduce significantly the number of four year olds receiving the free entitlement and hence the funding such settings receive. As one respondent to the NUT's survey reported:

 

"we lose 156,000 plus Standards Fund plus loss of funding to day care nursery as NEG (Nursery Education Grant - current mechanism for funding the entitlement) children will be in school."

 

5. Although under the Government's proposals, which are still currently out for consultation, parents would have the right to choose whether their child attended reception or early years provision, many are likely to opt for the former, either because of the strong message communicated by Government agencies that this would provide a better preparation for children's later school career or because of perceptions that this would improve parents' chances of gaining a place at the primary school of their choice.

 

6. In addition, the extension of the free entitlement from 12.5 to 15 hours a week for all three and four year olds carries a significant cost implication for settings, particularly maintained nursery settings which employ qualified teachers. Settings cannot simply add the additional 2.5 hours to teachers' existing contact time, therefore additional staff and/or alternative EYFS activities have to be provided in order to meet the extended hours of the entitlement. This does not appear to have been taken into account by the authors of the DCSF's guidance to local authorities on developing the EYSFF.

 

7. As the EYSFF only provides funding for the children who actually attend the setting in any one term, it is likely that many settings will be unable to afford to employ teachers on other than a short term basis, as there may simply not be enough four year olds left in nursery provision to attract the necessary resources. Although statutory staffing ratios are contained within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which require, for example, that one teacher is employed for every 13 children, EYSFF proposals locally have been constructed without reference to this. Settings are being placed in an invidious position of having to consider making redundancies as a result of the new funding arrangements, even though they are aware of the importance of continuity of staffing and the retention of experienced specialist early years teachers to the quality of the provision.

 

8. Although all three proposals have emanated from the same department within the DCSF, there appears to be a lack of 'joined up thinking' about what the cumulative effect of all three policy initiatives would be on the ground. The NUT would recommend that the timetable for the EYSFF, extension and entry to reception should be suspended until the DCSF has re-considered the evidence from the three pilot schemes as a whole, rather than as three separate strands, as it is the interaction between the different policy developments which will have serious unintended consequences for individual settings.

 

9. The DCSF guidance, for example, advises local authorities that their EYSFF should recognise the possible additional costs associated with "supporting, promoting and incentivising flexible patterns of delivery", therefore additional financial payments may be available to settings which do offer more flexible hours, regardless of the quality of that provision. This is inextricably linked with the extension of the free entitlement to early education and care for three and four year olds and Government's wish that this should be offered flexibly, to meet the needs of parents.

 

10. The NUT believes that, as responsibility for offering flexible provision lies with local authorities and there is no requirement for all settings to offer the free entitlement flexibly, local authorities should not introduce a flexibility supplement as part of the EYSFF but should 'incentivise' flexible delivery through the separate funding stream made available to local authorities by Government to support the introduction of the extended free entitlement. It should certainly not be used to divert funding away from high quality settings which offer more traditional patterns of delivery.

 

MAINTAINED SECTOR COSTS

 

11. As noted above, the NUT believes that maintained settings will be most adversely affected by the introduction of the EYSFF, with maintained nursery schools in particular likely to suffer swingeing cuts as a result. This view is supported by both the recent Early Education report on the EYSFF and the DCSF's own evaluation report of its Pathfinder pilot scheme and is a direct consequence of moving from place-led funding, which has historically been the means by which funding for the maintained early years sector has been calculated, to participation-led funding.

 

12. This change in arrangements was brought about, to a large extent, by private and independent providers' perceptions that the maintained sector received the lion's share of early years funding and were unfairly subsidised, making it harder for them to compete. Such perceptions failed to take into account, however, the far higher running costs most maintained settings have and the higher quality of provision generally on offer, which are considered in more detail below.

 

13. A particular issue for maintained nursery schools is that their premises costs are considered to be unduly high when compared to, for example, provision which is situated in community centres or church halls and that the high quality of provision which such dedicated premises allow them to offer is not acknowledged by the local authority. In other cases, it may be that related costs such as the outdoor space occupied by the setting, utilities, cleaning supplies and maintenance are not factored in to local authorities' calculations.

