Sir Simon Burns MP raises the issue of maintained nursery schools and his recent visit to Tanglewood School, Chelmsford in a debate in the House of Commons
Commenting on his speech, Sir Simon said:
‘My visit to Tanglewood Maintained Nursery School in Chelmsford was fantastic. I was deeply impressed by the dedication and the hard work of the staff who do so much for their pupils, especially the ones with difficult and complex needs.
I was pleased to be able to have the opportunity to speak up for Tanglewood and Woodcroft because with the changes being proposed for a fairer funding regime it is crucial that schools like this benefit rather than lose out.
The Minister has secured transitional funding up until 2020, but we must ensure that the final decisions on the long term funding regime are viable and ensure the continuation of these excellent maintained nurseries.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on securing this important debate and on her speech; she made some very important and relevant points, many of which I have a considerable amount of sympathy for. As a Government Member, rather than an Opposition Member—I understand how the system works—I do not agree with some of her points. I would like to pick up one point immediately. I thought that her comments on my hon. Friend the Minister were a little unfair. My hon. Friend is totally committed to this area and is doing a tremendous amount of work, as I experienced at the all-party group meeting last week, to find a satisfactory solution to the situation.
The basic point of the hon. Lady’s speech was the importance of maintained nurseries in our constituencies. I could not disagree with that at all; she is absolutely right. They play a critical role, and some other nursery and primary schools do not have the same focus. In my constituency of Chelmsford we have two excellent maintained nurseries: Tanglewood and Woodcroft. I was fortunate to be invited to Tanglewood a few weeks ago to see for myself the fantastic work done there. The Minister will be as familiar as the hon. Lady with the commitment and dedication of staff and what they seek to achieve. As the hon. Lady rightly said, more often than not they are dealing with some very challenging and deprived families in difficult circumstances. It is a joy to see the commitment of staff and the help they give to children who would not otherwise have such a start in life.
Maybe I am naive, but I was told in no uncertain terms that there are children at that nursery who have no concept of what play is. I imagine most hon. Members in this Chamber take it for granted that every child knows how to play and that it comes naturally, but for some it does not, because their parents were not taught how to play or have no concept of it. We get a full appreciation of the challenges those children face when starting from that base. These schools are so crucial because of the help and the start in life they can offer children who would not otherwise benefit.
The other thing I was particularly impressed by on my visit—this certainly did not happen at my school—was the number of members of staff who were parents of children who had been at the school. They were so impressed by what was going on that they wanted to become involved. Rather than just looking on from the outside, they wanted to actually play a part. They started their training and are now working there with the next generation of children, providing help with the benefit of the experience and knowledge they have as parents of children who attended the school. It is so important that we ensure that tradition continues.
I suspect that all of us, in our different ways, have had contact with my hon. Friend the Minister on these issues. We live in difficult times, and we have to be careful that we get value for money and do not waste taxpayers’ money. It is not an enviable job, but it has to be done regardless of who is in government. I have been impressed by my hon. Friend’s commitment. It is quite clear that she accepts and understands the role of these schools and wants to find a meaningful solution that will hopefully continue to provide a solution beyond 2020, so that these schools can continue to flourish and survive.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. He is making a heart-warming speech about the emotional impact that nursery schools can have. May I reiterate the point he makes? The Minister came to our all-party group meeting last week, and I want to put on the record that her responses and the speech she gave at that meeting were very well received by the hundreds of nursery schools we had there. This debate is a good follow-on to that meeting.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady and particularly pleased that I gave way to her. All too often, partisan issues blur a debate, but for her to be so fair in her assessment of that meeting and her dealings with the Minister are a refreshing reflection of her chairmanship of that all-party group.
Basically, we are all together in trying to find a positive solution. My hon. Friend the Minister has secured funding up until 2020, which I believe is an important step forward as a short-term measure to try to allay the fear of some of these schools that they may face closure, the deadline for which is, more often than not, July 2017. What my hon. Friend has done should ensure that that does not happen. I am also confident that as she continues the consultations and assessments, a longer term solution will be found, so that we do not have to keep coming back to this issue or see the closure of schools that provide such a vital service in all our constituencies, whether they suffer from severe deprivation across the board or, like my own, are more fortunate. Constituencies such as mine do not have deprivation across the board but still have areas where there is a vital role to play and job to be done by these schools, to help give every child the best possible start in life.
These schools fill a gap in the provision of nursery care and education for a targeted group who so badly need help and who disproportionately benefit. As the hon. Member for Warrington North said in her compelling remarks at the beginning, giving a child the best start in their early years is a far better investment than any amount of money thrown at an issue. They then get experience, confidence building and everything associated with that to be able to move forward in life. It encourages and enhances their learning development, social skills and interactive skills, which are so crucial.
I am more confident that the Minister is committed to ensuring that we come up with relevant solutions. It is quite clear—from not only the all-party group meeting, but the way in which she has made herself available to all hon. Members who want to feed in their concerns and viewpoints—that she is prepared to listen and work to find a solution that is beneficial to all. I am pleased that we have this opportunity to share yet again with the Minister our different experiences in the variety of constituencies represented in the Chamber today. I believe that this will be of invaluable help to her as she continues her work to find a resolution to the concerns and worries bedevilling many people quite genuinely.