Mike Kane MP, Shadow Minister for Schools:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on introducing the debate. I never fail to be impressed by the passion she brings to her speeches or by her campaigning zeal—I have campaigned with her since before I became a Member.
We know that this debate is of great importance; that is why we have had such a high turnout of Members and such a high-quality debate. I join the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) in praising nursery staff throughout the country for their commitment. He spoke more articulately than I can about all the work that goes on.
The Minister will be aware that Members here know the importance of maintained nurseries for sure, and the role they play in our early years system. They are invaluable. In fact, they are absolutely irreplaceable. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) spoke about Scartho Nursery School with such passion, because he knows that that sort of provision cannot be replaced in any constituency up and down the land if it is lost.
Maintained nurseries operate overwhelmingly in disadvantaged areas and, as has been pointed out, 98% of them are rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted. If 98% of them are rated so highly, why do we feel that they are suddenly being so undervalued by the Government, and why do they face this funding crisis? We are at the point now where there is no turning back.
Research by the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools and nursery classes, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who is no longer in her place but does astonishingly good work in this area, shows that dozens of nursery schools—I think she said 67—look like they will be forced to close by July this year. That is more than one in 10 nursery schools.
Almost 60% of those nurseries say that they will be unsustainable once the Government withdraw transitional funding support at the end of this Parliament, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) pointed out. She talked about educational attainment across the north and referred to the debate that Jo Cox secured about Yorkshire and the Humber. However, we should remember that in London 55% of kids on free school meals get five good GCSEs. If we take the area from the Mersey estuary to the Humber estuary, that figure for kids on free school meals declines to 34%. The Government produced the Nick Weller report about educational attainment in the north, but unfortunately it is now just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere—there is no evidence that any of its recommendations have been implemented.
Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab)
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for not being able to be here for the whole debate, because of a prior engagement. However, I just feel so strongly about this issue that I want to put on the record how well Ganneys Meadow Nursery School in my constituency is doing. It is located in one of the 20% most deprived lower-level super output areas in the UK, but it received three “outstanding” judgments in its last three Ofsted reports. Nevertheless, it is really struggling financially and anything that the Minister can do to mitigate that situation would be hugely appreciated.
My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point, as she defends the maintained nursery in her constituency. It has three “outstanding” judgments, yet it is under all that pressure. What sort of society are we living in when that is happening to professional staff, as well as to parents and their young children?
With so many nursery schools likely to rely on the transitional funding, this debate is of huge importance. In her eloquent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said that the order of the day at the moment is survival or closure for most of these operations. So can the Minister tell us how the transitional funding will be awarded, which nursery schools will benefit, and how will she ensure that it is used in a way that supports our nursery schools up and down the land? I ask these questions because providing transitional funding is not the same as providing certainty. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) also pointed that out. We need long-term sustainability.
Right now, nursery schools across the country support some of our most disadvantaged communities and they are highly valued by parents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) said. He was also absolutely bang on the money about the quality of training provided in these nursery schools. I remember being a PGCE—postgraduate certificate in education—student and spending two, three or four weeks at a nursery school, and I understood that those nursery teachers knew with 95% accuracy what the kids at that nursery would attain at their key stage 1 standard assessment tests and at their key stage 2 SATs, because they knew that what they could do was make the most important intervention in a child’s life.
The Minister and her colleague, the Secretary of State for Education, have said—rather frequently—that the Government are investing a record £6 billion in early years and childcare; we will see if she comes to that figure today. However, that assessment does not tell us the whole story. For instance, it does nothing to consider the impact of changes in the early years funding formula, and nor does it consider the impact of the savage cuts to local government funding that the Minister’s party has pursued for nearly seven years in government.
I will just turn to the situation in Scotland. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) said, “Nursery education is the crème de la crème”, and I agree with her that nursery education is the best start in life. However, the Scottish National party Government are taking £150 million a year out of Glasgow City Council’s budget. How do we think that will impact on nursery schools in Scotland? And that is after Glasgow Labour had rebuilt every new school of the campus at £600 million over the last 15 years. What do we think those sorts of cuts will do for disadvantaged children in Glasgow? Let us also be absolutely clear that the SNP Government are failing to inspect nursery schools, with inspection ratios going up to years and years before the equivalent of Ofsted goes in and inspects those schools. I am afraid that the SNP Government have a record of failure in Scotland.
That is why they keep getting voted back in.
That might be the case, as the hon. Lady suggests by chuntering from a sedentary position, but we now face a party that is like the Liberal Democrats of this Parliament—everybody else is to blame, except themselves. Having said that, we are to blame—all Members—for this situation, because we are not doing our research on what is actually going on north of the border.
Will the hon. Member take an intervention?
No, I have no time.
You have done your slagging off.
Nadine Dorries (in the Chair)
Many families are supported by nursery schools that are supported by the Government. However, the Government’s policy of tax-free childcare will do nothing for many working parents. The total benefit of tax-free childcare is £2,000, but that is only available to a family that spends £10,000 a year on childcare. It is quite a regressive tax and it does not really do much for those in the most disadvantaged communities, who rely on the maintained nursery sector.
The Government have to come up with a plan to protect some of the most valuable nursery schools in our country. The Minister has seen the passion that hon. Members across the Chamber have shown today, and we know that we get the biggest bang for our buck, educationally speaking, when it is spent on nursery education. However, I fear that unless the Minister comes up with a plan, her curriculum vitae will show that many maintained nurseries closed on her watch. I know personally that she does not want that to happen. Nevertheless, the risks are clear, and if she and the Government fail to act, a generation of children will really lose out.