Lancashire County Council’s cabinet has agreed to consult on the future of those maintained nursery schools that are feeling financial pressures.
The move is part of a ‘twin-track’ approach, which includes lobbying for additional early years funding, while also engaging in planning on the basis that no new funding is made available.
At the meeting held today (Thursday 16 January), the main recommendations agreed by Cabinet were to:
• Approve the commencement of a formal consultation on the future of those maintained nursery schools identified as currently being ‘non-financially viable’, or suffering critical financial stress.
• Approve that the chair of governors and the headteachers for those maintained nursery schools identified as being currently ‘financially vulnerable’ be requested to provide a sustainable financial recovery plan, with assistance from county council officers.
• Approve that, for those maintained nursery schools identified as being currently ‘financially viable’, the situation continues to be monitored on a termly basis, to ensure that the position does not deteriorate. If any of these maintained nursery schools are identified in the future as being ‘financially vulnerable’, the Executive Director of Education and Children’s Services be authorised to initiate the actions listed above for those nursery schools.
• Approve that, in the event that the Maintained Nursery School supplementary grant is not extended beyond April 2021, further consideration be given to the long-term viability of maintained nursery schools which would be the subject of a separate Cabinet report.
Lancashire has 24 maintained nursery schools, and is one of the largest providers in the country. The quality of the early education provided is high, with 96% being judged to be good or better.
Because of the uncertainty regarding the availability of the supplementary maintained nursery grant in the future, the county council has been working with nursery schools to help to plan for their financial future. The most vulnerable maintained nursery schools have been identified, and the council will continue to develop plans to address the known financial risks.
County Councillor Phillippa Williamson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “Despite the considerable support that we have provided over the last few years, we feel that this consultation is now necessary.
“We are fully aware of the funding pressures that are being felt by some of our maintained nursery schools.
“We have been concerned about the situation for a while, and have made considerable efforts to try to help the situation. We have been working with them for some time now, to help them to plan for the financial challenges that they face, whilst also trying to get more funding from the government.
“We are committed to continuing to support our maintained nursery schools. We will continue to work to identify those that could be most affected, and we will offer specific individual help to them to try to achieve viable sustainable solutions. The 2020/21 funding package is currently being financed, and the authority and School Forum will consider options to support the early years sector as much as possible.
“We will consider all possible options to try to find possible solutions.
“Despite the challenges that some of our nurseries are facing, it is important to highlight that the vast majority of them provide Ofsted-rated Good or Outstanding early education. This is something that we are really proud of.”