Securing the future of Early Years services - local authority day nurseries

Summary

In Tower Hamlets we have a diverse range of early years services for children under 5, provided by the council, schools, independent nurseries, playgroups and childminders, the vast majority of which is rated "good" or "outstanding". The council faces significant budget cuts, and is proposing to seek alternative providers for the three childcare day nurseries currently managed by the council.

The Mayor remains committed to protecting early years provision, making sure it is financially sustainable, high quality and offers specialist care where needed.

This includes working with partners who can provide high quality nursery care at lower cost to the council. Our priority is to make sure parents and children can continue to access excellent local child care.

Saving identified: £2.4m

The current picture

At present, the council operates three day care nurseries - Overland, Mary Sambrook and John Smith - which provide about 1.5 per cent of the borough’s early years provision in term time (105 children out of over 7,000 attending day care), dropping to about 30 children during holidays.

The current day care nursery staffing establishment, in both term-time and holidays, is 24 which includes two administrators and one overall manager. The total annual cost is £2.1m and the cost per place is three times higher than in the independent sector, including charities. This is not sustainable given the financial cuts the council faces. This proposal suggests that the council commissions other organisations to run the day nurseries in order to make these services viable long-term and to protect other Early Years provision such as Children’s Centres from possible closure.

As well as the three day care nurseries operated by the council, parents have a wide choice over whether and where their children receive day care or education under the age of 5. There are almost 22,000 children under 5 in Tower Hamlets, and over 7,000 of them attend one of these services:

  • 68 primary schools, 65 of which have nursery classes and the other 3 have reception classes (attended by 2,980 children)
  • 6 maintained nursery schools with teaching staff (407 children)
  • 47 day care nurseries and nursery schools provided by private businesses and voluntary or independent organisations including charities (2,503 children)
  • 30 playgroups (888 children) and 114 child minders (560 children). 

Note: these figures are for June 2017 and the numbers of private, voluntary and independent day care nurseries, playgroups and child minders (as well as the numbers of children attending them) may change as they are not controlled by the council. 95 per cent of these services are rated as “Outstanding” or “Good” by Ofsted.

At present, the council offers a variety of advice and training services to the private, voluntary and independent nurseries, play groups and child minders in Tower Hamlets at no cost; this proposal also discusses the possibility of charging for some of those services within Tower Hamlets and beyond to raise income of £250,000. 

Our proposals

The council is protecting Early Years provision and, unlike many other councils, we are keeping all six of our maintained nursery schools and 12 children’s centres open, despite facing £58m of cuts to the council’s budget – that’s £1 in every £6 we spend. We also want to keep the three day nurseries currently run by the council open.

This is not an easy task but we can achieve it if we find more efficient ways to deliver council services. We need to provide the same excellent service to families at a lower cost to the council and we know many independent and voluntary sector providers are already doing this for over 2,500 local children.

By working with our partners, including the voluntary sector, we can make sure we can have a wider choice of high quality, sustainable Early Years services available for our residents and potentially increase the number of places available for children, whilst reducing costs to the taxpayer.

We are currently looking at how to do this at the three council-operated day care nurseries by seeking new operators for them, but only on the condition that services for children remain the same or better, that the nurseries stay affordable and that staff conditions are protected according to legal requirements. The process for identifying and monitoring any new providers would include tough requirements about maintaining excellent standards of care for children. Voluntary organisations will be especially welcome to express an interest in running these three day care nurseries, and will be able to access support through the tendering process.

We understand parents’ concerns about what the changes could mean for them and their children, and we want to hear their views.

We will keep parents and carers fully up to date with all potential changes and what it might mean to them.

Protecting specialist care

We are particularly committed to safeguarding excellent specialist care for children with disabilities or special educational needs. The council’s Overland day care nursery currently has specific services for children with hearing impairment which in the summer term supported 9 children with those needs (2 other children with hearing impairment came with their parents to teaching sessions at the Overland Children’s Centre and 5 attended primary school nurseries).

We will make sure that these specialist services, and services for children with other special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), are protected by requiring new providers to have this expertise.

Overall, 90 children with SEND attend child care provision  across the borough, with 22 of these children attending one of the council’s three day nurseries. We will continue to ensure high quality specialist care is offered for those who need it within the full range of early years services.

Children with SEND, including hearing impairment, who currently attend the three day care nurseries currently operated by the council, will still have the same additional services available to them under a new provider, as these will continue to be provided by Tower Hamlets council.

This extra support depends on the needs of each child, and can be provided at a school or day care nursery or, with the parents, at a children’s centre. For children with hearing impairment, it includes specialist teaching in signing or adapting to cochlear implants, and the council will continue to provide teachers for this work. Some children need help with mobility or feeding, which the council pays for under their Education, Health & Care Plan. And others receive extra help to take part in activities, supported by evaluations and advice from the council’s Early Help team.

Have your say on the proposal, complete the online survey