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‘Where are these children going to go?’ Fears childcare funding changes will hit disadvantaged

Cllr Joe Caluori: “If we don’t get what we want, we will have a lively public campaign.”

12 November, 2016 — By Koos Couvée

Cllr Joe Caluori with Fiona Godfrey, head of Kate Greenaway Nursery School in King’s Cross, and some of the children who attend the nursery

HUNDREDS of Islington’s most disadvantaged children could lose their full-time nursery places as a result of planned changes to early years funding, it is feared.

The government plans to expand the current 15 hours of funded childcare that parents who are in work receive for three and four-year-olds to 30 from 2017.

Currently, Islington Council pays extra cash to nursery schools and children’s centres disproportionately used by poorer families and children with particular needs to close the educational attainment gap between these kids and their better-off peers. Hundreds of children get 30 free hours of free childcare as a result.

However, under plans proposed by the government there will be a requirement to pass on 95 per cent of government funding directly to childcare providers, which means inner London councils, which have high levels of deprived families, will see this budget squeezed.

Islington is set to lose up to £1million – 10 per cent of its total budget – and 450 pupils on free school meals for whom the council funds a full-time place could lose their places. It will also threaten the sustainability of nursery schools and children’s centres relying on extra funding.

“We provide for children who are not provided for in the private sector,” said Fiona Godfrey, headteacher at the Kate Greenaway nursery school in King’s Cross.

“This funding formula is going to prioritise the private sector. In the worst-case scenario, nursery schools will lose £1.3million and this would mean we would be unsustainable.

“This would mean there would not be a facility in this area to provide for those children. Private sector nurseries are not obliged to employ qualified teachers and a special educational needs co-ordinator, for instance. Where are these children going to go?”

While children’s centres and nursery schools in the borough – the main providers for disadvantaged children – are set to lose around £2m, money for the borough’s 50 private providers will increase by more than £1m, the Town Hall estimates.

Councillor Joe Caluori, Islington’s education chief, said: “Nursery education is a real leveller of disadvantage. Our childcare is used by all sections of the community and one of the benefits of this is that children and parents have friendships that cut across social class boundaries. In the early years we can narrow the [education attainment] gap.”

“But these changes would remove the ability for poorer children to have full-time places. In terms of their development they will be less school-ready, while it will also hinder parents to search for work.”

The council has met with other inner London councils, including Conservative ones, to demand changes to the proposals.

Cllr Caluori added: “If we don’t get what we want, we will have a lively public campaign.”

The Department for Education (DfE) said no council’s funding rate can fall by more than 10 per cent and that the “vast majority” of providers can expect a funding increase.

A DfE spokesman said: “We want to make this a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That’s why we’re helping families with the cost of childcare by giving working parents up to 30 hours’ free childcare a week for three and four-year-olds – and disadvantaged families will continue to benefit from 15 hours a week of free early education for two-year-olds.

“We have also committed an extra £55m funding per year to give nursery schools stability for at least the next two years and will be investing £300m per year to raise the hourly funding rate for nurseries, playgroups and childminders.”

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