The last decade has not been kind to maintained nursery schools: despite huge investment in the early years, nursery school closures have been closing at the fastest-ever rate. So it is far from heartening to read in the government's latest White Paper that "the Early Years Foundation Stage is delivered by a wide range of settings in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sectors, including Sure Start Children’s Centres, as well as in nursery and reception classes in schools." Did someone forget all about the maintained nursery schools, the organisations which pioneered early education integrated with health services for families?
It seems to me that early education is being split into “childcare” and primary schooling. The triumph of "childcare" in places vaguely referred to as "settings" has seriously damaged nursery education, leading to Children's Centres contracting out their childcare to whoever offers the best value, too often by-passing the local nursery school. The whole field is increasingly seen as a kind of market in which consumer choice trumps everything else. This thinking is driving on the requirement that local authorities must create a single funding formula for all early years providers. A single formula would be a welcome development if there was going to be a substantial rise in funding to allow all nurseries to employ qualified teachers, EYPs and nursery nurses in the same proportions as the nursery schools. But as there are no plans to make serious improvements to the funding of the early years, the only likely result will be significant cuts to nursery school budgets, which will probably lead to even more closures.
In any area of work, it is easy to envy those who are better-funded than the majority. It is easy to destroy, in a few years, institutions that have provided decades of service to families in some of the poorest parts of England. I would call that an act of social vandalism. Policy-makers seem to forget that a key finding of the EPPE Project is that maintained nursery schools (including those which are at the heart of integrated centres) provide the best quality education for three and four year olds. The course of action this suggests is that the training, qualifications and pay of all nursery staff should be improved to the same levels as those which prevail in the maintained nursery schools. why not let all children have the opportunities currently afforded to a minority?
This piece was originally published in Nursery World