Cllr Jane Pickard speaking to mothers at the Triangle Nursery School in Clapham
Cllr Jane Pickard speaking to mothers at the Triangle Nursery School in Clapham

Cllr Jane Pickard is the Deputy Cabinet Member for Schools , and a councillor in Knight’s Hill ward.

We all know that in the battle to create a fairer, more equal society, which provides hope and opportunities for young people, we need to start working with and investing in our children at a young age.

Lambeth’s five council-maintained nursery schools are already doing some of this fantastic work that often goes unnoticed. Four out of five are rated outstanding by Ofsted and one good. They are all located in, or close to, areas of high deprivation, taking in many children who face multiple disadvantages in life.

For instance, at Triangle Nursery School, on the William Bonney Estate in Clapham, I was told on a recent visit that 65 per cent of their children were classed as “vulnerable” – meaning they experience problems such as living in overcrowded housing, with critically ill or terminally ill parents or siblings, with poor mental health in the family, or witnessing domestic violence.

In addition, 38 per cent of children in the nursery have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). All this means that schools like Triangle employ more highly qualified staff, including fully qualified teachers and trained SEN co-ordinators (SENCOs), than in private and voluntary sector nurseries. Consequently, these schools cost more to run than their counterparts in the private and voluntary sector.

The Tory Government has failed to properly bridge this funding gap. Under the system introduced a few years ago to pay for free early years education, maintained nursery schools were offered the same as the non-maintained sector. When the Government was warned that their new system could result in hundreds of nurseries facing closure across the country, they introduced two years of temporary “supplementary” funding, due to run out next summer, leaving the schools deeply worried about their future viability.

Worse still, the funding itself is not enough, meaning the council has to top up the supplementary funding from its early years budget – money which might otherwise go to private and voluntary sector nurseries. So under a Tory government everyone loses out.

Even after a pitiful inflationary increase offered by the Government in its autumn statement, the schools are massively under-funded. These schools shouldn’t have to rely on temporary funding and council top-ups.

Under Labour, all nursery schools would be properly funded and ALL children would have the best possible start in life. We are asking the Government to bring out a proper strategy for nurseries and commit to the long-term, extra funding needed to give these schools a bright and secure future. It’s what our children deserve.

Cllr Jane Pickard

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