In December 2016, Rt. Hon Justine Greening MP outlined the Government’s manifesto commitment to double its childcare offer to 30 hours per week for working parents of three and four year olds. The commitment has been established to support working families by reducing the cost of childcare. The investment involves an additional investment of £1 billion every year by 2019-20, including over £300 million per year for a significant increase in funding rates.
So far so good.
However, at TEEM we have several concerns.
Firstly, while we applaud an increase in funding for pre-school settings, the proposal appears to be geared towards funding purely for the ‘care’ for young children to enable their parents to return to work, rather than to improve education standards in these vital early years.
The level of excellence of the qualified staff currently focuses on child development. They are trained to meet the very specific needs of children with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds; teaching skills that give these children the best chance to start school at the same level as their peers. Nursery schools are not set up to simply ‘care’ for children.
There has to be a differentiation between ‘child care’ centres and pre-school education settings.
We have plenty of evidence to show nursery schools offer the best start in life before starting compulsory education. We also know that Ofsted rates more nursery schools outstanding, than any other sector. In fact, many nursery schools have been classed as teaching schools and are now offering initial teacher training courses and continuing professional development (CPD) to other settings.
However, if the Government wants these additional 30 hours to be of the same standards as is provided today, in preparing young children for their compulsory education years, then nursery schools will need to have the money to invest in highly qualified, trained teachers. Without this all they will be able to afford is the less qualified ‘care’ staff.
Our concerns also point to the spread of this proposed funding. The fairer funding proposal suggests that all pre-school settings receive the same hourly funding per child; a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
As we are all aware, the investment required to adequately support children with special educational needs and those from deprived areas is a lot higher than for other students.
73 per cent of the 3,121 respondents to the consultation felt that a lack of clarity on how parents / childcare providers can access financial support would result in children with special educational needs not receiving appropriate support. 78 per cent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there was a need for local authorities to establish an inclusion fund, to improve the appropriate support that children receive in early years’ settings.
Thankfully, to a certain extent, the Government appears to be in agreement. As laid out by Justine Greening in the Government’s consultation response (‘Early years funding – Changes to funding for three- and four-year olds) ‘more funding, even if it is at record levels, is only part of the answer.’ She quite rightly recognises that the Government must ensure that the funding is allocated efficiently and fairly across the country through its national funding formula. However, it is vitally important that the differences in education and care settings are supported with different funding levels. Parents should also be made aware of the differences. There are many private and voluntary settings ideal for nursery age children who don’t need the extra social and educational support. However these don’t tackle early intervention and family support in the way pre-school nurseries do.
It also appears that responsibility is being given to the local authorities to establish SEN inclusion funds in their local funding systems from April 2017.
This transition period is unsettling for all pre-school establishments, and there is a risk of slow disintegration unless it is tackled soon. I strongly believe that a government rethink is needed if state nursery schools are to survive this latest fairer funding framework.
For those of you who want to explore this important issue further, I suggest you view some important quotes from chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw at: