'Don't put Chorley's nursery schools through the wringer over their future', council urges

Chorley Council has called for a consultation into the future of the borough’s two maintained nursery schools to be halted.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 11:17 am
Updated Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 11:10 am

Lancashire County Council which runs the Duke Street and Highfield [Wright Street] facilities in the district, started the process earlier this month after more than a year’s delay because of the pandemic.

As the Lancashire Post and Chorley Guardian revealed in January 2020, the authority had originally been intending to assess four out of its 24 nurseries that were deemed to be financially unviable.

However, it later extended the consultation to include them all, warning that every site could become unsustainable if the government did not commit to continuing with a top-up supplementary grant for nursery schools that had previously been planned to end in March 2021. That cash has since been guaranteed for a further 12 months.

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Two of Lancashire's 24 nursery schools are in Chorley - Highfield on Wright Street (top) and Duke Street (below). A consultation into the future of the county's maintained nursery school provision has begun (images: Google)

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A meeting of Chorley’s full council heard claims that the consultation was “premature” and “ill-timed” as the county attempts to navigate its way out of the pandemic. A notice of motion put forward by Labour councillor Hasina Khan called for the borough’s chief executive to write to County Hall demanding that it be stopped.

Cllr Bev Murray, cabinet member for early intervention at the Labour-run authority, said that both of the nursery schools in the district took children whose needs could not be met by other providers – and had managed to balance their books in the current and coming years. The latter point prompted council leader Alistair Bradley to ask why they should be put “through that wringer”.

Fellow cabinet member Alistair Morwood – a former chair of governors at the two schools, which are rated as “outstanding” by OFSTED – warned that private nurseries were not “lining up” to take on the role of the institutions, which he said give children “the best start in life, especially those with special educational needs and disabilities”.

“Never can they – and never will they – be able to replace nursery schools and their teachers,” said Cllr Morwood.

He also called on the new Conservative leader-elect of Lancashire County Council, Phillippa Williamson, to recall an event for nursery school governors – during her time as cabinet member for children – at which she said “how crucial, how essential [nursery schools] were to the lives of children in this borough”.

However, Chorley’s Conservative opposition group leader Martin Boardman questioned the timing of the motion and noted that the county council had only ever referred to “some” nursery schools being financially unviable.

“If the two nursery schools in Chorley are outstanding and have managed to balance their books, there is nothing to worry about.

“There [are] 24 of these schools – some of the 24 are overspending and every penny of overspend affects every other maintained school within Lancashire. Every penny is needed in every school,” said Cllr Boardman, who is also a former school governor.

The Conservative group abstained in the vote.

The Post and Guardian understand that the county council consultation will capture information about the service offered by nursery schools, as well as their financial position, in order to provide strategic support to those that need it.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Lancashire County Council’s executive director of education and children’s services Edwina Grant said that the consultation had been further postponed from a planned start in March, following representations from headteachers and in recognition of the pandemic situation at that time.

She added: “The future of maintained nursery schools in Lancashire is an integral element of how the local authority meets the needs of children and families throughout the county. They provide a key component of the early years provision, often in geographical areas of disadvantage.

“Now that many of the council services are working on their business as usual, this consultation is ongoing.

“Ensuring that we have the right and most up to date information so that we can support the maintained nursery school sector and identify which, if any, of our nursery schools do need help and support to plan for the future is a priority.”