Memorandum submitted by S Sowe, Early Years Foundation Stage Leader in a Maintained School

 

Executive Summary

- This submission concerns the impact of one Local Authorities' proposal of the Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF) on a Nursery in a maintained School.

- Our maintained Nursery is exactly the kind that the government should and purports to be protecting, yet the EYSFF is set to have a negative impact on our provision.

- Our LA is clear that under their current proposal, funding will increase for the Private, Voluntary and Maintained (PVI) sector and most likely be reduced for maintained schools and maintained nursery schools.

- Whilst this case is particular to the proposal as laid out by one LA, it also highlights fundamental flaws in the EYSFF that adversely affect the ability of maintained settings to provide good quality provision for some of the most deprived children and communities.

- Proposed methods of measuring participation-led funding penalises schools like ours with staggered entry or biannual intakes of children.

- The EYSFF guidance on the mandatory and optional supplementary funding is not clear enough and is thus complex and difficult to implement. Therefore many LA's, like ours, are choosing not to implement the optional supplementary funding. This defeats one of the Core Principles of the EYSFF Guidance to 'incentivise improvements in the quality of provision.'

- The only mandatory supplementary funding is based on deprivation, but in our case this amounts to funding of little more than 1.5% of our total new budget, despite having over 40% of our children on Free School Meals.

- Key areas of the EYSFF must be scrapped or amended to protect maintained settings.

 

Introduction

1.I am an Early Years Foundation Stage Leader and teacher at a maintained London primary school. The school is currently in consultation with our Local Authority over the implementation of the new funding formula. I write in the hope that our school's experience of how the new Early Years Single Funding Formula is set to negatively affect our provision highlights many inconsistencies between the stated aims of the new EYSFF and its effect on maintained settings in particular. Whilst I am no expert in financial directives, I hope that my experience as a teacher and my child-centered approach is at least equally as valuable.

 

2. We are an Outstanding Nursery in a school with 40% Free School Meals. Our children enter the nursery with, according to our most recent Ofsted report, 'skills and ability lower than expected...' They go on to 'make an excellent start in the Nursery and achieve exceptionally well in all areas of learning because the provision is highly effective. From a low starting point, they achieve outstandingly well'. We have 100% take up of places and a long waiting list. We are, therefore, exactly the type of setting that the EYSFF claims to support.

 

3. The whole school community has worked hard to provide an Outstanding service, which we have tailored to meet the needs of our children and parents. In line with the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education and the framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, we have improved our Nursery transition arrangements and the settling in process, including having home visits, biannual intake and staggered entry. We have invested a great deal of effort to recruit and train quality EYFS staff. Each of these areas of provision will need to be rethought because of the implementation of the EYSFF.

 

4. The proposal as set out by our particular LA would, in the long-term, reduce our Nursery budget by approximately 17.5% (as outlined in our School Specific Template). Our 2009/10 budget attributable to nursery places as now stands at 178,492. Based on the new EYSFF our LA's proposal sets the new budget at 147300, a variance of 31,192. This would seriously impact upon our ability to provide a quality service that meets the needs of our children and parents.

 

The Negative Impact on Maintained Nurseries in our LA and Nationally

 

5. The impact of the new EYSFF on our school is by no means exceptional. Our LA's proposal throws the issue into sharp relief. Of the PVI sector it simply says 'this sector is likely to receive a higher level of funding... transitional arrangements will not therefore be necessary.' Of the maintained sector however, 'There will be an impact...' which appears broadly to be one of a loss of funding.

 

6. Whilst it would be easy to blame these grievances on our LA, it appears that our school's scenario is reflected nationally. The Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families has herself been made aware that 'the consultation phase is causing particular concern... with regard to the EYSFF for maintained nursery schools.' [1] Yet it will not suffice to simply urge Local Authorities to "look particularly carefully at their proposals for the EYSFF and consider the effects." Any legislation that is, at best, misconstrued, or at worst fundamentally flawed, should be reconsidered at national rather than local level. There are key stumbling blocks in the interim and final EYSFF Guidance that have directly led to the situation that my school has been placed in.

 

Admission Arrangements and Participation Funding

 

7. The move from place-led funding to participation funding allegedly intends to prevent over-funding of failing or undersubscribed schools. Yet due to the way in which participation is measured in the EYSFF - with a minimum termly count -many maintained schools like ours with 100% take up (and indeed a long waiting list) are being adversely affected because of our admission arrangements.

 

8. Many maintained nurseries like ours do not have all the children starting at once, using staggered entry or multiple intakes instead. This facilitates the settling in process and allows for more developed home-school links and parental involvement, all of which is excellent practice according to the Effective Pre-School Education report. Our recent Ofsted noted that: 'Children settle quickly into the daily routines of the class as the school makes very effective links with parents, including home visits.' The new EYSFF is set to hinder our ability to sustain this excellent provision.

