It would be “invidious” of the Government to save hundreds of outstanding nursery schools facing closure because of funding changes, Childcare Minister Liz Truss told an all-party committee of MPs today.
Pat Glass, Labour MP for North West Durham, had called on Ms Truss to reinstate the nurseries’ previously ring-fenced funding and protection against closure, arguing that the schools were too good to be allowed to “wither on the vine”.
Many of the remaining 418 standalone maintained nursery schools are at risk of closure because they are more expensive to run than nurseries attached to schools, the education select committee heard.
However, the vast majority (96 per cent) have been judged to be good or outstanding by Ofsted and are renowned for the high quality of their staff.
But Ms Truss was adamant that maintained nurseries should not get special treatment. She told the committee: “There are 16,339 school nurseries and 418 nursery schools. Do I support high quality teacher-led provision? Absolutely, wherever it is. But to say that these 418 are better than the 16,000 school nursery classes, we do not have any evidence for that.
“Why should it be that because they are a maintained nursery school they get extra money. That is not equitable. I think it would be invidious of the Government to pick out particular schools for extra funding because of their structure.”
Ms Truss was giving evidence after being recalled to the Select Committee after MPs said they were “disappointed” by the “inadequate” Government response to the committee’s report into Children’s Centres published in December last year.
Ms Glass said: “Many of them [maintained nursery schools] are outstanding. Many of them are facing imminent closure. Are we really in the business of closing the best of our schools?”
MPs also questioned Ms Truss about how funding cuts had affected the network of Children’s Centres. Bill Esterson, Labour MP for Sefton Central, said a 15 per cent reduction in the Early Intervention Grant over the last year suggested that the network was at risk.
Committee Chairman Graham Stuart, Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, highlighted statistics showing that 60 per cent of parents had used a children’s centre five times or less in the last year. He said: “Are we seriously suggesting that’s a serious intervention? We are spending a vast amount of money on a programme that looks to all intents and purposes that it has been hollowed out.”
Ms Truss responded saying there had only been 76 centre closures since 2010 with six new centres opened. She said: “We must be careful not to talk down Children’s centres. Tales of closure across the network are not true.”