analysis nursery schools
Heads seek ‘levelling-up’ role
With the pandemic having a disastrous impact on the funding of nursery schools, head teachers speak out about the urgent need
Three nursery schools in
England to close this summer Impact of loss of funding on supporting children with SEND and family support services Head teachers urge ministers to let them play role in ‘levelling up’ agenda
While maintained nursery schools have faced funding pressures for many years, the impact of the pandemic has heaped even more pressure on their ability to survive. Three more nursery schools are set to close this summer, leaving just 385 nursery schools open in England. The three that closed at the end of the summer term, or will close at the end of August, are Hetton-le-Hole Nursery School in Sunderland, St Mary’s Community Nursery School in Chester, and Harry Roberts Nursery School in Tower Hamlets, east London. All three local authorities are receiving below-average supplementary funding for their nursery schools, according to Early Education.
Early Education chief executive Beatrice Merrick told MPs at last month’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes that ‘the whole system is creaking at the seams’.
Speaking about the impact of funding pressures on supporting children with special educational
More children have missed early intervention and support (98 per cent). More with undiagnosed
SEND (91 per cent). Reduced support for children from health/other services (91 per cent).
Three more nursery schools are set to close this summer needs and disabilities (SEND), she said 91 per cent of nursery schools in a recent Early Education survey cited increased demand for places for children with SEND during the pandemic.
Of the 101 nursery schools that responded, 1,445 children were receiving SEND support. The survey also found:
41 per cent said private and voluntary settings were referring more children to them who they were unable to support. Children were deferring starting school in Reception or Year 1 in 47 per cent of nursery schools because of a lack of suitable school places. Children and families are losing expert support and the workload of staff is unsustainable, Ms Merrick said.
As one head teacher surveyed commented, ‘A real value reduction in our funding means that we have to reduce our overall staffing budget. This, coupled with the difficulty of acquiring LA funding for children with SEND, will mean we are unable to accommodate the same number of children that we have historically. We know there are a significant number of children in our locality that other EY settings have not been able to accommodate due to the complexity of their needs.
‘Previously, we have been able to accept a good number of these. However, we are unlikely to be able to manage this safely this coming year so will have to restrict the number of spaces we will be able to offer.’ Impact of Covid Nursery school head teachers also spoke about the impact of the pandemic.
Head teacher Ginny Robinson, speaking on behalf of Bradford Nursery Schools, said, ‘Let us lead the way out of the pandemic. But we really, really need the funding.’
Nursery schools voiced their views on how they could play a role in the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
Sacha Walker- Byrne, head teacher of Fairfield Nursery School in Lancashire, said maintained nursery schools and early years settings have been excluded. ‘We could really make a difference,’ she said.
Ailsa Higgins, head teacher of Hetton Lyons Nursery School in Sunderland, said, ‘We feel extremely vulnerable as to what makes us nursery schools. We’re being levelled down rather than levelled up.’
As a result of loss of income from the pandemic, Ms Higgins can no longer afford to employ a family support worker. ‘We’ve lost a gem,’ she said (see Case study, right). Nursery school closures St Mary’s Community Nursery School is merging with a local primary school in September a er 175 years. The school, which opened in Chester in 1846, will merge with Overleigh St Mary’s CE Primary School in Handbridge, with which it shares a site. Councillor Bob Cernik, cabinet member for children and families at Cheshire West and Chester Council, said earlier this year, ‘The amalgamation means that a greater proportion of resources can be used for the direct benefit of children rather than the expense of maintaining two separate schools.
impact of the pandemic
Higher levels of mental health problems and anxiety (67 per cent). Possible misdiagnosis of
SEND due to children’s missed experiences during lockdown (55 per cent). Long Covid or other direct results of children having contracted coronavirus (10 per cent). Other factors including higher levels of parental anxiety/mental ill-health, higher incidence of adverse childhood experiences, and misdiagnosis due to virtual appointments with health and other professionals.
Source: Early Education survey of 101 maintained nursery schools in England, July 2021
6 | NurseryWorld | August 2021