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Nursery Schools

Volume 617: debated on Monday 14 November 2016

17. What progress her Department has made on its planned consultation on the future of maintained nursery schools after the two-year supplementary funding arrangement. (907237)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to link Question 5 with Question 15. Maintained nursery schools make a very important contribution to social mobility. We want them to be sustainable in the long term. We have already committed £55 million a year of supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools for at least the next two years, and we will shortly be consulting them on how to do this further.

Forgive me, but I think the grouping is with Question 17 rather than Question 15—not that I wish to be pedantic; I just wish to be precise. [Interruption.] I think I have the advantage of being correct in this case, incredible though the hon. Lady may judge that to be.

I met Jan Holmes, the headteacher of Walton Lane Nursery, and many other Pendle nursery headteachers recently. Further to many of the points that have already been made, will my hon. Friend commit to extending the funding for maintained nursery schools beyond the two years indicated in the consultation, as nursery schools really do make a difference to some of the poorest children in my constituency?

Mr Speaker, I would never, ever accuse you of being wrong about anything. My hon. Friend is also right: maintained nursery schools play a vital role in tackling disadvantage. As I said, the £55 million commitment is for at least two years. We will say more about the funding of maintained nursery schools shortly, when we respond to our consultation on the early years national funding formula.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for preserving my Question 17. I am so pleased to hear that the Minister understands the real difference that local authority-funded nursery schools provide, and that a plan to fund them sustainably beyond two years is imminent. May I add my calls on behalf of Homerton Children’s Centre in my constituency? That announcement cannot come too soon. These children are vulnerable and they need a secure future.

My hon. Friend is right to say that maintained nursery schools often offer very high-value education, with 98% of them rated good or outstanding and 80% of them in areas of deprivation. As I have said, we will say more about their funding very shortly when we respond to our early years funding formula consultation.

The early years funding formula will detrimentally affect maintained nursery schools. There is a fantastic maintained nursery school in my constituency called Balham Nursery School that supports so many vulnerable families, and the thought that it needs to close in two years is absolutely unacceptable. There are three such schools in Wandsworth facing that fate. Will the Secretary of State meet me and these nursery schools to discuss securing their continued existence?

First, we have consulted on the early years funding formula. We have not yet released the findings of that consultation, but they will be released shortly. In addition, we have said that we will support maintained nursery schools with an additional £55 million for at least the next two years. That is not saying that any maintained nursery schools are going to be shutting. I am more than happy to meet any nursery schools, and I have met a number from up and down the country—

Of course I will meet them. I will reassure them that we value the amazing work that they do. They are very small in number, but they do outstanding work and we want to help them to do so.

I have two maintained nursery schools in my constituency: Ellergreen and East Prescot Road, both of them rated outstanding by Ofsted. May I urge the Minister to listen to Members on both sides of the House today? This uncertainty is very damaging for the nursery school sector, and I urge her to reach a decision for long-term, sustainable funding for nursery schools as quickly as possible.

As I have already said, I am more than happy to do so, but I want to consult the maintained nursery sector before I do that. There is no point in Government taking a high-handed approach and thinking that they know best. We need to consult the sector and plot the best possible way forward to maintain its outstanding future.

The cuts currently planned by the Government will be crushing in the nursery sector. Does the Minister not realise that the current level of nursery provision will be unsustainable if these cuts are implemented?

There are no cuts. The cuts are a figment of the hon. Gentleman’s imagination. We are putting an extra £6 billion of funding into this scheme by 2020. It is more than any Government have ever spent on early years childcare.