Some of London’s most vulnerable pre-school children could lose vital educational support due to stretched finances for council nursery schools, according to a new report.
London Councils, the body that represents the capital’s 33 local authorities, claims that many of the capital’s 80 maintained nursery schools “face closure in the next two years unless the government takes urgent action.”
The report, entitled Hidden Value and based on findings from interviews with head teachers and other leaders representing 19 of the schools, emphasises their great value for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and in particular “those with the most complex needs”.
It says that high levels of well-qualified staff ensure that children who enter nurseries with lower than average levels of development are ready to start school by the time they leave, and that such work is vital to delivering the government’s early years and social mobility agendas.
In its conclusions the report calls on the government to implement a “sustainable funding solution for maintained nursery schools which acknowledges their status as schools, their higher costs and their distinct role in the early years system,” with emergency cash for those in danger of closure before March 2020.
A common theme identified in the interviews conducted was the need for staff to build relationships of trust with the parents of children with SEND, which requires an additional investment of time and energy.
Another issue was specialised provision in the schools for children with the most complex needs. London’s maintained schools, which provide 8,760 funded places for two, three and four-year-olds across 24 boroughs, support higher proportions of children with SEND and the most complex needs than other types of nursery in the city.
Councillor Nickie Aitken, London Councils executive member for children’s services (and also leader of Westminster Council), said: “These schools are specialists in their field and need to be funded accordingly to ensure that this valuable resource is not lost. We need to work with government and other partners to ensure that maintained nurseries can continue to provide effective support to disadvantaged children and those with SEND.”