Last reviewed 19 October 2020

Increased costs during the pandemic and lost fee income could lead to mass cuts and closures of maintained nursery schools in England, according to a survey carried out by early years charity Early Education and unions NAHT, NEU and UNISON.

The survey reveals that just 10% of local authority maintained nursery schools in England are confident of being able to keep going with current funding levels. A third of nursery schools were in deficit at the end of 2019-2020, and now due to the impact of the pandemic only 28% expect to balance the books at the end of the current financial year.

Maintained nursery schools have more costs to cover compared to other early years providers as they have a headteacher, qualified teachers, and admissions policies that prioritise the most vulnerable children. They are predominantly located in disadvantaged areas and have a strong track record of closing the gap in educational outcomes, according to the research.

Maintained nursery schools were also twice as likely as private sector providers to have stayed open during the pandemic yet they have been unable to access government sources of support such as the business rates holiday, and unlike other schools, they were not eligible for government support with additional Covid costs.

The Department for Education (DfE) is due to confirm a long-term funding formula for maintained nursery schools to replace the stop-gap arrangements put in place in 2017 but this is dependent on the spending review. The report is calling on the Government to provide:

  • sufficient funding for a viable long-term funding formula for maintained nursery schools (c.£98m plus transitional funding as needed) from 2021-2022

  • additional support for the duration of the pandemic to ensure that extra costs and loss of income do not push maintained nursery schools into closure.

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive of Early Education, said:

“Successive early years ministers have described maintained nursery schools as the jewel in the crown of the early years sector but have yet to put in place a funding formula that will ensure their survival.”

“The added strains of the pandemic have pushed these vital community institutions to the brink and beyond. We need additional support for the whole early years sector to tide it through the pandemic.”

“Funding rates for all providers need to be reviewed to ensure they are viable and targeted where most needed, ie to the most disadvantaged communities. But as the Government acknowledges, one formula does not work for all. Maintained nursery schools are expected to play a different role and deliver to a different standard. It is vital their specific funding needs are addressed.”