I work as a class teacher in a maintained nursery school and we are an endangered species. The number of specialised, state-funded nursery schools has been steadily decreasing ever since I trained 7 years ago. Over twitter and by word of mouth we hear of closure after closure due to the financial pressures incurred by shrinking budgets and government apathy for the work we do. My school survives, though things are not looking good. In an act of supreme kindness we were recently offered the services of a government accountant who would advise us on how to make further savings on our budget. The cuts to our budget were non-negotiable (as they have been for the last 10 years) but we could choose where they fell. Oh joy of joys.
As the man from the DfE sat before us, it was evident he represented a culture that only sees today’s balance sheet and ignores both the reality of professional life for Early Years staff and the long-lasting impact that quality Early Years education offers.
Two of his suggestions in particular stood out:
Part-time and job-sharing staff are expensive, and we need to look at retaining more full-time staff.
Early Years education is overwhelmingly staffed by women. All of those who work part-time and job share do so because they are trying to balance the responsibility of looking after their children or other family members while also bringing home a salary. It is just a fact of our society that it mostly falls to women to balance being care-givers while also needing to support their family financially. Having a part-time job helps them support their family while also helping them remain in the workplace. From a school’s perspective, employing women in part-time roles helps us retain competent and trained staff who begin to have families or whose circumstances change.
But to an accountant, part-time job shares cost too much – so we should not be so foolish in future as to hire women with families in care-giving roles. Got it.
Why do we put together EHCPs when they don’t bring us any money?
This requires a little explanation. An EHCP is a care plan which, once put in place, ensures a child with complex needs, and therefore their school, receives extra financial support. Since an EHCP takes so long to put together and to be approved, we as a Maintained Nursery School do not see the financial benefit. However, we see ourselves as part of an educational community. The earlier a child has an EHCP, the sooner they get the full support they need when they move up to primary school. The sooner their needs are being addressed by the relevant health and social agencies. By doing this work early on we are significantly improving a child’s chances in later life, we are saving schools’ time and energy further down the line, and saving money in the long term. We want to build a support system now for our children, before their situation develops beyond the capacity of the local educational and health community. Of course, it would take a different kind of accountant to see that.
So as we work through this financial “advice”, these are the choices that lie before us. Who do we chose not to support, who must we turn our backs on in order to stay open?
The first years of a child’s life are absolutely crucial in determining their future prospects. We know that, and we work incredibly hard to serve our children, yet it seems all the government can offer us is a knife, so we can bleed ourselves dry.