Maintained nursery schools are a small but very important part of the childcare market, and they do have costs that other providers do not, which is why we are providing £55 million a year in supplementary funding while we consult on how to ensure their future sustainability. The way in which we fund children’s centres gives local authorities the freedom to decide what services are appropriate to meet local need.
Some 99% of maintained nursery schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, and 65% of them are in the 30 most deprived areas of the country, including in my constituency. Yet, across the early years sector, experts are warning that proposed changes to the funding formula will place many of these nurseries at risk of closure after the two years of supplementary funding run out. Will the Minister commit to a sustainable level of funding to enable maintained nurseries to continue their important work of providing the best possible start in life and addressing disadvantage?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out that maintained nursery schools provide some good and outstanding care in the vast majority of their settings and in some of the most deprived parts of the country. That is why we have said that we are going to protect their funding for at least the next two years. We will say more about that funding shortly when we respond to the early years national funding formula consultation.
I challenge all the things the hon. Lady said. We are not stripping funding from nursery schools; the supplementary funding of £55 million a year is part of the record investment in childcare of £6 billion a year by 2020. That is more than any Government have ever spent.
With respect, I think the Minister is missing the point. This is not simply a question of childcare; it is a question of quality early education, and that is about narrowing the gap between the most disadvantaged and the rest. Could she go further and tell the House what maintained nursery schools, which employ teachers and other staff who want to carry on working for them, will do after this two-year period? It is no good schools knowing that they have security for two years—they need more than that.
I would say that we have made 6 billion points about how important we regard the sector to be. The hon. Lady is right that it does need to know about its future, but it does not make sense to make decisions about the future funding of maintained nursery schools before we have consulted on what that future should be. We will be consulting on that future, and we will make an announcement shortly.