 

14. In the evaluation of the EYSFF pilot conducted on behalf of the DCSF, it was reported that maintained settings were frequently disadvantaged due to their lack of precise knowledge as to what their settings cost to run beyond their devolved budget responsibilities and, in some cases, the apparent inability of the local authorities to provide this information for them.

 

15. Additional guidance should be provided by the DSCF to local authorities on the identification of all of the costs incurred by maintained nursery provision, including management, administration and premises costs, as the rationale for a higher base rate for maintained nursery provision.

 

STAFFING

 

16. A significant driver for the higher costs incurred by maintained nursery schools and classes is the range and type of staff they are required to employ. Local authorities must use the statutory ratios for maintained schools and classes, as set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage document, in order to calculate settings' staff costs. The EYSFF, however, must reflect these as minimum levels of staffing. In many areas, however, these have not been used at all or used as the only measure and have been based on the costs of inexperienced staff, ignoring the costs of post-threshold teachers, those in receipt of Teaching and Learning Responsibility payments or in the Leadership Group.

 

17. Whilst the costs of qualified teachers are fixed and determined nationally, PVI settings are able to employ Early Years Professionals (EYPs) to lead practice instead. EYPs are much cheaper to employ as they are not subject to the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document or any other nationally agreed pay and conditions. This in itself will account for a considerable variation between the maintained and PVI sector in terms of staffing costs. This issue was frequently highlighted by respondents to the NUT's survey:

 

"The proposals are not taking account of the legislative differences between the maintained sector and PVIs e.g. requirement on schools to have QTS at 1:26 ratio."

 

"I am very concerned that I employ a qualified teacher and two NVQ Level 3 TAs in my nursery class. Private sector employs unqualified staff and uses a significant number of trainees."

 

18. It is, however, the role of the head teacher and deputy head teacher in maintained nursery settings which is most under threat from the introduction of the EYSFF because of their high costs. The DCSF is aware of this and has already advised local authorities to review senior staffing structures as part of their preparatory work for the EYSFF. It has suggested in its guidance to local authorities that they may be replaced by head teachers of primary schools or Centre managers, by federating or amalgamating nursery schools with primary schools or by co-locating them with Children's Centres.

 

"Deputies and Heads are all very considered about the loss of jobs which we consider a very realistic possibility."

 

19. The NUT believes that this is a very irresponsible approach to take, as the majority of nursery school head teachers are well qualified and experienced. They sustain the quality of educational provision and extended services and activities within maintained nursery schools. If this expertise is lost it can never be replaced. Leadership is seen as crucial to raising standards within the primary and secondary sectors; it should be no different for the early years sector.

 

20. Not only would this approach compromise seriously the high quality provision which the EYSFF is intended to secure, it also has implications for staff development and promotion within these settings and is likely to have an adverse impact on staff recruitment and retention.

 

21. The NUT would recommend that the EYSFF should include a premium for leadership in maintained nursery schools, not co-location or mergers which will see early years specialist head teachers replaced by those who may have little early years or educational experience.

 

FULL TIME NURSERY PLACES AND DEPRIVATION

 

22. The NUT is equally concerned about the impact of the EYSFF on professional practice and on the quality of the provision children experience, including some of the most vulnerable children who are supposedly the impetus behind all of the Government's early years reforms.

 

23. The decision by Government, announced via its recent White Paper, to make a deprivation factor a mandatory part of the formulation of the EYSFF locally, with the express aim to "narrow the achievement gap" was extremely welcome. It would appear, however, that full time nursery places which are currently made available by local authorities for this group of children are unlikely to be able to continue to be offered because of the introduction of the EYSFF, as this is based purely on the delivery of the 15 hours of the free entitlement.

