Election 2024

Labour will convert ‘spare’ primary classrooms into 3,334 nurseries

Policy would cost around £140 million and create 100,000 childcare places, party says

Policy would cost around £140 million and create 100,000 childcare places, party says

A Labour government would convert “spare” classrooms into nurseries at 3,334 primary schools in England, the party has announced.

The policy, which the party said would be funded from its plan to impose VAT on private school fees, would create “100,000 additional childcare places”, according to Labour.

The Guardian reported that the party will spend £140 million on its plan.

Bridget Phillipson
Bridget Phillipson

Nurseries “could be run by the schools themselves or local private or voluntary sector nursery providers”, the party said. Further details of the plan have not been released.

Many primary schools in England already play host to nurseries, and more physical space will be freed up in the coming years due to falling rolls.

Primary numbers have been falling for several years as a result of a decline in the birth rate following a baby boom in the 2000s.

Pupil numbers in state nursery and primary schools are due to fall by a further 524,000 between this year and 2030.

Labour’s policy will be formally announced by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson on Monday.

Phillipson told the BBC the party would “get to work on day one if we form a government but this would be over the course of the parliament”.

Focus on recruitment, say unions

NAHT leader Paul Whiteman said there was a “clear logic in using free space in primary schools to expand nursery provision”.

“Having the right space is one part of the picture, and it will be equally important that there is a strong focus on attracting more people into the early years workforce.”

A small snap poll of around 50 NAHT members found that among 13 leaders not interested in opening nurseries, concerns about early years funding, a lack of staff and the cost of doing so were most prominent.

Of the 22 leaders who said they had already converted classrooms into nurseries, around a third said it cost less than £20,000, while over 10 per cent said £20,000 to £40,000. However, three leaders cited costs of over £100,000.

Pepe Di’Iasio, from the ASCL union, said “many primary schools already run nurseries very successfully, and these plans have the potential to build on this by creating more childcare provision with a strong focus on early years education.

“But to realise this potential it is important that nursery places are sufficiently funded for all children and that this includes improving access to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It is also essential that nurseries and other early years settings are staffed by high-quality practitioners, who are paid appropriately for the important job they do.”

Jon Richards, UNISON’s assistant general secretary, said “new nurseries attached to schools could make the world of difference to mums and dads struggling to find affordable childcare.

“As workers in school-run nurseries are on nationally agreed local authority rates, wages tend to be higher than in privately run establishments.”

School-based nurseries are ‘high quality’

A party press release said the move “represented the next stage in its long-term plan to deliver a modern childcare system that better supports parents from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school”. 

The expansion “will see Labour create 3,300 high quality nurseries from converted classrooms”.

The party said this would “help deliver both the immediate demand for childcare in under-served areas, and anticipated additional demand from the expansion of government-funded childcare entitlements announced in the 2023 budget which Labour is committed to delivering on”.

Starmer warned that “after 14 years of Conservative government, too many children are starting school already behind, and too many parents are being held back from fulfilling their career ambitions”.

Phillipson said school-based nurseries “deliver high quality education which enables children to achieve and thrive when they at primary school”.

“The 3,300 new nurseries we announce today will be key to delivering Labour’s mission for half a million more children to hit the early learning goals by 2030, giving them the firm foundations from which to succeed.”

The party said plans to retrofit individual classrooms would cost on average £40,000.

Multiplied across the 3,334 new nurseries, that would work out at around £134 million in set-up costs.

The party said training staff and running the nurseries would be funded through the extension of the free childcare offer to 30 hours.

Plans ‘may nudge’ market but won’t ‘transform’

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that, if Labour’s plans are implemented, it would mean around 27 per cent of childcare places would be in schools, up from 22 per cent last year.

This would “fully meet the expected increase in demand from the £4-billion-a-year expansion of childcare entitlements that the current government has announced, and Labour has signed up to”.

They said there was “some evidence that childcare and benefits for children are – on average – somewhat higher in public provision”.

But the “bigger test here will be whether these settings are able to recruit and retain staff to deliver high-quality care”.

A “potential advantage” of Labour’s plans is that the government “can play a more direct role in targeting where new provision is created”.

Christine Farquharson, an associate director at the IFS, said Labour’s plans “may nudge the market in a different direction – but certainly won’t transform it”.

“Targeting provision at childcare ‘deserts’ could help to expand access to childcare in under-served areas – but a sensible plan would take into account the likely local demand for childcare, not just the (lack of) supply.”

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