Council to keep nurseries open but parents feel new arrangement will “set them up to fail”

By Harrison Galliven, Local Democracy Reporter

Croydon’s five maintained nursery schools (MNS) will remain open, as the council opts for a federation model over the initial plans of closure. 

The council’s solution has come following a nearly year-long review into the financial viability of Croydon’s five MNS, after it was found that two of them were in a prolonged budget deficit. 

The two MNS in question, the partnered Crosfield and Selhurst nurseries, now have to secure a ‘soft federation’ partnership with a nearby school or academy to remain financially viable while providing the same educational service.

The five MNS 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. 

Selhurst Nursery is in a federation with nearby Crosfield Nursery (Picture: Harrison Galliven)

While parents and students are unlikely to see a change in their day-to-day schooling, some governors now feel under pressure to secure their school’s future before January. 

Furthermore, the two nurseries, Crosfield and Selhurst, have been vocal in their opposition to the new arrangement and would prefer to manage their own future. 

The decision was discussed at a scrutiny meeting on Monday night, before it goes to the Cabinet for a vote next week. 

Head of Scrutiny Rowenna Davis told the chamber how Crosfield had worked hard to address their financial shortcomings and were unsatisfied with the Council’s decision to impose a ‘soft federation’ on them.

Croydon’s Mayor, Jason Perry, said he hopes the schools will work with the council but insisted that the council’s finances were the key concern throughout.

He said: “If the schools do not move forward, that is why there is the inclusion of the line about an executive board. I hope that’s not where this goes, I very much want to work with Selhurst and Crosfield.”

Georgia, a Croydon mum who helped lead a campaign to save the MNS, feels the decision places further strain on the nurseries and is “setting them up to fail.”

Maintained Nursery Schools are disproportionately used by lower income families and those with SEND children (Picture: Crosfield Nursery)

She said: “It’s great that no nurseries are going to close but it’s taken a huge length of time to come to this decision.”

When asked if parents and students are likely to see any changes under the new arrangement, she replied: “Probably not, but it is remarkable that Crosfield and Selhurst have not lost a single member of staff in this time, which speaks of massive dedication.

“Then if you’re told that if you don’t find a partnership by January, the effect on staff morale is going to be significant.”

This was a view shared by councillor Amy Foster, who has supported the campaign since the possibility of closure was announced last year. 

She said: “I remain concerned that what is now proposed is closure by stealth.”

Croydon’s other three MNS have been engaged in the same soft federation model for the past few years, which allows them to share staff and resources among the partners involved.

While the council admit’s that this organisational set-up has contributed to those schools remaining in a budget surplus, there is still uncertainty about whether it will help Crosfield and Selhurst remain financially viable.

The maintained nursery school consultation is part of the council’s wider effort to balance the borough’s books (Picture: Harrison Galliven)

At Scrutiny, Ms Davis said the “model alone is not the answer to the deficit” while councillor Alasdair Stewart said that the lack of information about how the model will save the schools money brings rise to a “lot of unknown unknowns.”

Parents and staff also expressed concerns over the apparent lack of attention given to the SEN provision offered at the MNS. 

Despite this, the council’s report shared little detail about how the SEN provision was likely to be affected by the new ‘soft federation’ structure. 

When the LDRS put this to Mr Perry, he said: “This is about the finances of the schools first and foremost.”

He added: “The easier option would have been to make a decision and get on with it, instead we’ve taken the time and effort to engage with schools and parents and listen to what they’re telling us and actually find a solution that works so that we can keep all five schools going for the future.”

The new proposal will go to next week’s Cabinet meeting on July 15, where members are expected to vote it through.

Pictured top: Selhurst and Crosfield Nurseries are well known for their good SEND provision (Picture: Crosfield Nursery)

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