 

24. The DCSF in its guidance to local authorities says that the staffing component used to calculate EYSFF base rates should include the number of hours allocated to the free entitlement to early education and care for three and four year olds and advises that "for a teacher in a nursery class, for example, all of their time and therefore salary is attributable to the free entitlement". This advice ignores, however, those maintained nursery schools and classes which go beyond the free entitlement and offer full time places, particularly for disadvantaged groups of children.

 

25. Even though many local authorities have given high priority in the past to supporting deprived young children and have made a political decision to fund it because of the social long-term benefits it brings, including the fact that it encourages participation in early education where parents would not be able to afford to pay for 'top ups' to the free entitlement themselves, the EYSFF does not provide sufficient flexibility for local authorities to continue with this practice, however much they might wish to.

 

26. The removal of full time places and the impact on the children who receive them has been a common theme in responses to the NUT's survey to date, as approximately 62 per cent of maintained nursery schools are situated in areas of disadvantage and others are used as training hubs for such provision because of their expertise in working with deprived children and their families.

 

"Losing full time nursery places for our inner city EAL children will be extremely detrimental to their education."

 

"Many children will now lose their entitlement to a free school meal."

 

"Parents will be forced back onto benefits because of the loss of full time places."

 

"We may close. Like many other Birmingham nursery schools we offer only full time places. Birmingham is effectively ceasing to fund the vast majority of full time places. We cannot fill our places with part time children because of other provision in the area. Will definitely have to make staff redundant and ultimately may close. (We are part of a Children's Centre)."

 

"We also provide for many of the most disadvantaged children and families, who will be further disadvantaged by loss of full time places and free school meals. This policy will also impact on parents' ability to go to work or attend courses."

 

"A negative impact on some of the UK's most deprived children."

 

27. It would be unacceptable if the introduction of the EYSFF and extension of the free entitlement meant that, in practice, the hours of free early years provision for the most deprived and vulnerable children were reduced rather than maintained or enhanced.

 

28. The NUT recommends that the funding of full time nursery places should be subject to urgent review and that whilst this review takes place, no existing full time places for this group of children should be removed.

 

29. The NUT urges caution when considering the funding of PVI sector full time places as part of such a review, as the history of PVI involvement in Government initiatives aimed at disadvantaged children is not encouraging. The national evaluation of the Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative published in 2007, for example, found that "higher income families (and the least disadvantaged neighbourhoods) are also more likely than low income families (and the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods) to use childcare, whether for educational or economic reasons", even though the nurseries were situated in the most deprived areas. It was also reported that many of these nurseries run by the PVI sectors closed or changed their admissions and charging policies as soon as the Government subsidy for establishing them ended. An important consideration in the funding of full time places must be, therefore, the track record of the provider and their ability to benefit genuinely the most deprived children.

 

30. It is also important to recognise that settings which serve the most disadvantaged communities frequently experience a high level of mobility. Termly 'headcounts', on which the setting's funding would be based, could therefore vary significantly and would make it extremely difficult for the setting to plan ahead, which could act as a significant disincentive for settings to admit such children. The putative contract between settings and parents, which forms part of the Government's proposals for the revised Code of Practice for the free entitlement, is unlikely to have any impact on the turbulence experienced by settings serving disadvantaged communities.

 

31. For this reason, the NUT recommends that funding for early years settings which are situated in deprived areas or which admit significant numbers of disadvantaged children should be funded according to the model established for special schools, with the number of places for each setting identified and funded.

 

SEN AND EAL

 

32. In addition to any post-code or area-based identification of deprived children, the NUT believes that local authorities should also consider the number of children with special educational needs and/or English as an additional language attending a setting as part of the deprivation factor.

 

33. Children with special educational needs derive particular benefit from early education which is high quality, employs specialist early years teachers and other professionals and which is stable in terms of routines and staffing. There is, however, no separate allowance for SEN pupils within the EYSFF.

 

34. As some local authorities will have a 'flexibility premium' within the EYSFF in order to encourage providers to offer the free entitlement for longer sessions or over a greater number of weeks than the required minimum, settings which include high numbers of children with SEN may feel pressured to change to practices which they know are inappropriate, and possibly damaging, for many of their pupils, or face a funding shortfall. This is unacceptable.

