Future of Cambridge nurseries uncertain as funding fears prompt review
A review into the future of seven Cambridgeshire nurseries is under way as the county’s education bosses fear government funding may end in 2020.
The county council said funding for five Cambridge nurseries is under review: Brunswick, Colleges, Homerton, King’s Hedges and The Fields.
Histon Nursery School and Huntingdon Nursery School are also threatened with a withdrawal of funding.
Together the schools receive approximately £1.1m a year from the government in a specific grant, which the county council described as a “significant” proportion of their funding – roughly 20 per cent to 40 per cent of each nursery’s budget.
Speaking at a meeting of the Cambridgeshire Schools Forum today (Friday, July 12), the county council’s service director for education, Jonathan Lewis, said government funding may not renew in 2020, and the review will look at all the options of that scenario.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Lewis said: “If we don’t hear more in the coming months we will have to start taking tough decisions.”
He added: “At the moment closure is not on our agenda but we should not rule it out.”
He stressed all the options were being looked at, including how to make savings or transferring the nurseries into the private voluntary independent sector, and he said the ideal outcome will be a renewing of the funding.
He said the council recognised the nurseries’ importance and wanted to keep them open.
He said: “In the absence of any guarantee of funding beyond this date [September 2020], we have entered into conversations with governors, headteachers, and will be talking to parents to discuss alternative models to overcome this potential challenge.”
The nurseries’ representative at the meeting, Rikki Waldau, said that were the schools to carry on without the funding, “we become schools in name only”.
Ms Waldau said she thought the review was “premature” and questioned why it was taking place as the council does not prepare in this way for other government decisions that are only considered as possible.
And she praised the nurseries, saying they operate in the most vulnerable areas where “there is a significant need”.
Addressing the timescales, and the need to have plans in place prior to the government decision, Mr Lewis said: “It’s not that we want to do it [the review] – we want schools to stay open – but we have to start thinking about what that [reduced funding] means, because there will be a cliff edge. A million pounds out of that sector is huge.”
And he said the funding cannot come from the council – “there’s no fix for this, the local authority can’t come up with some cash”.
Cambridgeshire County Council’s children’s and young people’s committee will receive a report on the review at a meeting on September 10.
Mr Lewis said he expects the government decision to be made in December or January.
The council said in a report on the review: “All seven maintained nursery schools offer high quality early years education, they have been judged by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) to be either good or outstanding. They all play an important role in ensuring that the Council is able to meet its statutory responsibilities. They are valued for the provision they offer and their knowledge and expertise developed over many years.”
In a statement released after the meeting, Mr Lewis said: “The quality of care and education at our nursery schools is a top priority for us. We are committed to ensuring there are sufficient early education places across the county.
“The government has confirmed that maintained nursery schools funding will be provided until the end of summer 2020, this reflects the valuable contribution which they make to the early years education and childcare sector.
“In the absence of any guarantee of funding beyond this date, we have entered into conversations with governors, headteachers, and will be talking to parents to discuss alternative models to overcome this potential challenge.”