Excellence under threat at Hungerford Nursery School – February 2022 update

There is a clear and present risk of widespread closures maintained nursery schools (MNSs) including Hungerford Nursery School due to supplementary funding changes planned by the government (not by West Berkshire Council).

Please see below for the background to the issue (blue headings) and what you can do to help.

Update February 2022

Head Teacher Suzanne Taylor addressed the February meeting of Hungerford Town Council: here is our summary of what she said.

Suzanne Taylor, the Head at Hungerford Nursery School, addressed the meeting. The situation here [compared to that at Hungerford Primary School, whose Head had also addressed the meeting] is slightly more complex as the school caters for very young children, some of whom have a wide range of needs (including for free school meals) but government funding does not always reflect what it provides. Despite numerous successes and achievements – the most eye-catching being the attainment of a fifth successive “outstanding” Ofted rating, a staggering achievement – the school, and maintained nursery schools generally, continues to operate against the backdrop of a deep uncertainty about its long-term funding.

Aside from the continued support of HTC and WBC, which was re-confirmed at the meeting, she issued specific appeals for funding to support areas where government provision was defective, including SEND provision and school meals. Not all the financial problems stem directly from Whitehall, however, for she revealed she’d been advised that a staggering 60% increase in energy bills should be provided for in the next financial year. She also appealed for volunteers for the Family Centre.

Update October 2021

The uncertainty, and the campaign, continues. See this post from the the national Educational Union for more.

Update April 2021

Suzanne Taylor, Head of the Hungerford Nursery School and Family Centre, addressed the meeting of Hungerford Town Council on 6 April 2021. She wanted HTC to be aware of “what the Nursery School is continually doing to support the families of Hungerford during this pandemic; and the cuts in funding and the continual challenges regarding funding for maintained nursery schools.”

The school has been open during the current term, despite some staff being absent. The number of pupils has fluctuated, rising as high as 120. Remote learning has taken place and the staff have “gone above and beyond their education role, supporting vulnerable children and families, keeping contact and delivering resources to families when social care and other services have ceased all face-to-face contact.” Despite these best efforts some children are experiencing anxiety and lower-then-expected levels of physical and social development. There have been staffing issues due to illness, shielding and self-isolation. Costs have also risen, including for extra cleaning products, while funding has fallen.  All in all, it has been a challenging term although Suzanne said she and her staff were “extremely proud to have been able to serve the families and children of the Hungerford community through this time.”

The Family Centre has been operating remotely during the lockdown. The staff have been in personal virtual contact with families that need support as well as running Zoom meetings for baby groups and ‘resilient parents’ courses, recording helpful materials online and sharing these on facebook. These have received positive feedback from the parents who have really appreciated that contact during these challenging times.

The long-running problem of the funding of all maintained nursery schools (MNSs)  is still unresolved although a concerted lobbying campaign has resulted in the current system being extended to March 2022. “The campaign to preserve the MNSs must be continued,” Suzanne Taylor said. “This is to ensure that supplementary funding is permanent funding. No other school would have to work under this annual stress. Their additional value easily offsets their higher costs, and if they are not funded adequately to continue this work, there will be significant additional costs to be picked up by other services including health, social services and other parts of the education system. We are already admitting children who will be in the Nursery School beyond March 2022.”

Update February 2021

In relation to the funding campaign, the government has agreed an extension of transitional funding for 2021–22. This is the additional funding currently provided to maintained nursery schools to cover the additional costs they have. However, this still does not provide long-term security – so the campaign goes on.

We continue to lobby local MP Laura Farris who is being very supportive. She has spoken directly to Vicky Ford, Minister for Children, about early-years funding. She has also been in touch with secretary of State Gavin Williamson in relation to this and other issues concerning maintained nursery schools.

We have received a recent update from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes. This stated that an announcement of maintained nursery school funding is expected ‘in the near future’. However, we are still waiting…

Additionally, at the beginning of January 2021, it was necessary to lobby Laura and our District Councillors about our funding allocation for this term. The government expectation is that our nursery should remain open for all our children. Initial government guidance for local authorities was that we should only receive funding for children actually attending our nursery. We would not have received funding for any children whose parents decided to keep them at home.  This would have caused significant financial problems for us. The government guidance has, fortunately, now been changed so that we will receive funding for all children on roll.

