'There is no other pot for us to go into. It is already cut to the bone'
Head teacher of Kettering nursery in left behind neighbourhood says possible extra funding will make a huge difference and money most be shared more equally
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By Sarah Ward
The head teacher of a local authority nursery in one of Northamptonshire’s left behind areas says her setting desperately needs more money to survive.
Deb Thwaites, who runs the Ronald Tree Nursery on the Avondale Grange estate in Kettering, says that although she does not want to see funding taken away from Corby’s award winning Pen Green Centre, her setting, which looks after more than 120 children, needs more cash.
Later this month a decision will be made on how to distribute the money across the four local authority run nurseries, with the current proposal set to see Corby’s much lauded Pen Green Centre, possibly set to lose more than £700,000.
Currently Pen Green receives more than three quarters of the total £1m funding pot, an arrangement its head teachers argue is due to historical arrangements, with the local authority receiving more than it should due to the unique nature of Pen Green’s service.
But while Pen Green is set to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds under the new proposals, a situation which it says will decimate its current outstanding services, the Ronald Tree Nursery, along with the Croyland Nursery and Highfield Nursery in Wellingborough would be set to gain much more in their bank accounts and could provide more resources for their children.
The new funding proposal could see Deb Thwaite’s service receive an extra £100,000 plus in the financial year from April.
Asked what the extra money would mean, she said: “It will be huge - we are almost on our knees.
”Since I started (a year ago) we have had to do a major restructure and cut all hours.
“No money has gone on resources, it has all gone on staffing.
“At the moment the staff come in when the children start and they go when they leave.
“If we got this extra funding we would give them (the staff) back the hours they have lost.”
Sitting in the middle of one of the county’s most socially deprived areas, Debbie says that 87 per cent of the families who use the service are within a deprivation category. Read our article about the issues being faced in Avondale Grange here.
She said money is so tight that there is no money for extra support services, something that is badly needed in the wake of the pandemic when many children have suffered and not come on socially or educationally as well as they might have.
“The children in our nursery have the same need as those in Pen Green. This is not some leafy suburb,” she says.
“I’m struggling to keep my school going.
“There is no other pot for us to go into. It is already cut to the bone.
“We have always known there has been a funding disparity and we have mentioned it politely.
“Pen Green has to be protected but they are being protected at the expense of my setting.”
“I am in regular touch with Angela (Prodger, joint head of Pen Green) and she says ‘we cant let this pit one nursery against each other’ and she is absolutely right.
“I have nothing but respect for Pen Green and it’s unfortunate how this is working. Everything they say about the provision is absolutely true.”
There are only four local authority run nurseries in the north of the county. All others are privately run for profit.
The government gives central funding for these authorities and this year the total to be shared is £620,000 (This lower sum factors in the £310,000 that has been clawed back from an over allocation this year.)
Currently while providing 25 per cent of the universal credit 15 hour provision in the area, Ronald Tree receives just five per cent of the funding pot.
The schools have been consulted on the changes and Debbie Thwaites says they have themselves voted for the option which does not see them receive the most funding they could do - which would see more money taken away from Pen Green. But she says changes are needed or ‘nurseries will be in deficit. The local authority have looked at the funding and they have seen the disparity. This is not a fair system.’
Last month head teachers in the North Northamptonshire school’s forum said there is a huge lack of money in early years funding for the county. They said the pandemic has seen vastly increased need for young children coming into their services.
The council’s interim director of children’s services Anne Marie Dodds - who is rumoured to be in line for the permanent post - told the group any lobbying by the council to the Department for Education would need to come from political quarters and leader Cllr Jason Smithers.
NN Journal spoke with Cllr Smithers yesterday who said he was in discussions with the DfE about the funding arrangements, but refused to say whether he has asked for any more money from his party’s ruling government.
He said his position is that it was ‘very unlikely’ that the unitary would commit extra money to Pen Green to make up its funding shortfall (the budget for next year was approved last week) and his stance was that the money for maintained nurseries should be shared equally across the four in the North.
Cllr Jean Addison, who is leader of the Labour opposition on NNC and also a governor at the Pen Green Centre said the group had been in touch with Labour MPs to gain support but had not had a response from appeals to Corby’s MP Tom Pursglove. She said she does not think that the ruling Conservative party want to run nurseries any longer which is why they are not fighting to protect them.
“Why does Pen Green’s funding all have to come out over one year? This doesn't give the centre any time to regroup.
“From the Labour group’s view we want to see better funding for all nurseries in the area, these children are our future and if we don't support them now we will end up with difficulties in the future.”