In England, maintained nursery schools (MNS), like other early years settings, receive funding from central government (via their local authority) for the 15 and 30 hours of free childcare available to 3 and 4 year olds (and some 2 year olds) over 38 weeks of the year.

From 2017-18, a new national funding formula was introduced by the Department for Education (DfE) in order to provide what it described as a fairer and more efficient distribution of early years funding to local authorities.

However, the new formula did not take account of the additional costs that are specific to MNS. As the charity Early Education noted in a June 2018 briefing paper, MNS:

are required to employ a headteacher, qualified teachers, a SENCO [Special Educational Needs Coordinator] and staff with level 3 qualifications, while PVIs [Private, Voluntary and Independent providers] need employ only one staff member with a level 3 qualification, and half of their remaining staff at level 2. More highly qualified staff means higher costs.

To address the higher costs faced by MNS, the Government provided an additional £60 million funding per annum to local authorities in respect of MNS, although it only committed to provide this funding up to (and including) the 2019-20 financial year.

Concerns have been raised about the funding of MNS beyond 2019-20; the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi, told the House recently that “what happens after this will be determined by the next Spending Review, and informed by research we are carrying out on the value offered by maintained nursery schools” [PQ 196286, 5 December 2018].

Mr Zahawi said in September 2018 that this research would be published “in the autumn” [PQ 167861, 4 September 2018], but there is no record of it having published on the DfE website to date.

A Local Government Association survey on this matter, the results of which were published in October 2018, found that “nearly two thirds of councils responding to the LGA survey – 61 per cent – fear maintained nursery schools in their area will close if this funding is not protected”, and that “more than half (52 per cent) also said that the loss of funding would mean reduced support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)”.

The Government has said that “MNS are an important part of the early years sector and make a valuable contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children” [PQ 205958, 15 January 2019], and that “there is a presumption against the closure of maintained nursery schools. This does not mean that they will never close, but when they do, local authorities have a statutory requirement to ensure that alternative provision is of at least equal quality; maintains expertise and specialism; and is more accessible and convenient for local parents”. [PQ 196286, 5 December 2018]

The Library has published a briefing paper on this topic: New early years funding formula from 2017-18, including maintained nursery schools (England) – see section 6.

News articles

£400m “little extras” fund is available to maintained nurseries, Pre-school Learning Alliance, 05 November 2018

Councils fear for future of maintained nurseries, TES, 24 October 2018

Maintained nurseries at risk, according to survey, TES, 24 October 2018

Future of maintained nurseries and support for children with special needs at risk – LGA survey, Local Government Association (LGA), 24 October 2018

Local Councils call for extension of nursery school funding, British Association for Early Childhood Education, 24 October 2018

Petition against special needs funding cuts taken to Westminster, Guardian, 23 October 2018

Minister gathering evidence for nursery funding bid, TES, 05 October 2018

Cross-party MPs call on government to take ‘urgent action’ to stop nursery school closures, Independent, 16 September 2018

New campaign launches to save maintained nursery schools, Nursery World, 04 July 2018

Tory MPs warn ministers over nursery funding, BBC, 03 July 2018

Nursery schools: ‘What society gives children less chance than their parents?’, Guardian, 31 January 2017

Further reading

On 10 October 2018, there was a debate on Nursery Sector: Sustainability (HC deb 10 October 2018, volume 647, cc.85-105WH). Some exchanges were particularly of interest to this 2019 debate:

MPs aim to protect maintained nurseries, Education Executive, 18 September 2018

Briefing on Funding for Maintained Nursery Schools, British Association for Early Childhood Education, 29 June 2018

Early education and childcare – Statutory guidance for local authorities, Department for Education, June 2018

Early years entitlements: operational guidance – For local authorities and providers, Department for Education, June 2018

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