Nurseries kept in the dark over key funding decisions

A new survey has revealed that over a third of Maintained Nursery Schools are cutting staffing and services to balance their books as a result of lost income and additional coronavirus-related costs.

Exacerbated by a lack of certainty over the funding they will receive from spring 2022, Maintained Nursery School leaders reported losing an average of over £70,000 of income, as well as having to spend an extra £8,000 for additional costs.

Unlike some other schools, Maintained Nursery Schools were not eligible for exceptional cost funding for Covid from government and so have had to bear the brunt of these costs themselves. They were also not eligible for some government schemes which benefited private providers in the sector such as the business rates holiday or business loans.

The survey, carried out by Early Education, NAHT, NEU and UNISON, shows that 46 per cent of respondents said that at the end of March 2021, they would be in deficit for the year. The average deficit reported was £76,000. Worryingly, only 23 per cent of respondents confirmed that they could continue to operate within their current funding levels and 21 per cent reported that they have financial recovery plans in place or under discussion.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We know that many Maintained Nursery Schools were already in a perilous financial position going into the pandemic. The last year has only deepened that crisis. If we are to avoid widespread closures of these nurseries, the government has to come forward with a long-term solution – this can cannot be kicked down the road any longer.”

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said: “Maintained nursery schools during the pandemic were a lifeline for local families: they stayed open for the most vulnerable children and children of critical workers, often taking in children from other settings which closed.  They supported their families with remote learning – and often with food parcels and practical support.  They were in touch with vulnerable families when health and social services were unable to maintain contact.  Instead of this lifeline being supported, it is being put at risk by government failure to address their routine funding needs.  Having been operating on a financial knife-edge for years, the pandemic has tipped the balance for too many schools, government needs to act now to resolve the long-term funding issue and provide targeted financial help to those whose survival has been jeopardised by the pandemic.”

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