Memorandum submitted by Sian Rees Jones, Headteacher and Head of Centre, Bognor Regis Nursery School

 

Summary

 

1. Maintained Nursery Schools are the most effective schools in England. They are consistently judged as outstanding by Ofsted yet they are at risk of closure as a result of the new Early Years Single Funding Formula introduced by the Government. Bognor Regis Nursery School and Children's Centre is one of these schools. It has been graded by Ofsted as "outstanding" on 6 occasions after each of its inspections, placing it in the top 1% of schools in the country.

 

2. It is of deep concern that Nursery Schools are being removed from School Status (as far as funding is concerned) and yet the expectations of them to function as schools remain and they will continue to be inspected under Section 5 of the Education Act 2005.

 

3. Nursery Schools (many of which have integral children's centres on site) are not cheap but they represent excellent value for money. Nursery Schools have a proven record of making a difference to children's life chances, particularly those growing up in disadvantaged communities. Nursery Schools offer a universal service: the compositional effects of a mixed intake are hugely beneficial to vulnerable children and families and are not replicated in profit making institutions. Similar to other Nursery Schools, the progress children make at Bognor Regis Nursery School is exceptional. Attainment levels of children "on entry" to our Nursery School are varied with 43% of the 2008-2009 cohort functioning at levels below those expected for their age group across the combined areas of development. "On leaving" data demonstrated that 96% of this cohort was functioning at levels we would expect for their age group, or above, across all areas of experience. If the work of the Nursery Schools is undermined by the introduction of the SFF it will cost the tax payer more in the long term, e.g. in terms of special school placements and through an increase in pressure on Social Care budgets.

 

4. As exemplars of outstanding quality their role as training and support centres for other children's centres and early years settings in their area is largely unexploited but could prove crucial in raising the quality across the sector. This "teaching hospital" model has been raised with our Local Authority but has not been adopted due to a lack of funding.

 

5. Government should act immediately to prevent the loss of the very centres that have consistently demonstrated that they make a significant difference to the poorest families and children. If the "gap" hasn't been narrowed by the age of 5 years old there is a 70% chance that it will never be narrowed (Feinstein F, 2003). "Only the highest quality integrated services overcomes disadvantage and transforms the life chances of children and families living in poverty" (EPPE Project 2004). "Investment in Nursery Schools "pays off" in terms of savings in special educational needs support, raised aspirations, enhanced task commitment, social skills and feelings of efficacy as well as in terms of later economic savings to society (Pascal et al).

 

Background information:

 

6. Bognor Regis Nursery School was established during WW2. It has a long history of high quality education and care and close partnership work with parents and carers; focusing on the well-being of the whole family as the key factor in enabling each child to thrive. The innovative work of the School was recognised in 2002 when it became a Beacon School, disseminating its good practice both locally and nationally. In July 2003 it became an Early Excellence Centre and the new extension was commissioned to support its partnership work with parents, create an under-threes provision and develop further training opportunities for early years practitioners. In March 2004 it became a Children's Centre, building on its partnership work with colleagues in Health, Social Care and the Voluntary Sector, with the aim of providing seamless services for young children and their families. In April 2007 it opened a Special Support Centre for 8 (fte) children aged 3-5 with significant speech and language needs.

 

7. Bognor Regis Nursery School and Children's Centre is located in the Pevensey ward of the town, which is among the 20% most disadvantaged areas in the country. It is estimated that nearly 48% of children in this ward live in families reliant upon means tested benefits.

 

Bognor Regis Nursery School and Children's Centre makes a significant difference to young children's life chances and to those of their families by raising aspirations and skills.

 

8. 26% of children attending the School are from MEGs; 22% have English as an additional language and 12% are at the very early stages of learning English.

 

9. The School and Centre is exceptionally successful in accessing families from traditionally "hard to reach" groups and was graded as "outstanding" in its last Ofsted inspection for its work in promoting partnerships with parents and carers and community cohesion (November 2009).

 

10. The School's data demonstrates that all groups of children thrive in the School with exceptionally strong rates of progress recorded and high levels of attainment.

 

11. Case studies show that many parents and carers gain significantly in confidence from working alongside the team members in a partnership approach to the education of young children: also from attending the additional services that are run at the School and Centre. As a result, a significant minority move into training and the workplace.

 

What impact will the Early Years Single Funding Formula make to Bognor Regis Nursery School and Children's Centre?

 

12. Despite recent additional guidance from the DCSF, West Sussex is proposing that in April

2010 our School will lose 99,424 per annum (20% of its current budget share). The following year (after an initial transitional period) it will lose 137, 803 per annum (27% of its current budget share).