 

35. The model adopted by some pilot local authorities, of including separate SEN and EAL supplements within the deprivation factor, could usefully be adopted. The patterns of provision required by parents of children with SEN may be different from that of other pupils and this should be reflected in the final EYSFF model.

 

36. The NUT recommends that local authorities should be able to consider settings which include large numbers of children with SEN on an individual basis. The DCSF should also introduce a supplement to the base rate or the 'deprivation factor' within the EYSFF which takes into account the additional costs for SEN and the inappropriateness of 'flexibility'.

 

37. Similarly, the EYSFF does not include English as an Additional Language (EAL) provision as a separate factor. The NUT recommends that, as for SEN children, local authorities should be able to introduce a supplement to the base rate or the 'deprivation factor' within the EYSFF which takes into account the additional costs for EAL early years provision.

 

QUALITY

 

38. The DCSF has given clear guidance to local authorities that they should use the EYSFF to incentivise high quality provision and to encourage continuous improvement. The NUT is aware that some of the local authorities involved in the pilot based their quality supplement on the employment of a graduate in the setting, which meant that all maintained settings received the supplement and it also incentivised the PVI to employ a graduate.

 

39. The NUT supports the use of staff qualifications as a proxy indicator for the quality supplement but the additional costs associated with employing a qualified teacher, rather than an Early Years Professional (EYP) or other graduate need to be reflected in the calculations for the supplement, as does the correlation in numerous research studies between the employment of qualified early years teachers and the highest quality provision. The NUT recommends the introduction of a sliding scale for the quality supplement, which takes into account both employment of EYPs or graduates and of qualified teachers.

 

40. A number of local authorities have proposed using OFSTED inspection judgements as the means of defining 'quality' for the purposes of the EYSFF. The NUT opposes this approach as in no other sector are OFSTED judgements linked to funding formula calculations. Quality assurance for provision purposes should be on the basis of objective factors such as buildings or leaning environment, staff members and qualifications. In addition, maintained and PVI early years settings are subject to different OFSTED inspection frameworks, which would hardly provide the 'level playing field' which the EYSFF is intended by Government to provide.

 

41. Some local authorities are currently exploring the possibility of using various quality assurance schemes, both nationally and locally devised. The NUT believes that this could offer a useful approach to defining quality in early years provision, but to be acceptable such schemes must take a coherent and consistent approach to assessing provision across the sectors, regardless of provider. The NUT would recommend the use of a sophisticated measure that looks at 'quality' in the round, such as the internationally recognised Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), which differentiates between 'teachers' and 'graduates' in terms of quality of provision.

 

42. It could also be useful to consider how the quality supplement would be linked to local authorities' annual self-assessment meeting, which all early years settings must participate in. The NUT would not, however, support additional administrative burdens being placed on settings in order for them to demonstrate evidence of quality. Information gathered as part of the annual self-assessment could easily be used as evidence of quality for funding purposes also.

 

43. There is no specific supplement within the EYSFF which reflects the fact that many maintained nursery schools do much more than provide education and care. They are involved in activities which support the quality of provision for other settings or across the local authority, for example, by providing initial training and continuing professional development for students and PVI colleagues, working with Children's Centres and extended services, parental support services and/or acting as a hub for specialist initial teacher training in the area.

 

44. Recent research on maintained nursery schools on behalf of the DCSF found, for example, that many nursery head teachers offered management and leadership mentoring to Children's Centre heads and to the PVI sector. Such work is crucial to the delivery of the Government's aim of raising the level of professional practice in the early years sector. If maintained nursery schools' budgets are reduced, however, it will be very difficult for them to be able to continue to offer this essential support.

 

45. Concerns have been expressed by NUT members that these wider services are not being reflected in the EYSFF structure and that this will lead to a reduction in the quality and range of services that maintained nursery schools can offer.

