Uncertain future for Lancashire's council-run nursery schools

The future of some of Lancashire's local authority-run nursery schools could be thrown into doubt amid ongoing financial pressures facing the sector.

Lancashire County Council’s cabinet will next week decide whether to launch a formal consultation into the long-term prospects for four of its so-called “maintained nurseries”.

The ups and downs of nursery school finances could leave some of them with an uncertain future (picture: Dominic Lipinski)

The ups and downs of nursery school finances could leave some of them with an uncertain future (picture: Dominic Lipinski)

Education bosses have concluded that they are “financially unviable” or in need of major changes to prevent them from falling into that category.

A further ten have been deemed “financially vulnerable” - and may have to draw up recovery plans, which could include reducing staffing costs or increasing pupil numbers.

The locations of the struggling pre-schools have not been revealed. There are three mainlined nurseries in Central Lancashire - Stoneygate in Preston and Duke Street and Highfield in Chorley.

But papers to be presented to cabinet members warn that all 24 facilities in the county would become unsustainable in their current form by next year - unless a special government grant is extended.

The supplementary funding helps plug a £1m deficit in County Hall’s nurseries - but is currently guaranteed only until April 2021. It is used to cover the additional costs of their staffing requirements - which include a headteacher who is an early years specialist.

Lancashire’s maintained and private nurseries receive the lowest basic hourly funding rate in the country. In 2018/19, the county was given £4.30 per child from the government.

Last year, the county council’s then cabinet member for schools wrote to the government requesting that it rethink its funding formula.

The ten maintained nurseries in Lancashire that are currently financially viable will be subject to termly reviews to ensure that their budgetary position does not deteriorate.

Meanwhile, if the supplementary government grant does end in Spring 2021, “further consideration” will be given to the future of the entire maintained nursery sector in the county - which provides places for more than 2,500 pupils, 10 percent of all those receiving early years provision.

Education bosses have assessed whether there would be sufficient space in other nurseries if any or all of the council-run facilities end up having to close. They concluded that there are enough alternative places in the immediate vicinity of every existing council nursery except those in Burnley North.

But the cabinet report adds that there would need to be an assessment of the impact of any closures across the wider individual catchment areas. It also notes that the sustainability of private providers in the county is not guaranteed.

All bar one of Lancashire’s maintained nurseries are rated as good or outstanding by the regulator OFSTED.

WHERE ARE LANCASHIRE'S MAINTAINED NURSERIES?

Burnley

Rockwood - Burnley Rural

Taywood - Burnley Central West

Basnett Street - Burnley North East

Stoneyholme - Burney Central East

Reedley Hallows - Burnley Central East

Rosegrove - Burnley South West

Ightenhill - Burnley Central West

Whitegate - Padiham and Burnley West

Chorley

Highfield - Chorley North

Duke Street - Chorley Central

Hyndburn

Accrington Lee Royd - Accrington South

Fairfield - Accrington West and Oswaldtwistle Central

Lancaster

Appletree - Lancaster Central

Pendle

Newtown - Pendle Rural

Bradley - Brierfield and Nelson West

Woodfield - Brierfield and Nelson West

McMillan - Nelson East

Walton Lane - Pendle Central

Preston

Stoneygate - Preston City

Ribble Valley

Ribblesdale - Clitheroe

Rossendale

Bacup - Rossendale East

Staghills - Mid-Rossendale

Hillside - Rossendale West

West Lancashire

Moorgate - Ormskirk