“The so-called funding formula, which allows £3.98 per pupil per day for three and four-year-olds, is obviously insufficient to run a nursery school. Nursery staff, are not highly paid, but are highly skilled child experts.”
Tower Hamlets Unison steward Lizzy Ali reports on levelling down for early years children
The nursery school where I have worked for the last 25 years is set to close, with its staff being made redundant.
Stepney, in the borough of Tower Hamlets, is an area steeped in the labour movement history since the Great Dock of 1889. Within a radius of less than a mile lie Cable Street, Sidney Street (of siege fame), and Poplar (where George Lansbury and his fellow councillors defied the government in the 1920s, and the setting for Call The Midwife). Stepney had a Communist MP from 1945 to 1950, while Britain’s first BNP councillor was elected in Millwall ward on the Isle of Dogs in 1993.
Home to successive waves of immigration, Tower Hamlets has long had some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Britain, interspersed with people working in the vast financial district of Canary Wharf, and is home to the largest Bangladeshi community in the country.
Nursery education has played a vital role in assisting migrant communities in finding their feet. Tower Hamlets in east London had seven nursery schools – all outstanding and praised for their high quality teaching and learning environments.
After the recent introduction of the funding formula this went down to three schools. Come September this year it will be down to two. There are just under 400 maintained nursery schools left in the country, but the numbers are going down steadily.
Our nursery education used to be the envy of other countries. International visitors regularly visited our nurseries to learn from our highly skilled nursery nurses and early years’ teachers delivering a wide and rich curriculum to our multinational three and four-year-olds.
The government’s funding formula pays the same for each child whether you are a child minder, a play group or a nursery school. If both parents are working and jointly earn under £100,000, you can have a free 30-hour place. If only one parent is working or you are unemployed then you can only have 15 hours per week.
The funding formula hits the poorest families. This government’s so called “leveling up agenda” is not about helping the poorest families. It is all smoke and mirrors. We know from the pandemic that the poorest families have been hit with being laid off, their benefits cut, and now higher taxes.
Nursery schools do not just provide high quality education that gives deprived children the best start in life. They also provide support networks for parents, good quality nutrition, parent workshops, language classes, health screening, and in some cases, a first point of contact for many abused women in the community.
The so-called funding formula, which allows £3.98 per pupil per day for three and four-year-olds, is obviously insufficient to run a nursery school. Nursery staff, are not highly paid, but are highly skilled child experts. In my nursery, the majority of staff have early years’ degrees and many years’ experience. For as long as Ofsted has existed, Tower Hamlets nursery schools were graded as “outstanding”. High quality nursery education for all is obviously not what this government wants.
Children have lived through over two years of the pandemic not being able to fully socialize with their peers or wider family, and with their play heavily restricted. This has left them well behind in their developmental stages. The government’s response is not to pump the necessary investment into addressing this problem. It is to close our “outstanding” nursery schools in the near future.
- Lizzy Ali is a Tower Hamlets Unison Steward.
- This article originally appeared in Labour Briefing (Co-operative) magazine and is reproduced with permission. Subscribe by sending a £20 cheque with your address to ‘Labour Briefing Co-operative Ltd’, 7 Malam Gardens, London, E14 OTR.