Funding pressures put at risk early years education for children with SEND

A survey of maintained nursery schools carried out by Early Education in June 2021 has found increasing demand from children with SEND in the current school year, or for September entry.  However, funding constraints were expected to affect most schools’ ability to support children with SEND in due to additional funding for children with SEND having reduced or being harder to obtain (41%), staff cuts being made as a consequence of schools’ wider financial difficulties (36%) and cuts made by local authorities to funding for specialist provision/reserved places/assessment centres (17%).  Only just over a quarter (26%) of schools said their ability to accept children with SEND was unaffected by funding constraints in the current or next school year.  Even those who were able to accept as many children with SEND warned that funding constraints were having an impact on quality or that they had taken a decision not to turn away children with SEND despite the impact on staff. 

The situation was summed up by one respondent as follows:

A real value reduction in our overall funding means that we have had to reduce our overall staffing budget. This, coupled with the difficulty of acquiring LA funding for individual children with SEND, will mean that we are unable to accommodate the same number of children that we have historically, We know that there are a significant number of children with SEND in our locality that other EY settings have not been able to accommodate due to the complexity of their needs. Previously, we have been able to accept a good number of these. However, we are unlikely to be able to manage this safely this coming year so will have to restrict the number of spaces we will be able to offer.

Maintained nursery schools have high levels of expertise in supporting children with SEND and the proportion of children with SEND whom they support is well above the sector average.  They also tend to admit children with complex needs whom other settings are unable to support.  However, the financial impact of the pandemic, on top of long-term underfunding, is threatening their capacity to continue this vital work, raising the risk of increasing the number of children with SEND unable to secure a suitable early years place.  At the same time, headteachers reporting rising numbers of children with SEND who have additionally been impacted by the pandemic, creating greater pressure on an early years system which has long struggled to provide enough places for children with SEND.  Staffing cuts and deficit budgets are reducing their flexibility to provide the support needed for children with SEND. 

The findings of the survey are being launched at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes on 6 July, which will be hearing about the role of maintained nursery schools in supporting post-pandemic recovery and the levelling up agenda.

Early Education’s Chief Executive, Beatrice Merrick, said:

Government’s failure to put in place adequate funding for maintained nursery schools is eating away their capacity to support the most vulnerable children.  Fewer children with SEND having the high quality early childhood education and care they need will impacts on their life chances.  It will mean increased costs for the Exchequer when early intervention opportunities are missed, and will have knock-on effects for the primary and special schools as children move on to the next phase.

Jack Dromey, Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington, and Secretary for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nursery Schools, Nursery and Reception Classes, said: 

During the pandemic, a whole generation of our country’s children has been deprived of the education their parents expected and their children deserved. The role of our state-maintained nursery schools, the jewel in the crown of our early years provision, has never been more important. The failure to address their funding needs has had a detrimental impact on children with high needs in particular. If the Government is sincere in its commitment to levelling up opportunities across the country, with support for SEND children at the heart of this agenda, the long-term funding issues must now be addressed. Action is urgent and we look for firm commitment in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.

Notes to editors

Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the leading independent national charity for early years practitioners and parents, campaigning for the right of all children to education of the highest quality. Founded in 1923, it has members in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provides a national voice on matters that relate to effective early childhood education and care of young children from birth to eight. The organisation supports the professional development of practitioners through publications, training, conferences, seminars and access to a national and regional branch network. For more information on the work of Early Education visit

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