Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 3rd July 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire 3:17 pm, 3rd July 2018

I have not seen the report that the hon. Lady has mentioned, but in my own constituency standards and exam results have been improving. From my own personal experience, that is happening on the ground. I will come back to that in a minute.

What is happening is helping ensure that every child will receive a good education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Locally in North Warwickshire and Bedworth there has been a significant improvement in school ratings. In fact, according to figures released in December, our local community was one of the best improved areas for pupils attending good or outstanding schools since 2010—an increase of nearly 8,000 children. Standards in our schools continue to rise because of the hard work of teachers, combined with the changes the Conservatives have made to the curriculum—something I have seen first-hand during my regular visits to local schools. That is a record that Conservatives, who in government have both protected and invested in education funding, can be proud of.

We are in a strong position, but there is one area that I would like to focus on and deserves our special attention: maintained nursery schools. Maintained nursery schools were set up in the 1940s to improve social mobility, with 64% based in areas of social deprivation. They also provide education and care for a large proportion of nursery aged children with special educational needs, which is a legal obligation not catered for by private providers. The issue they face is that in 2016, when the early years funding changed to universal base rate funding, they saw a dramatic reduction in the money they receive. The Department for Education was quick to act and agreed to provide supplementary funding of £55 million to top up their budgets until the financial year 2019-20. Critically, this date is nearing and maintained nursery schools need certainty as soon as possible, so they can plan their futures. They provide a unique role in the early years sector. I know the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, takes a keen interest in this issue and the Government are committed to holding a public consultation later in the year. That is very welcome, but we must not underestimate the impact of these schools in our constituencies.

I have had the privilege of working with Amanda King, the inspirational headteacher of two maintained nursery schools in my constituency, Bedworth Heath and Atherstone. Some 20% of the children at her Bedworth Heath Nursery School are vulnerable children. From September, it will have eight children with heightened medical and special educational needs and disability. Despite those challenges, both schools are Ofsted rated outstanding across the board. As Amanda points out, it is not just about the service they offer to the children; the wider benefits they offer to the community are unique. If they were not around, there would be a gap in provision. They offer high quality childcare, which is a key factor in the social mobility of the mothers. The schools even lead by example on this, with over a third of her staff being former parents of children who went to her nursery.

Unfortunately, the universal base rate funding is not enough to enable them to cater for these children and while they also receive an inclusion grant, it does not cover the full costs. To illustrate the point, the inclusion grant is £100, but one-to-one support costs Amanda’s schools £160 a week. Having eight children with high level special needs, they will be running a deficit of £480 a week on this one issue alone. She is understandably frustrated with the current funding situation, saying that they want to offer help and support across the wider sector but cannot plan to do this if they are at risk of having to close their doors at the end of the next financial year.

There is a clear and demonstrable case to provide the financial certainty that these schools need. They are an asset to the communities they serve. If the funding is not provided, it will still need to be found elsewhere so that the provision can be made to ensure that children, particularly from areas of social deprivation or with special educational needs, can continue to receive the best possible start to their education journey. When a clear solution already exists to these issues, it would seem prudent to give it all of the support it needs, but the clock is ticking. I therefore urge Minsters to look carefully and quickly at what can be done to ensure excellent headteachers like Amanda and her many colleagues around the country are able to fully concentrate their efforts in providing the high quality education that benefits so many of our constituents, while delivering on the key Conservative principle of social mobility.