Update June 2020

The Nursery School has remained open during Covid-19 and has remained open for a small number children who are either vulnerable or whose parents are critical workers such as those working for the NHS, the care services or in food industries. Two of these children are from another setting that has closed. In addition, a large amount of virtual activities have been developed for the pupils who remain at home. You can read more in this separate post.

The Head Teacher, Suzanne Taylor, addressed Hungerford Town Council’s Full Council meeting and stressed that the funding crisis which has been hanging over this Nursery School and others like it for several years still remains. As matters stand, government funding will cease in March 2021 leaving the school, its staff, its tulips and their parents facing a bleak future. There has long been considerable cross-party support in the House of Commons for reversing this decision, former Newbury MP Richard Benyon being one of the MPs who supported this. Anyone who believes in the benefits of early intervention and supporting the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society is urged to make their views know. Please see the foot of the post for details.

Update November 2019

At the meeting of Hungerford Town Council on 4 November 2019, Suzanne Taylor provided an update of recent campaigns, projects and activities. The main points were:

• The supplementary funding (see below, passim) has been extended for a further year, until March 2021. She stressed that the campaign must continue to provide a permanent solution. Already the school is admitting children who will be in the school after this date.

• There is also concern that the funding for the Family Centre is under threat for 2020-21. This provides vital services for families many of which are on low incomes over a 160 square mile area. More news on this as it emerges.

Thriving Together, an independent CIO (charitable incorporated organisation), has been set up. This will be distinct from, but will work closely with, the Nursery School and Family Centre

Sensory Garden: please see the update on this separate post.

• The school wishes to increase the range of off-site opportunities as part of the Kindling Curiosity project. One current idea is to involve businesses, organisations and people in Hungerford who can help in any way with encouraging children and families to explore and get to know Hungerford and the surrounding area through activity trails and similar schemes. Please contact the Nursery School if you’d like to get involved or if you have any ideas. Sponsorship is also welcomed from local businesses.

• The Shoal minibus is is in good order and donations are welcomed (ideally via the Good Exchange) for its continued maintenance: contact the Nursery School for more information.This enables a wide range of off-site activities to be undertaken.

• There is work that needs to be done on increasing the literacy skills of children who join the school for the first time and reading to young children is a key part of this. Volunteer readers are needed, so please get in touch if interested. A fundraising drive will shortly be launched to purchase a new range of non-fiction books.

Update October 2019

The campaign to save the Nursery School is by no means over: see below for a background to this.

Meanwhile, Hungerford Nursery has received a Silver Award from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. The award recognises the school’s commitment to ensuring all learners have access to good quality educational experiences beyond the classroom walls.  It is a real coup for all the staff and governors as it shows they are providing children with potentially life changing opportunities.

The Nursery School is also looking for volunteers to provide an extra adult on trips, for example to the market, to the library or to the woods. Please get in touch if you are interested Email: office@hungerfordnursery.w-berks.sch.uk   out call 01488 682628.

Please see this separate post for an update on the progress with the sensory garden.

Update May 2019

In an address to Hungerford Town Council on 7 May 2019, Headteacher Suzanne Taylor provided an update on both the funding issues and various initiatives at Hungerford Nursery School.

Supplementary funding. As mentioned below, the announcement in February does not reverse the planned funding cuts, but only delays them until July 2020. The campaign to preserve the MNSs must be continued to ensure that supplementary funding is extended beyond this date. Hungerford is already admitting children who will be in the Nursery School beyond July 2020.

Familiy-centre funding. The Family Centre has received the same funding as last year from West Berkshire Local Authority, so funding will continue to be tight.  We will have to generate an income to support the Family Centre in order to maintain services, courses and family support across the are

New minibus. Shoal (Friends of Hungerford MNS) – with help from Hungerford Town Council, GreenHam Trust, The Good Exchange and many local donors – has purchased a new minibus which will enable the current level of outdoor learning to be maintained. The vehicle is available for hire by other local children’s groups.

Sensory garden. The school is currently raising £5,000 for this project which will encourage children to understand more about the small-scale natural world: this will complement other aspects of the school’s teaching. A donation page will soon be on The Good Exchange’s website.

Clean-up. We host a twilightclean-up session in the summer to get the parents and children community involved in maintaining the Nursery Garden.

Community interest organisation.  The Nursery and Family Centre is investigating setting up a CIO to ensure the long-termprovision of courses and training for the parents within the community. This is currently being reviewed by the Charity Commission. 

