Croydon parents left in ‘stressful’ limbo waiting to see if nurseries will stay open

By Staff

Parents of children have expressed concern over the lack of certainty around the future of maintained nursery schools in Croydon. It comes as the council considered plans that could see some of them close by the end of the year.

This concern follows Croydon Council’s ongoing plans to reform the borough’s five maintained nursery schools, which they say have a budget shortfall of more than £500,000.

The five nurseries – Purley Nursery, Selhurst Nursery, Tunstall Nursery, Crosfield Nursery, and Thornton Heath Nursery – are run and funded by the council and offer free schooling to children aged three to five.

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While the council’s decision not to close any of the borough’s maintained nursery schools in December 2023 brought relief, parents and staff admit that the fight is not over. They are now expecting a decision on the fate of the nurseries at the next Croydon cabinet meeting in May.

However, parents with children at these nurseries say this delay leaves them in a difficult and stressful situation. Liz Daniels, who has a child at Crosfield Nursery, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) about the impact of uncertainty on her family.

She said: “We are waiting every day for news on Crosfield’s future, as are other parents we know. We are paying nearly 8 times as much for our 3-year-old to attend her current nursery as it would to send her to Crosfield.

“Her nursery raised fees by 22 per cent this month and has decided not to offer the 30 free hours because it is unaffordable for them.

“Our eldest attended Crosfields and we couldn’t speak more highly of the care and education he received. The uncertainty about the future and the lack of detail about timelines from the council is really stressful for us as a family.”

Council figuring out how to raise more money for nurseries with new working arrangements

The council is currently working with external consultants, who are going through plans put forward by each nursery which outline alternate ways of working. These plans would see the schools raise more money by teaching for longer hours, charging for those extended hours, and providing holiday clubs.

However, according to the Our Schools Matter Campaign, these plans do not rule out the prospect of closure and amalgamation of schools as options the council could explore. Georgia Martin, a Croydon mum who helped set up the campaign, believes the whole process was not conducted with parents in mind.

Parents placed in ‘a really difficult position’

She told the LDRS: “It is not great that now in mid-March is the first time the plan has been given any thorough consideration, even though it was submitted back in October. During the mayor’s question time event last night, he said he was aiming to decide on the report in the May cabinet meeting, but that is no good for parents.

“For a lot of parents, you don’t know for certain what your childcare arrangements are going to be in September it is too late. The way childcare funding works is that as your child becomes two, they become eligible for funding at the start of the following school term.

“So what you’re going to have now is a load of kids who are eligible for funding after Easter but loads of parents are going to be concerned and asking themselves can I send my child to this amazing place I can afford but not knowing whether it’s going to be open in September. That’s causing an awful lot of stress for people and putting people in a really difficult position.”

Ms Martin also believes the staff at these schools have suffered from the lack of certainty over their future. She told the LDRS that staff described it to her as a ‘heartbreaking situation’.

She added: “The nurseries are showing integrity but every time they show parents around they have to say that we’re not certain whether or not the nursery will be open in September. Their numbers are full at present but I think it’s difficult for people to sign up to that.”

According to campaigners, children from lower-income families and SEND children are most likely to be affected by these changes. These demographics disproportionately use maintained nursery schools due to their low costs and excellent teaching.

Closure of the maintained nursery schools would mean that these children and their families could struggle to find equivalent schooling in a borough that is already struggling with early-year provision. However, Croydon is not the only borough that suffers from this problem.

A report published yesterday by the children’s education charity CORAM found the availability of places at nurseries and childminders has decreased for pre-school children in the UK. Specifically, it found fewer than one out of every three (29 per cent) councils have enough spaces for children under two, down from 42 per cent in the previous report.

Ms Martin told the LDRS: “It’s no surprise there is a shortage of special school places. My eldest son is autistic and it’s been a ridiculous battle to get him appropriate schooling in Croydon.”

While the impact of increased childcare costs and limited provision has hit parents across the UK, Ms Martin believes other Councils have done more than Croydon to address the problem.

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She told the LDRS: “The mayor’s strapline was doing nothing is not an option, maybe if they changed how the funding was distributed, like how Westminster did in January 2023 things would be different. In Grimsby, the local authority had to apologise for the stress and difficulties caused by the consultation on the future of nurseries, so there’s been some recognition in some places.”

Ms Martin also accused Croydon of failing to listen to the advice of early education experts like Beatrice Merrick. Ms Merrick, chief executive of Early Education at the British Association for Early Childhood Education contacted Croydon’s education lead Shelley Davies in June 2023 to offer expertise and support in planning for a viable future for the maintained nursery schools, however she is yet to receive a response.

Ms Merrick has previously said maintained nursery schools were once considered ‘the jewel in the crown’ of early years provision for their high quality and inclusiveness. However, there are now just 383 maintained nursery schools left in England, and the number under threat continues to rise.

Maintained nursery schools’ running in a deficit is not a problem not unique to Croydon. According to National Education Union data, over 50 per cent were running a deficit in 2021-22, compared to only 10 per cent in 2009.

The Our Schools Matter Campaign has highlighted that while the nurseries are running a deficit, they have all achieved a good or above Ofsted rating. Crosfield and Selhurst, which are in a federation together, are particularly known for their excellent SEND provision.

Emma Gardiner, project lead at South Norwood Community Kitchen LDRS: “Crosfield Nursery is a very rare thing. An accessible, affordable early years provision with a great local reputation and with staff with incredible SEN expertise.

“Last year Crosfield celebrated its 70th Anniversary as a public nursery, yet Croydon Council sees it fit to threaten its very existence. With so many other public buildings sold off it seems likely if the nursery closes the land will be sold off in order to chip away at their astronomical debt.”

When approached for comment, a Croydon Council spokesperson said: “Our five maintained nursery schools are a valued part of the early years offer in Croydon. We are doing everything possible to secure a sustainable model for these nursery schools, but doing nothing is not an option. We are part way through a series of workshops exploring alternative models with the nursery schools, and we are grateful to parents and everyone who has contributed to this.

“We will continue to listen and make sure their views help inform the proposals, with any changes being subject to more formal consultation, before being developed in detail and in collaboration with the nursery schools themselves.”

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