Plans to close a nursery in Brighton have prompted a series of questions from councillors.
They wanted to know whether enough had been done to promote the pre-school offer – part of Hertford Infant and Nursery School, in Hertford Road.
And when no one responded to an initial consultation, one councillor asked whether the council and school had subsequently tried a different approach to engaging with people locally.
Childcare strategy manager Vicky Jenkins said that the coronavirus restrictions had made it harder to consult, with booking required for a planned event that no parents or members of the public attended.
Labour councillor Amanda Grimshaw said that she knew a mother living yards from the school who had been unaware of the proposal to close the nursery and who was unaware of the consultation.
She was told that the school had contacted parents – but not the prospective parents likely to want nursery places for their children – and that the council had posted details on its website.
Councillor Grimshaw questioned whether anyone routinely looked at the council’s website.
And she asked where parents of young children would be able to find the 15 hours of free nursery places to which they were entitled.
She was told that the Cherry Tree Nursery, at the Hollingdean Children’s Centre, in Brentwood Road, offered free places – and that the private St Joseph’s Pre-School Playgroup, in Davey Drive, in the grounds of St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, offered some free hours.
A Brighton and Hove City Council report to a special meeting of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee said: “Nineteen people responded to the online consultation. There were no responses by email and no one attended the two public consultation events.”
“The majority of respondents 13 people (68 per cent) strongly disagreed with the proposal to close the nursery class.
“Five respondents (11 per cent) strongly agreed or tended to agree with the proposal. One respondent (5 per cent) didn’t know or wasn’t sure about the proposal.
“All but one who disagreed with the proposal were current or future parents of children at the school.
“All but one who agreed with the proposal were managers, owners or other staff from local childcare provision or staff at Hertford Infant and Nursery School or a head teacher, staff person or governor at a local maintained primary school.
“Nine respondents were planning to send their child to the nursery class in the future and, of these, eight (89 per cent) strongly disagreed with the proposal.”
Labour councillor Tracey Hill, who chairs the board of governors at Hertford Infant and Nursery School, said: “The school is very constrained in what it could do during covid.
“It could have been that more could have been done to promote it but this isn’t just a covid thing.
“Numbers are going down. The school has constantly struggled to keep the numbers above the level where it can break even.
“There’s no leeway at all in the school being able to subsidise the nursery.
“There is plenty of provision in the area.
“It’s a longer-term view that the governors are taking. It isn’t just covid. It’s the numbers. It needs to be sustainable.”
The committee, which held a “virtual” meeting yesterday afternoon (Monday 26 October), voted to start a four-week formal consultation to start next month and end in early December.
After the formal consultation, on the proposal to close the nursery, officials are due to prepare a further report to the committee for its meeting in January.
At this meeting, councillors will have to decide whether to close the nursery.
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