 

46. The NUT would suggest that settings which offer training and professional development to students or staff elsewhere should also be rewarded via the quality supplement, in recognition of the significant contributions such settings make to raising the quality of provision across the sectors.

 

47. It would appear that another unintended consequence of the EYSFF is its impact on some important aspects of best practice in early years education. For example, local authorities have been advised by the DCSF to consider the effect of the EYSFF on school admissions as part of the impact assessment exercise they are required to undertake. This is because issues such as phased entry, one point of entry, early admissions and late admissions, may affect the pattern of demand for nursery places in both the maintained and PVI sectors.

 

48. This would in turn affect the level of settings' funding levels, as funding is based on the number of children actually attending the setting. It is possible, therefore, that settings will feel the need to admit children as soon as possible, rather than when it is most appropriate for the child, in order to maximise their funding.

 

49. It is very likely that there will be pressure to remove the best practice model of a phased entry or 'staggered start' to early years settings, as all children will be required to enter the setting at the beginning of the school year in order for the setting to secure maximum levels of funding. It has long been seen as inappropriate, however, for summer-born children to start nursery immediately in September, as they are often at developmentally different stages of readiness.

 

50. The DCSF guidance states "If a nursery class is offering the free entitlement from the beginning of term they will be funded from the beginning of term, otherwise the funding will start when the child starts the setting". This would mean, however, that children would not be funded for a period of time if the setting offered a 'staggered start', which many maintained nursery schools and classes do in order to introduce young children into the setting gradually, rather than all at the same time and to make the admission of the new intake manageable for the teacher concerned.

 

51. The NUT recommends that the DCSF should consider ways in which the EYSFF can accommodate phased entry admission in order for children to join nursery provision when it is developmentally most appropriate for them, in order that they will gain the most benefit from attending the setting. It would suggest that local authorities should be able to count children who are registered at the setting but not attending immediately as 'participating' for the purposes of funding.

 

52. As the EYSFF is based on participation following admission to the setting, the future of home visits may also be under threat. It is now established good early years practice for teachers to visit children at home before they start nursery education. This usually takes place at the beginning of the term before children enter the setting. Home visits allow staff to meet children in their familiar home environment and learn about their interests at home. They are also a useful way of creating connections between home and the nursery and enhancing parental involvement in their child's education. Home visits also provide an opportunity for staff to assess whether there are any early signs of special educational needs which have not yet been flagged up, and to put in place early intervention programmes of support for the child and parents. Such early intervention can also mitigate the effects of deprivation and a poor family environment.

 

53. The NUT would, therefore, recommend that the EYSFF should accommodate the costs of home visits and review the timing of the allocation of funding. For example, funding for the home visits could be included in the previous year's budget based on projected numbers. It would urge the Committee to recognise that a greater degree of flexibility is required under the EYSFF in order to continue to fund this important practice.

 

54. A number of respondents to the NUT's survey voiced concerns that the EYSFF and, by extension the Government, were only paying lip service to the concept of quality. As the vast majority of recent research on early years has consistently identified maintained sector provision as providing the highest quality education and care, many could not understand why the EYSFF would take funding away from their setting and give it to the PVI sector:

 

"Threatens nursery schools which are providing some of the highest quality nursery education available."

 

"There needs to be a uniformity in terms of quality assurance if we are all being funded the same. The records we receive from the private sector are very poor or we do not receive any records. There appears to be little planning or assessment of the EYFS and information to parents also very poor, reports were really dreadful."

 

"Parents will be keeping their children in children's centres/PVI settings - whole procedure will result in educational element being diluted and for us may ultimately result in staff redundancies."

 

PROFIT

 

55. The Government has supported consistently the expansion of private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector early years provision and the creation of the EYSFF itself could be argued to be an extension of that policy. The DCSF guidance, for example, says that "in the context of a mixed market with significant provision from the private sector it is entirely legitimate for providers of all kinds to generate surpluses, either to provide a return on their own investment or for future investment. LAs must take this into account when designing their formulae".