 

9. In response to our parents' and children's needs, each of our 39 nursery places are full-time, save in individual cases where part-time attendance will benefit the child's well-being and development. Rather than have 39 three year to four year olds start at once, we have 2 intakes: September for children with their fourth birthday between 1st September and 29th February, and January for children with their fourth

birthday between 1st March and 31st August (excepting any individual children who will benefit from an earlier or later start).

 

10. This practice is common in maintained schools across the country, and some councils such as Hertfordshire have hitherto had a blanket policy of two intakes. Hertfordshire recently held a Review of the Early Learning Plan: Early Years Admissions and commissioned Cordis Bright Consulting to establish which admission policy is most beneficial to children in terms of achieving outcomes.

'Cordis Bright looked at OfSTED inspection reports to gather data about the impact on quality, and at deprivation data. This data showed that... children living in more disadvantaged areas are more likely to achieve positive outcomes from a two intake policy.'[2]

 

11. In our case there are many benefits to having a biannual intake: the fact that many children are operating at a lower developmental age means that many may have toileting issues, separation anxiety, and may be very dependent on adults to support basic hygiene and care needs. Having a smaller number of children start in the autumn term helps us to accelerate the children's skills and independence in time to support the next intake of children.

 

12. We have the minimum staff ration of 1 adult to 13 children and currently employ 3 staff members (one teacher and two EYFS Practitioners) in the Nursery. We have free-flow provision between indoors and out, in line with EYFS policy, and this requires 2 adults on a supervision basis alone, as well as at least one further adult to undertake focus activities or to communicate with parents or deal with any issues that require 1:1 support such as helping to change a child's clothes.

 

13. Because the proposed funding relies on a termly census, it does not account for the need to pay for a 3rd member of staff in the autumn term when not all of the children have started yet. This means that we will have to adjust our starting arrangements to suit budgetary constraints rather than the needs of our children. Alternatively it is totally unviable to pay a quality member of staff for 2 terms only, especially when you consider the recruitment and retention issues prevalent in inner city schools.

 

14. We also have staggered entry, where no more than 3 new children start school on the same day. Along with time allocated for home visits, where the practitioners visit the children in their home setting, the result is that even with one intake not all the children would have started by the time of the termly count or by the end of the Autumn term. Again we will have to lose out on necessary funding or rearrange our starting procedure without regard to the needs of our children and parents.

 

Supplementary Funding

 

15. Many LA's like ours are reluctant to implement the optional supplementary criteria. Our LA has rejected the optional supplements on the basis that they are complex, costly and uncertain: according to their initial proposal, having a high base rate 'makes it easier to understand and simplifies forecasting and budgeting for providers.' This approach is, according to the Practice Guidance July 2009, one of two legitimate options: 'To build a differentiated hourly base rate with relatively few supplements'.

 

16. The quality supplement has also at this stage been rejected by our LA because, as they state in their proposal, "there is no clear method of measuring quality. Staff training and qualification could be measured but would be costly." As a result the implementation of the EYSFF in our case provides no incentive to improve or sustain quality, despite this aim being one of the core principles of the Guidance. As I hope to have shown, in our case it is achieving quite the opposite.

 

17. The flexibility supplement, although again rejected by our LA, would also in theory discriminate against maintained schools with nurseries, since it is simply unpractical for a nursery to operate on a different timescale to the setting in which it is based. Opening our nursery earlier and/or closing later than the rest of the school would involve a wealth of additional systems and costs.

 

18. The only mandatory supplement at present is the Deprivation Supplement, but this has also proved inadequate in our case. Whilst the EYSFF Practice Guidance offers different case studies, none were considered appropriate in the case of our LA, since the borough's communities 'are in general more economically mixed with the consequence that it is difficult through measurements such as the IDACI to target deprivation'. In our case the deprivation supplement amounts to a mere 1.5% of our total indicative budget (2,494), despite the fact that we have 41% of children on Free School Meals.

 

Conclusion

 

19. Our school's situation highlights key flaws in the EYSFF must be addressed and amended urgently at a national rather than local level.

 

20. Pupil participation should be counted on a flexible basis which takes into account diverse starting arrangements such as biannual intakes or staggered entry where it can be shown to benefit the children. A minimum termly count should not therefore be mandatory.

 

21. Supplementary funding, both mandatory and optional, should be more clearly defined to protect and encourage quality provision in the maintained sector and in turn the most deprived children and communities.

 

22. The Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo MP recognises the importance of schools like ours. 'The place of the maintained nursery school in the early learning and childcare system remains of high importance... This sector contributes strongly to supporting the life chances of children and narrowing the gaps in attainment at later ages.' Her assurances that 'these changes... will not be to the detriment of nursery schools' must now be backed up at national level. Hopefully this Inquiry will be the first step in that process.

 

 

December 2009

 

 



[1] Early Years Single Funding Formula Letter to the Director of Children's Services, October 28th 2009

[2] Hertfordshire County Council

Education and Skills Cabinet Panel

WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER 2009 AT 10.00AM

Agenda 6