The Town Hall is proposing to consult on a “new approach” to nursery school provision which could see four council nurseries converted into Sure Start children’s centres.
The council says it is trying to tackle the high level of vacancies in its nine maintained nurseries combined with a decreasing number of children in the borough, which it says causes budget pressures that could make some nurseries “unsustainable”.
According to Town Hall figures, some wards have seen a drop in their three- and four-year-olds of 20 per cent or more, while new funding regulations rolled out in 2017 has seen a decrease for Camden primary schools of around £500k.
In a report on the issue, Cllr Angela Mason (Lab, Cantelowes), cabinet member for best start for children and families, said: “The introduction of a new national funding formula for nursery places in 2017 together with a decreasing number of children in the borough has led to an oversupply of nursery places.
“Camden’s primary school and maintained nurseries have a high number of vacancies, which is impacting on their long-term sustainability. The over-supply of nursery places provides an opportunity to review early years services in the borough.
“Moreover, there is a strong and growing evidence base that demonstrates that a child’s experience in their first 1001 days has a significant impact on their lifelong outcomes.
“[We are asking Cabinet] to initiate a consultation with residents about options for reducing the over-supply of places, the preferred option being the reallocation of a proportion of the resources currently used to provide council-maintained childcare to an approach in which more support is available in the crucial first 1,001 days through an extended network of Sure Start Centres.”
Mason added that the new funding arrangements resulted in the council withdrawing its 25 hours of early education for all three- and four-year-olds in nurseries, all of which now offer a mixture of full and part-time places, resulting in “a significant number of ‘unfunded’ places in school nurseries, as families need to meet a range of criteria to qualify for full day provision”.
It is understood that children currently attending the nurseries being repurposed as children’s centres would be taken in by nursery classes in primary schools.
Other options provided to residents in the consultation would be to either close two nurseries altogether, or to simply reduce the number of places and introduce cost-saving measures in all nurseries.
Under the plans, the nurseries ceasing to provide places would be:
- Konstam Nursery
- Gospel Oak Nursery
- Hampden Nursery
- Kilburn Grange Children’s Centre Day Nursery
The four would instead offer preventative services supporting early development, as well as regular Sure Start offers including family support, health visiting, welfare rights and employability support.
If the plans were to be taken forward, residents at the repurposed nurseries would be supported to find other provision for their children.
If approved by Camden’s cabinet, the consultation with residents on the plans would be carried out in from 2 January to 13 February next year, with the change to be implemented (depending on what decision is made following the consultation) in July.