Today (Tues 19 Oct), 150 representatives from maintained nursery schools in England will gather in London’s Parliament Square, alongside parents, campaigners and MPs, before marching to Downing Street to deliver a petition to the Chancellor, calling on him to ‘take urgent action’ over funding.

The petition has been signed by 2,000 school leaders, staff and educators from almost every maintained nursery school (MNS) in the country. MNS are funded and controlled by local authorities and provide high quality pre-school education, usually in deprived areas.

The petition states:

“Maintained nursery schools provide the highest quality education and care to children in some of the most disadvantaged parts of England. They support a high proportion of children with special educational needs who would otherwise have nowhere to go), and children on the early years pupil premium. They have a vital role to play supporting educational recovery and the levelling up agenda.

“We therefore call on you to take urgent action to provide adequate funding for maintained nursery schools and support to address the impact of the pandemic.”

In 2017 a new early years funding settlement left maintained nursery schools under threat, with their future funding uncertain. Since then, the government has recognised their importance and repeatedly pledged to find a long-term funding solution, while protecting their funding in the interim. But no long-term plan has yet been announced, leaving maintained nursery schools in limbo, unable to plan, and uncertain of their future.

A recent survey carried out by Early Education, NAHT, NEU and UNISON revealed that over a third (34%) of MNS are cutting staffing and services to balance their books because of lost income and additional Covid costs, coupled with a lack of certainty over the funding they will receive from spring 2022.

MNS leaders reported losing an average of over £70,000 of income, as well as having to spend an extra £8,000 for extra Covid-related costs. Unlike some other schools, MNS were not eligible for exceptional cost funding for Covid from government and so have had to bear the brunt of these costs themselves.

The long-term future of many MNS is now seriously at risk. Almost half (46%) of respondents said that by the end of March 2021, they were already in deficit for the year. The average deficit reported was £76,000. Worryingly, only 23% of respondents confirmed that they could continue to operate within their current funding levels.

The petition continues:

“As part of the government’s levelling up agenda, MNS are a sound investment. Their additional value easily offsets their higher costs. If they are not funded adequately, there will be significant additional costs to be picked up by other services including health, social services and other parts of the education system.

“We call on the Chancellor as a matter of urgency, within the forthcoming spending review if not before, to provide the resources required for education ministers to put in place the long-term viable funding solution for maintained nursery schools promised for the last four years.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: 

“Maintained nursery schools have been left in limbo for four years, under threat of closure. As we head towards the comprehensive spending review it is critical, now more than ever, that the Chancellor delivers once and for all for the sector.”

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said: 

“Maintained nursery schools have seen their funding fall in real terms since 2016-17. There has been no inflationary increase to the supplementary funding, and uncertainty from year to year and term to term as to what funding they may receive in future. Their potential to support vulnerable children and families through the post-pandemic recovery is being jeopardised by government failure to put in place a viable funding system.”

UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: 

“These schools play a vital role in supporting young children with complex and special educational needs. Nurseries need a long-term funding settlement urgently to ensure they've enough staff. No child should be left behind because of budget cuts.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of NEU, said: 

“Maintained nursery schools provide the highest quality education and care to children in some of the most disadvantaged parts of England. After four years of funding uncertainty and bearing the brunt of additional Covid costs, many schools have been forced to cut staff and some are on the brink of closure. The Chancellor and the Treasury need to act now and ensure the long-promised, long-term funding settlement for MNS is included in the spending review this autumn.”

Supporters will gather at Parliament Square at 4.15pm and set off for Downing Street at 4.30pm. A small delegation of petitioners plus several MPs will hand the petition in to 11 Downing Street at 5pm.

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