CLOSURE WARNING: Bristol head teacher warns of funding cut consequences
A head teacher in Bristol has warned that pre-schools and nurseries will be forced to close due to a “ridiculous” funding cut during the pandemic.
The government expects early years providers to stay open as normal to all children during the third lockdown.
But, from January 1, it stopped funding for children who had attended before the pandemic but were no longer going.
Simon Holmes, head teacher of nurseries in St Philip’s Marsh and Barton Hill, told council education chiefs on Wednesday (January 13) the change would “wipe out” pre-schools and nurseries across the country.
Attendance has plummeted meaning a sharp drop in income for early years centres, he said.
Many parents are choosing to keep their children at home, in line with government guidance, and many centres are only opening for vulnerable children and children of key workers owing to safety concerns, he added.
Mr Holmes said: “At the moment, nursery schools…have been put in an incredibly difficult position, regarding being open and their safety.
“And the response from the DfE [Department for Education] has been to say that nursery schools…will only be funded for the children that are attending which basically would wipe out most of the early years provision in Bristol and the country, in fact.
“Many parents have chosen, following government guidance, not to send their children into nursery, but nurseries will then lose the funding for those children who are not attending.
“It’s an absolutely ridiculous position.
“Also, in terms of numbers attending,…we’re only open for vulnerable children and key worker families.
“That’s a decision we had to take to stay open following all the concerns of safety from staff.
“Potentially we would have [had] 70 children and 15 staff in one room in one of the most deprived wards in the city with multi-generational families living in blocks of flats which our staff live in and…have children in too.”
Mr Holmes said child numbers at his nurseries had halved and were down to about 30 at St Philip’s Marsh Nursery School and 15 at Cashmore Early Years Centre in Barton Hill.
To make matters worse, Cashmore receives no private income because the two-year-olds on its books are all entitled to funded early years provision, he said.
Early years centres charge for two year olds but the government pays for 15 to 30 hours per week for children aged three and over – and some two-year-olds – via local councils.
This is true whether nurseries are maintained by the local authority or run by private, voluntary and/or independent organisations.
Mr Holmes, whose nurseries are maintained by Bristol City Council, said teachers providing government-funded education are unable to use the furlough scheme.
He told the Bristol Schools Forum the DfE’s position on funding for early years provision was “completely unsustainable”.
Alison Hurley, the council’s education director, said the government’s guidance on funding was “really ambiguous” and that the council was working with other local authorities in the region to clarify the situation.
“There’s a number of pieces of work and lobbying and pressure that’s happening at the moment to get that clarity,” she said.
“And that is being echoed nationally, this isn’t a Bristol or a regional issue.”
Cabinet member for schools Anna Keen said she would take the matter up with the ruling Labour administration.
Three early years organisations – the Early Years Alliance, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) – have launched a campaign calling on the government to take urgent steps to protect the safety and financial sustainability of those working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings in England.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Keeping nurseries and childminders open will support parents and deliver the crucial care and education for our youngest children.
“Current evidence suggests that pre-school children (0<5 years) are less susceptible to infection and are unlikely to be playing a driving role in transmission.
“We are funding nurseries as usual and all children are able to attend their early years setting in all parts of England.
“Where nurseries do see a drop in income from either parent-paid fees or income from DfE, they are able to use the furlough scheme.
“Working parents on coronavirus support schemes will still remain eligible for childcare support even if their income levels fall below the minimum requirement.
“We will be closely monitoring both parental take-up of places and the capacity and response of providers, and will keep under constant review whether further action is needed.”
Words: Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter
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