Memorandum submitted by St Thomas Children's Centre Nursery

 

1.1

My name is Fran Munby and I am the Headteacher at the St Thomas Centre Nursery (School), a Birmingham Local Authority Nursery School which has been in existence for over 60 years, though was formerly known as Reaside Nursery School. We currently offer 80 full time places at the school.

 

1.2

We have 'Early Excellence' status and are now part of a larger Children's Centre (which is separately managed) offering a range of extended services to the local community. In addition to the Nursery School the governors and I also manage a large Day Care nursery which accommodates under three year olds and which also provides extended provision before and after school and during the holidays to the Nursery School children that require such provision.

Our setting is located in Ladywood ward, an inner city area of Birmingham with high deprivation factors.

 

2.1

My concern is for the future of Nursery Schools as it appears to me and to many of my colleagues both in Birmingham and throughout the country, that the implementation of the Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF) is threatening the sustainability of Nursery Schools. This is because the formula appears to be giving money to the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector at the expense of the maintained sector and because local authorities are interpreting the formula to mean that they cannot continue to fund full time nursery places.

 

2.2

In Birmingham there are currently 25 maintained Nursery Schools; many of them have been in existence for over 60 years and many offer all full time places. Some have always done so and others more recently; all have been funded by Birmingham to cover their full time place costs despite the government only ever funding part time places.

 

3.1

This situation looks likely to change. For example Birmingham have provided their Nursery Schools with indicative budgets for 2010-2011 indicating that 18 of the 25 Nursery schools will lose over 100,000 a year, given the new formula. Our school will lose 156,000, approximately 1/3 of our budget as we are being told that only part time places can now be funded through the formula.

 

3.2

Birmingham LA will offer some safety net funding for the next 2 years to mitigate against these losses but is giving no assurances that beyond this time there will be any funding of full time places. The reality for many of us is that because we cannot fill our places with all part time children (i.e. we cannot find double the number of children we have now) we will lose these predicted sums of money, will be forced to make staff redundant and will contract in size. Some Nursery schools will inevitably close unless their funding can be maintained and guaranteed, as they will just not be viable.

 

3.3

In Birmingham it does appear that those maintained providers that are able to fill their places with all part time children may be better off financially; however I understand from colleagues in Walsall LA that their all part time Nursery Schools still look set to lose substantial LA funding through the formula, which indicates that in addition to the other issues that the formula raises, there is no parity across the country.

 

4.1

My argument for retaining Nursery Schools centres around their excellence and their high quality status and provision.

There is much research evidence (for example through the EPPE project) to indicate that the Nursery schools are amongst the very best providers of high quality and that this is in large part due to the numbers of qualified teachers that they employ. As maintained schools (and unlike the PVI sector) they are subject to Section 5 Ofsted (school) inspections; and as a sector, Nursery Schools have the highest proportion of 'outstanding' results - as compared with Primary, Secondary and Special schools.

 

4.2

Unlike the PVI sector traditionally, Nursery Schools do not admit children on the basis of whether or not the family can pay for a place, but they have a long tradition of providing for those children most in need. Indeed many Nursery Schools were based deliberately in areas of real deprivation and this is certainly true of Birmingham's Nursery Schools. As a consequence, many of us pride ourselves on being able to accept and support to a very high standard, children with a variety of additional needs, as well as providing a range of support and other services for parents and families.

 

4.3

In Birmingham, many Nursery Schools are an integral part of a Children's Centre, providing the 'core' Children's Centre offer of education and care for children and for parents and families providing health services, family and parenting support, counselling and advice on a range of issues, plus for example arts projects, group sessions and a range of courses. We are very much at the heart of the government agenda to encourage and support parents back into training and employment while offering affordable education and childcare, to help enable this.

 

4.4

In addition, many Nursery Schools act as 'centres of excellence' and support and train other practitioners; we have a high profile and receive visitors from literally all over the world. We recently were funded to have our outdoor play areas re-developed into 'state-of- the-art' outdoor provision, however we have, as an example, been providing training for (other) early years providers on the outdoor curriculum, as well as providing training on other topics. Many Nursery Schools also routinely support the training of teaching and non teaching students; we are also well resourced compared even with maintained Nursery Classes in Primary Schools, as all our resources are targeted on the foundation stage children and their families.

 

5.1

It is being suggested that if funding is available for part time places only, that we 'sell' the other half of the place. This is just not affordable for our parents: in a recent questionnaire to which 50 parents responded, 82% said they could not afford to do this; many parents commented that if no full time place were available it would not only have a detrimental affect on their child's education and development but that they as parents would be forced to give up work as it would not be financially viable for them to continue.

 

5.2

I am concerned therefore, that Nursery Schools may become unsustainable, even though I accept that this is not a deliberate intention on the part of government. We are by nature small schools and of course we are expensive because of the quality of the staff (teachers) that we employ and because we pay our non teaching staff the prevailing LA rates. I fear that the loss of our schools would also impact on the viability of many Children's Centres and on the sustainability of the whole range of additional services that we provide.

 

6.1

Conversely, private providers within Birmingham also seem unhappy with the new funding proposals. PVI providers outnumber the maintained settings and so although they will benefit under the new arrangements, they do so to only a limited extent.

So the proposals appear to take relatively large sums from the maintained sector to spread very thinly amongst the much greater number of PVI providers.

 

7.1

I would like the government therefore to reconsider the funding of early years provision and to recognise us for what we are - schools - that offer the very best and highest quality specialist early years provision, but provision that does come at a price.

 

7.2

As such, I hope that our funding can be maintained in order that we can continue to act as exemplars in our support of others, whilst also giving the most disadvantaged children the best possible start in life, ensuring not only their safeguarding but also guaranteeing their future educational and personal achievements.

 

November 2009