North unitary accused of ‘savage and short sighted act’ in proposed funding slash to outstanding early years centre
The world renowned Pen Green Centre in Corby is facing having almost three quarters of its core funding redistributed
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By Sarah Ward
Pen Green Centre in Corby has said its services will be decimated if proposals to redistribute its funding to other providers go through.
In a now familiar story the leading early years centre based on the Lloyds estate in Corby is under threat once again as the local education authority run by North Northamptonshire Council could take away hundreds of thousands from its budget to help fund other places.
Education funding comes down from central government and is split into funding pots which are largely dictated by formulas.
Pen Green says that in proposing to change the funding distribution from one funding pot, the tightly squeezed new local education authority, run by North Northamptonshire Council is altering long held systems, which could be catastrophic and lead to job losses and service reductions. It is one of just four nurseries (maintained) run by the local authority.
A statement on its website says:
“North Northants Council are proposing to redirect 78% (£798,782) of our core funding across the North and into West Northants to try to balance the maintained nursery schools budgets, as Local Authority (LA) officers believe this is more equitable. This is a savage and short-sighted act in their first year as a new unitary authority. The implications of this proposal will be catastrophic for children and families across Corby. Our services for children and families will be decimated.
“Pen Green Centre was set up as an Integrated Centre in 1983 and has always received core funding for this work. In 2006 the Local authority officers advised Pen Green Centre leaders to move all funding to education as this would mean more secure funding and long term sustainability.
In 2016/17 when national funding for early years changed, the DfE recognised that Pen Green Integrated Centre did not fit neatly into the Maintained Nursery Schools Supplementary Funding model (MNSSF) as we are a unique centre. The DfE, through discussion with colleagues, the minister for Early Years and LA officers, agreed to continue to fund the unique Integrated model and Pen Green was awarded the core funding through the MNSSF from central government. We have continued to receive our core funding each year, albeit a slight reduction, from the MNSSF.”
Funding is decided by the North Northamptonshire school’s forum - a body made up of head teachers from across the county. It will make a final decision about the early years funding allocation on March 17. (No locally elected politicians have an input into the school forum decisions, a situation which NN Journal understands is causing some concern).
At a special meeting last month, there was a report about the situation. It laid out that of the four maintained nurseries in the county (Ronald Tree Nursery in Kettering, Croyland Nursery and Highfield in Wellingborough are the other three) Pen Green receives an unequal proportion of funding. A table in the report said that while providing 36 per cent of the 15 hours universal offer across the four nurseries Pen Green took 85 per cent of the funding at just over £1m.
Pen Green’s bosses say it is different to the other nurseries and has always been funded differently with the maintained nursery grant being higher than it should be due to an earlier arrangement with the DfE to fund Pen Green differently.
The local authority says the arrangement lacks clarity and it is unclear whether the previous county council had been funding Pen Green through a certain budget to the detriment of the other nurseries. It says help from the DfE is needed to solve it.
Pen Green head teacher Angela Prodger says:
“This is an exercise to try and balance budgets whereas again we should be fighting to save all nursery schools in the local authority.
“There will be no other school in this authority where the consideration is to take between 57 and 78 percent of your core budget.”
The proposal is to decrease Pen Green’s share of the overall budget from 85 per cent to as little as 37 per cent.
The overall maintained nurseries budget for next year is also already in deficit to the tune of £310,816, which will have to be cut from the upcoming financial year which starts next month.
Also at the meeting the dire situation of early years funding and funding for special needs children was raised. Over the last few years Northamptonshire’s local education authority has been taking money from the mainstream schools budget to fund soaring costs in the high needs budget. In part this is due to not enough special school places in Northants, with many local children having to be schooled far from home at large costs.
A visibly emotional Joanne Sanchez Thompson, chief executive of the Irthlingborough and Finedon Learning Trust said small budget increases given by government would not go on children’s services as they would be eaten up by increased national insurance contributions and staff pay.
“I know what the issue is and the issue is money - I just think I need to say it.”
Angela Prodger, head teacher of Pen Green said:
“What we have seen in the last two years is a significant rise in the number of children who are presenting with needs and have not been seen by colleagues in health and education. Children have undiagnosed need and we are really pushing to try and get children the services that they absolutely should have.
We know from research there are more children with SEN. When is this problem going to be addressed? We are having more and more children with need and are putting less and less money to it.
This is not a criticism of this authority, my criticism of this authority is what are you doing as an authority to take this to central government as a real issue that must be addressed?
The children coming to us now age three are children who have lived through the pandemic and not been seen by professionals - that is not good enough.”
Interim director of children’s services, consultant Anne Marie Dodds told the forum the call for more funding for early years education would have to be taken to government by politicians.
“Colleagues will appreciate that this is politically sensitive and we just need to be absolutely certain that anything that we do raise with the department for education is with the agreement of the leader of the council and this is a course that I will pursue through the political leadership of North Northamptonshire.”
Conservative Cllr Jason Smithers is leader of North Northamptonshire Council.
The centre is calling for help in raising the issue by its supporters. You can read more here
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