 

13. Transitional funding is insufficient to stop radical staffing reductions. The SFF will lead to the redundancy or cut in hours of 8 staff (including 1.5 teachers).

 

14. There will be 20 fewer places available (10fte) for children in this disadvantaged community (with the removal of existing protected places) in the County's highest performing school.

 

15. The exceptionally high quality integrated daycare provision for 24 fte children aged 3-5 years and 18 fte children aged 0-3 years will be placed at risk (as it is currently subsidised by the Nursery School budget). 65 families (and 70 children) would be affected if it closed today.

 

16. At the beginning of each academic year, 2 classrooms/areas will be closed or have restricted access because we will have insufficient staff for oversight.

 

17. After initial restructuring, some staff will either be employed on short term contracts (as children begin school each term after their 3rd birthday) or team members will be made redundant every July (when around 100 children leave us for primary school). (Note: This is not the case in the PVI sectors as additional fees mean they can employ a consistent team over the year. None of these sectors have to pay local authority rates or take into account LA conditions of service.)

 

18. Because of short-term staffing it will be difficult, or no longer be possible, for children (and parents) to have a consistent key worker (stated as a requirement in the EYFS framework) throughout their time with us.

 

19. With the best will in the world, the current level of record keeping and planning for children's individual needs in partnership with children's parents and carers can not be maintained.

 

20. We will no longer be in a position to employ specialist teaching assistants to support our inclusive practice with children who have special educational needs (22% of our current intake), have English as an additional language (22%) or whose families are under considerable stress (14%). This will in turn impact on our partnership work with parents and carers and these target groups of children's wellbeing and exceptional rates of progress.

 

21. Our successful work with vulnerable children and families, in partnership with other agencies, will have to be cut significantly. There will be insufficient skilled staff to act as Lead Professionals who, in partnership with parents, drive the initiatives identified through the Team around the Child meetings (TAC) forward. (Note: staff from the School maintained 11 CAFs last year).

 

22. Interagency work in general will have to be cut considerably as there will be no flexibility to release staff i.e. staffing levels cut to the minimum requirement to meet adult/child ratios. This will lead to an increase in the workload of those professionals working in the community including those in Social Care and could ultimately cost the tax payer more in the long term.

 

23. The proposed budget under SFF is not sufficient to cover the basics i.e. staffing required to keep children safe in a complex learning environment, utility bills, sickness absence insurance, maintenance bills etc.

 

24. As a result of the cuts listed above, the children's outstanding progress and high attainment levels at BRNS and CC cannot be maintained.

 

25. Similarly, our nationally recognised partnership work with parents and cares (with a proven impact on their own aspirations and its knock on effect onto those of their children) will be reduced significantly.

 

26. Our work with Higher and Further Education will be lost. Leaders will no longer be able to sit on advisory boards e.g. with Universities, Colleges of Further Education, Portage etc thus they will lose access to valuable Early Years knowledge.

 

27. Our work as trainers will be lost - we will no longer be in a position to train students from a range of backgrounds including teachers.

 

28. Our work providing information to families and early years workers will be damaged or lost because we will not have sufficient staff to develop and publish training materials.

 

29. The whole nursery sector will be damaged if highly qualified, experienced staff no longer wish to work in such an uncertain and volatile sector.

 

30. Maintained Nursery Schools will be cut adrift from school funding initiatives and yet the expectations of us as schools will remain. We will no longer be able to play a part in our communities of schools as we will not be able to pay for the time to take part in locality planning.

 

31. Our capacity to sustain excellence will be eroded because the SFF funding level will no longer enable us to deliver such a high level of service. The Ofsted expectations for schools (and we are a school) are set at a higher level. There are huge differences in the expectations of the differing provisions through the Ofsted inspection regimes (Nursery Schools under Section 5 School Inspections and private and voluntary sector settings under Section 40 of the Childcare Act). The criteria for outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate are not comparable.

 

Other issues:

 

32. Our local authority has not been able to agree a 'quality supplement'. The PVI sector did not want it linked to qualifications, the maintained sector did. PVI wanted it linked to OFSTED grading; we did not because of the differences noted in 24 above.

 

33. There have been difficulties in creating a formula which safeguards the nursery schools. We reported continuously the likely impact on our services but the local authority has not used the flexibility in the guidance to accommodate our views and most importantly they had to keep within a tight budget.

 

34. Finally we fear that if the SFF goes ahead without other government support, Maintained Nursery Schools will be at risk of closure - not just in West Sussex but nationally. Our unique institutions with proven, exceptional practice which improves life chances hugely for young children and their families will be lost forever.

 

December 2009