Bury MP James Frith and council leader Rishi Shori have called for action over the results of a new survey of local councils which shows that thousands of children with special needs could miss out on vital daily care and support unless the Government continues to provide extra funding for maintained nursery schools.
Maintained nursery schools play a significant role in providing care and support for more than 5,000 children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), with qualified teachers designated as co-ordinators – something not required in other nursery provision.
The Government has provided £55 million each year in supplementary funding for maintained nurseries since a new funding formula was introduced in 2017. The additional funding was provided in recognition of the extra costs faced by maintained nursery schools, such as the need for more highly qualified staff.
However, this funding is set to end after 2019/20.
Nearly two thirds of councils responding to the survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) – 61% – fear maintained nursery schools in their area will close if this funding is not protected. More than half (52%) also said that the loss of funding would mean reduced support for children with SEND.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling on government to commit to continue this funding for an extra year in 2020/21 to help councils keep maintained nurseries open before a long-term sustainable funding solution is found as part of the Spending Review.
There are currently 397 maintained nurseries in England with more than 40,980 children enrolled, of which 13.8% have SEND. Only 6.3% of 3 and 4-year-olds in the general population have SEND.
Maintained nurseries are more highly rated by Ofsted than other types of provision, and concentrated in areas of deprivation, which otherwise tend to experience lower-quality provision.
Councils are already struggling to manage the rising demand in support from children with SEND in schools and this issue is an additional pressure. Calls by the LGA for the Government to address the underfunding of SEND provision in the Autumn Budget fell on deaf ears. Councils have said they may struggle to meet their statutory duties and children with high needs or disabilities could miss out on a mainstream education.
In a joint statement, James Frith and Rishi Shori said:
“We have grave concerns about the future of maintained nursery schools if the Government does not continue the funding beyond 2020. This could have a detrimental impact on children with special educational needs, for whom maintained nurseries provide a lifeline of vital support.
“The government must commit to an extra year of funding in 2020/21 as part of wider work to find a long-term sustainable funding solution in the Spending Review. We were disappointed at the lack of money in the Budget to address the wider funding pressures faced by councils in providing support for children with SEND and call on the Education Secretary to look at this issue as a matter of urgency.”