Theresa Villiers, MP for Barnet, has spoken up in Parliament on the importance of Early Years education, describing it as "an engine of social mobility". She has been campaigning to save Barnet's Maintained Nursery schools and recently helped secure £60m for that part of the education sector in the Chancellor's spending review. In her speech in the debate, she called on Ministers to introduce reform to ensure a fairer allocation of this supplementary funding for Maintained Nursery schools so Barnet no longer misses out.
This is Theresa's speech, as reported in Hansard:
"The first few years of life have a crucial impact on a person’s prospects for happiness, success and opportunity in adulthood, so providing the best learning opportunities in the early years is one of the most effective long-term means to tackle serious social problems, such as antisocial behaviour, drug abuse and crime. Early-years education can truly be an engine for social mobility, and I welcome the commitment and investment in this crucial sector by successive Conservative Governments since 2010.
I particularly want to speak up today for the maintained nursery schools, of which I have three in my constituency —St Margaret’s, Hampden Way and Brookhill, which are grouped together in the Barnet Early Years Alliance. I pay tribute to the outstanding work that they do.
As we have heard today, maintained nursery schools have been kept afloat since the introduction of the national funding formula by transitional supplementary funding. In providing that money, the Government have recognised the additional requirements placed on these schools and the fact that they reflect additional costs, but the allocation of supplementary funding is based on historic discrepancies, reflecting school budgets as they happened to be in 2016. That has left Barnet schools and schools in other areas without any supplementary funding at all and they are in serious financial difficulties as a result.
I welcome the extra £60 million in the spending review. I thank the Minister and her Treasury colleagues for listening to representations from me, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), many in this room and, of course, the two all-party parliamentary groups, but we must reform the way the money is allocated to deliver a fairer distribution based on need, rather than historical accident.
Schools in Barnet and other boroughs in the same position such as Harrow and Camden simply cannot hold out much longer. The situation is becoming desperate. The whole sector, of course, has been waiting for over three years for the long-term settlement promised by the Government. For us in Barnet, that is three years without even the supplementary funding that others have received.
I urge the Minister today to make a commitment, right here and right now, to reform the allocation of supplementary funding and bring forward proposals for consultation to do that as soon as possible. I urge her also to secure the long-term funding settlement that the Department for Education promised back in 2017 but has still not been able to deliver. That is a funding settlement that reflects the level of resource needed to run a maintained nursery school—so, more than the hand-to-mouth levels of supplementary funding that the sector has had to survive on for the past few years.
There are dedicated professionals in maintained nursery schools throughout the country who are ready and waiting for that new system leader role, centres of excellence and specialists in SEND provision. They are enthusiastic about the challenge, so let us seize the opportunity to save those schools and empower them to continue their inspirational work, providing a brighter and better future for the children in their care."