Update February 2019

A petition on the subject was submitted to parliament by a number of MPs, including Newbury MP Richard Benyon, on 5 February. In a letter to the governors he described the two MNSs in West Berkshire as providing ‘a vital service’ and confirmed that he was ‘fully committed’ to helping resolve the funding problems these faced, including having ‘a number of meetings’ with the Minister. The governors also thanked ‘other like-minded MPs of all parties…and our town council and district councillors.’

On 28 February, the following letter was sent by Beatrice Merrick on behalf of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Nursery Schools to all those who presented the petition:

We are delighted to let you know that the Early Years Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has today announced that the supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools will be extended to cover the summer term of 2020, with £24 million being made available for this purpose.  This is in response to our argument that nursery schools were being asked to admit children in the autumn 2019 without knowing whether funding would be available for the full school year.  It is being done as an exceptional case, with all other funding decisions for 2020-21 onwards having to await the next Comprehensive Spending Review.  Thanks to everyone who lobbied their MPs, who in turn kept up pressure on ministers to secure this result.  Above all, thanks to APPG officers Lucy Powell and Jack Dromey for their support in keeping this issue at the top of ministers’ agendas.  

This is a very positive first step, but we recognise that nursery schools urgently need a longer-term funding solution, and that it is far from ideal to be waiting for the spending review, which we hope but cannot guarantee will take place in autumn 2019.

As the last paragraph makes clear, this is not a permanent solution to the problem and to some extend only brings the end of the current funding to a more logical point at the end of an academic year – note the reference to this being ‘an exceptional case’. It does, however, give some definite encouragement as well as a bit more time. The issue and the campaign thus remain very much alive.

Richard Benyon welcomed the announcement and said that he will ‘continue to work’ towards a long-term settlement in the next Spending Review. This is expected to be completed later in 2019 and will confirm government spending plans for the following three to five years.

Update 7 January 2019

The Head Teacher, Suzanne Taylor, made a brief presentation to the Hungerford Town Council meeting and provided an update on the campaign. Locally, this has received considerable support from local residents and unanimous support from West Berkshire and Hungerford Councils; nationally, it continues to receive widespread cross-party support in parliament (including from local MP Richard Benyon) and a national campaign is soon to get underway.

The unique, valuable and cost-effective services supplied by MNSs and the the problems, many of them serious and long-term, that would would result from their demise are discussed below and summarised at the end. However, the threat is so potentially damaging for many current pupils and for children yet unborn that it’s worth stating the again.

Hungerford Nursery School and others like it:
• Save costs, easing the pressure on other public services.
• Have a positive impact on system leadership for training staff in other settings.
• Diminish or eliminate the difference early in life between progress outcomes for vulnerable groups and all children.

If funding is reduced – as the government currently plans – it is feared:
• That opportunities for early interventions to protect children from harm will be missed.
• That there will be an increased cost to public-sector services.
• That high-quality graduate qualified teachers will be lost and unable to have .
• That children would face many more challenges in the school and later life.
• That the private sector will not be able to fill all these gaps.

Update 7 December 2018

At its meeting on Thursday 6 December, West Berkshire Council debate  the proposal of a motion about maintained nursery schools. The motion was proposed by Lynne Doherty the Executive Member for Children, Education and Young People. The wording of the motion was as follows:

“That this Council adds its voice to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes and our own MP Richard Benyon to call on the Government to take action to ensure nursery schools are financially sustainable for the future when the current supplementary funding ends in England in March 2020.

It was passed unanimously.

BACKGROUND

There are about 400 maintained nursery schools (MNSs) in England, two of which are in West Berkshire (Victoria Park and Hungerford). These provide early-years learning for children up to five. They are funded by the Government and provide thousands of free hours of education for children each week. However, their central-government funding was set to end in 2020 (it has since been extended to March 2021) and MNSs are asking for community support to lobby government ministries and their MPs.

According to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), MNSs ‘have a critical role to play in the provision of high-quality early years education’. They are particularly effective at being able to provide the necessary expertise and facilities for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), those from disadvantaged areas and those from vulnerable families. Early intervention for these children helps to ensure that by the time they start full-time education they have not already fallen behind their peers, so placing extra burdens on their primary school.

Success of Hungerford Nursery School

In September 2017, 43% of children arriving at Hungerford Nursery School were judged to be ‘at risk’ with their language development: on leaving, in July 2018, this had fallen to 6%. Not only that but 30% were judged to be ahead. Nor do they keep this expertise to themselves, for MNSs also provide support and leadership for the entire early-years sector (which includes private and voluntary nurseries and childminders).