 

56. The NUT believes that public money should not be used to subsidise or contribute to the profits of PVI providers, a view which is shared by its members. The following comment from a nursery school head teacher responding to the NUT's survey is typical of the comments received so far:

 

"This (EYSFF) is driven by financial factors and not by the needs of children and families. It also gives money to private providers to include for their profit - a disgraceful use of public funds. I am most concerned that nursery schools throughout the country may close as a result."

 

57. The NUT believes that the EYSFF should be used to invest in high quality provision for local children and not diverted into other activities, including profits for providers and any shareholders of larger nursery chains.

58. It recommends that the DCSF should re-consider funding arrangements for profit-making settings, including with reference to the current arrangements for penalising schools which have significant surplus budgets.

 

MAINTAINED NURSERY SCHOOL CLOSURES

 

59. The DCSF appears to have realised belatedly that maintained nursery schools and classes are under threat as a result of the introduction of the EYSFF and, at the end of October 2009, sent a letter to Directors of Children's Services reminding them of the existing presumption against closure for nursery schools and that "the single funding formula should not be used as a vehicle to close, or close by strangulation, good quality nursery school provision".

 

60. This is too little too late, as many local authorities are well advanced in their plans and had already published their EYSFF proposals for consultation before the letter was received. In addition, the letter has no legal status and local authorities are required to follow the DCSF's guidance on this issue. Unless the Government give statutory force to their stated desire to preserve remaining maintained nursery schools, the EYSFF may result in their eradication within the next few years.

 

61. NUT early years members in some parts of the country have reported that maintained nursery schools are under threat of closure because of their higher cost or that the issues relating to the EYSFF outlined above may in effect see nursery schools change to such an extent that they will have effectively closed.

 

62. In the local authorities which participated in the EYSFF pilot, for example, a range of proposals were made to reduce the costs of maintained nursery provision and hence lessen the effect of the reduced funding they would receive under the EYSFF. These included measures such as mergers, federations and co-location with Children's Centres. Many of the quotes from the NUT's survey used to illustrate various issues have also commented on the likelihood of their closure.

 

"We will lose 156,000 + Standards Fund. It will close us down because we currently offer full time nursery school places and will not be able to fill them with part time children because of the other provision in the area."

 

"In Birmingham there is a very real worry that measures being proposed will close most of the 27 nursery schools - many of which are judged to be 'outstanding' by OFSTED."

 

"Nursery schools here will undoubtedly close eventually."

 

63. Although local authorities should offer some transitional protection for settings which lose funding as a result of the introduction of the move to participation-led funding, this can only be for a maximum of three years and may not be sufficient to cover the full amount of the lost funding.

 

64. The substantial evidence about what is happening on the ground cannot be ignored. The NUT recommends that urgent action is needed now to revise the guidance on the EYSFF as, once transitional protection funding has ended, it is unlikely that nursery schools will continue to exist in England. As an absolute minimum, there must be a commitment from Government to review the impact of the EYSFF on settings which are adversely affected once it has been fully introduced in 2010 and to reinstating, as a minimum, current levels of funding received.

 

CONCLUSION

 

65. Although this initiative is intended to establish a single funding formula, in reality the EYSFF will be different in every area, as local authorities are able to construct it as they wish, as long as they comply with 'the spirit' of the DCSF guidance. This is the fundamental flaw in the EYSFF, because it does not actually reflect the true costs of high quality provision but seeks to reduce all provision to a minimum standard, rather than genuinely rewarding and incentivising quality and encourages local authorities to reduce budgets, regardless of need.

 

66. By actually increasing the level of public funding for some of the lowest quality provision, the EYSFF will further disadvantage the children who have most to benefit from early education and care and will endanger the advances which have been made as a result of the Government's previous investment in early years. The NUT urges the Committee to recommend to the Government in the strongest terms the need to stop and re-evaluate its policy before it is too late - once maintained nursery schools have gone, they will never be replaced.

 

November 2009