I believe that maintained nursery schools (MNSs) must be given the funding that they need.
Early years education has a major impact on child development, and access to affordable, high-quality childcare and early years education is one of the most effective drivers of social mobility. MNSs do extraordinary work closing the gap between the most disadvantaged children and their peers, often in areas of deprivation and with particular expertise in supporting children with special educational needs or disabilities.
I believe it is vital that MNSs are safeguarded and I have consistently called for them to have long-term, sustainable funding.
When the Early Years National Funding Formula was introduced in 2017, a commitment was made to maintain level funding for MNSs until 2019-20 through a block of supplementary funding of around £59 million per year. The Government extended that funding for the summer term of 2020 with a further £24 million.
In the Spending Round in September 2019, a further commitment was made to increase early years spending by £66 million in 2020-21. However, it is not clear how much of this spending is intended for maintained nurseries. It is also the case that this commitment does not address the serious funding crisis facing the early years sector, nor does it end the long-term uncertainty for maintained nurseries, many of which are concerned about the possibility of having to close.
It has been estimated that there remains a funding shortfall within early years education of around £662 million, and the National Education Union has raised concerns there has been no specific announcement about funding for MNSs. I share these concerns and fear that without action, a generation of children could lose out.
I am glad that we have two excellent Shadow Ministers, Tracy Brabin (Shadow Minister for Early Year) and Angela Rayner (Shadow Secretary of State for Education), who have continuously raised this issue with the Government. I know that they will continue to press the Government to sustainably fund MNSs.
Furthermore, the Opposition is committed to investment in early years education and support rolling out educational provision for early years children as part of a National Education Service that would enable all two, three, and four-year-olds to benefit from free nursery education.