According to Ofsted’s own reports, MNSs are also by far the best performing parts of the educational system. 63% of MNSs were rated as ‘outstanding’ in August 2017, a figure no other part of the education sector comes close to matching (the average for all state schools is 21%). This excellence is systemic. Hungerford’s 2016-17 Ofsted report observed that the nursery school ‘sets high expectations for children’s achievement and continually strives to exceed these.’ Indeed, the school has never received any other rating apart from ‘outstanding’. This is the level of excellence that we have on our doorsteps and have had since the school was founded in 1942.

Excellence under threat

Despite the wealth of statistics that demonstrates how much MNSs underpin social inclusiveness and help reduce educational disadvantage – problems that, if unattended, result in increased costs being incurred by schools and by social-care professionals – MNSs are currently under threat. Revised funding plans introduced in 2017 have imposed one common early-years rate for each local authority. Unlike private and voluntary nurseries, MNSs need to have a full roster of qualified teachers and associated compliance costs. Every MNS is legally a school but – crucially – is not funded as such.

That’s not all. As the British Association for Early Childhood Education observes, the problems they face are ‘structural as well as financial’. They need to operate in a competitive market but are controlled by their local authority in many respects. However, they cannot opt out of this control and its attendant financial restrictions by becoming part of an academy or trust.

Despite several stays of execution, the extra funding which MNSs receive will cease in March 2021. For Hungerford, this makes up over a third of its revenue and it’s hard to see how it, or indeed any MNS, will be able to survive thereafter.

The problems faced by Hungerford are thus part of a national problem that requires a change in national policy. There is already cross-party support for adequate and sustainable funding for MNSs, including from local MP Richard Benyon. West Berkshire Council – which in this and other matters has its hands tied – would like to see both its MNSs survive and thrive. So too would numerous parents and pupils, past and present.

The importance of early intervention

There are many reasons why doing our best to ensure that all children, whatever their circumstances, have the knowledge and skills necessary to make the most of full-time education. These might be personal: perhaps you or a member of your family has benefitted from this approach (over 6,000 people have in Hungerford in the last 76 years). They might be moral or ethical. The current policy is, however, based on financial considerations so it’s worth being equally hard-headed and looking for a moment at that.

Over half of West Berkshire’s expenditure in 2018-19 will go on social care and education, about £63m in all. In these austere times there is much talk about efficiency. One of the best ways efficiency can be achieved is to ensure that problems are dealt with early. In the case of children, leaving some of these until the start of full-time school is already too late for this to happen efficiently or, in some cases, at all. Years or decades of increasingly expensive (and often increasingly ineffective) intervention can be the result. Not all of this can be avoided, of course, but it makes sense to avoid what one can.

Again, this is a point backed up by Ofsted itself which claims that children who do not reach a good level by the age of five are likely to struggle to catch up. Ofsted’s Early Education Director Gill Jones, quoted in the Windsor Observer on 5 September 2018, says that this gap remains ‘stubbornly wide.’ Undermining the work done by MNSs seems only likely to make it wider still.

On every level, therefore, early intervention is a good thing – particularly if you take a long-term view. Austerity measures, however, tend to be short-term. The result is that projects that have a clear and immediate cash return tend to be favoured over those that do not.

In summary…

MNSs do the following:

1. They transform lives, particularly for those who are disadvantaged.
2. They have admission policies that give priority to those in greatest need.
3. They have a unique pool of experience to support children with SEND.
4. They provide expertise and leadership that benefits the whole early-years sector.
5. They provide value for money.

The campaign – what you can do

Hungerford Nursery School, along with many others, is mounting a campaign to change this.

You can  support us by writing to your MPs (Hungerford residents: Laura Farris MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA) and to the Chancellor of the Exchequor (The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London SW1A 2HQ) to make clear to the government what different Hungerford Nursery has made to your family.

For more information

Please contact Suzanne Taylor, headteacher at Hungerford Nursery School, to make your views known at support@hungerfordnursery.w-berks.sch.uk.

Thank you!

For more information on Hungerford Nursery School please visit the website by clicking here.

This post will be updated as necessary. You can comment on this by using the ‘comment’ section below.

See also…

Sensory garden at Hungerford Nursery School

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