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Nursery school leaders in England have written to Chancellor Philip Hammond, urging him to safeguard long-term funding for state nursery schools.
A total of 251 heads have signed the letter, which they will deliver to Downing Street on Monday afternoon.
They say state nurseries are the “jewel in the social mobility crown” and want assurance of funds in the chancellor’s spending review on Wednesday.
Last month, the government announced £24m additional funding for nurseries.
Announcing the funds, Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi said state-funded nursery schools played a valuable role in supporting some of the most disadvantaged children.
But while nursery leaders say this funding boost was welcome, they argue there is no guarantee of adequate funding after the next academic year.
Children ‘not ready to learn’
Sally Leese, head teacher at Castle Vale nursery school in Birmingham, is one of the 251 signatories of the letter.
Ms Leese told BBC News her school, which is based on an estate with high levels of deprivation, offers valuable support to disadvantaged families.
“We support families and children who don’t come in with the skills they need in order to be successful at school,” she said.
“We do have to support them in their speech and language, in toilet training, in feeding themselves, clothing themselves.
“We do get some that come in age-appropriately but many of our children still have dummies, bottles, they’re not spoken to, they’re put in front of screens, tablets, TV and they just don’t come with the communication skills that you need in order to learn.
“We have to support the families a lot as well to understand what their children need and how to achieve that.”
Ms Leese said schools such as hers needed confirmation of funding for the future, so that they could continue to support disadvantaged families.
“We want a long-tern commitment to funding us as schools,” she said.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT – which has co-ordinated the lobby of Parliament together with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes – said: “Maintained nursery schools are local authority run schools for two-, three- and four-year-olds.
“They are the jewel in the social mobility crown, supporting some of our most disadvantaged children – 64% of maintained nursery schools are in the 30% most deprived areas of England.
“They offer the highest quality early education and care in our education system, with 63% graded outstanding by Ofsted and 35% good.”
What does the letter say?
In their letter to the chancellor, the nursery heads say: “The long-term survival of maintained nursery schools still hangs by a thread.
“The fact remains that, even with the supplementary funding, most maintained nursery schools have had to make large cuts and make hard decisions to balance reduced budgets.
“Exceptional, highly trained, early-years staff have been lost to the system through restructures or because of the constant worry of an uncertain future.
“As head teachers and governors, we are trying to plan for a future that, without the sustainable funding, will probably mean the closure of our schools.
“We are making decisions that could be detrimental to the future of our schools because we have no clear decision from the government about our funding.
“We need your support again. We need stability to continue the life-changing work we do.”
It adds: “Our schools help families to grow, and we nurture and develop the children we support. There will be a terrible cost to our social fabric, and the wider education and care system, if our schools cease to exist.”
Last month, Mr Zahawi announced £24m of additional funding for nurseries.
He said: “We know that maintained nursery schools play a valuable role in supporting some of the most disadvantaged children across the country, and that there was some uncertainty about funding for the next academic year.
“That is why we have provided an additional £24m of funding to local authorities for their maintained nursery schools – to give reassurance in time for the allocation of places for September 2019.
“Decisions on what happens past the end of the 2020-21 academic year will be taken at the next spending review.”