'We don't know if we'll have a job in 12 months': Nursery closure fears

The government is yet to guarantee funding for nurseries beyond 2020.
The government is yet to guarantee funding for nurseries beyond 2020.

Jobs may be lost and very young children could be left with nowhere to start their education if the government fails to guarantee cash for council-run nurseries.

That's the stark warning from a headteacher in Pontefract, whose school and pre-school is one of hundreds fearing closure if central funding for them is cut.

There are around 400 state-maintained nurseries across the UK.

There are around 400 state-maintained nurseries across the UK.

Although the government announced an extra £24m for early years education in March, it is yet to pledge any cash for state-run nurseries beyond 2020.

Becky Cook, head at Harewood Nursery in Pontefract, said that the lack of clarity was hampering key decisions on places and recruitment.

The venue currently has 93 children on its books and 15 staff who are employed on a rota basis.

Mrs Cook said: "Closing down would have a huge impact on our local families, and it would be a great loss to the community.

Pontefract South councillor David Jones, a former headteacher, has backed calls for the government to increase its support for nurseries.

Pontefract South councillor David Jones, a former headteacher, has backed calls for the government to increase its support for nurseries.

"With the closure of children's centres in recent years we've become so much more than just a nursery.

"We're the first port of call in a child's education, and we're a listening ear for parents. We help them out wherever we can, even if it's just by doing a load of washing for them here if their machine's broken, or something like that.

"The uncertainty means I have a lot of trouble recruiting, and I can't give out any permanent contracts because I don't know where we stand financially.

"We don't know if we'll have a job in 12 months.

"Having said that, my staff have been so solid, and so loyal. We've got an attitude of, "We'll be here until they kick us out"."

With just two other local authority maintained pre-schools in the Wakefield district, Mrs Cook said that closure for Harewood would leave many children in the local area without an alternative nursery.

The issue was the subject of a petition earlier this year, with MP Yvette Cooper and Pontefract South councillor David Jones backing pleas for more funding.

Mrs Cook praised the support the nursery has had from parents and from Wakefield Council but called on the Department of Education to clarify matters quickly.

She added: "We were originally told that there would be an announcement in the autumn spending review.

"But there's now unlikely to be an autumn spending review because of the uncertainty and the current political climate.

"They're only focused on balancing the books for the next 12 months, but we're looking after the long-term futures of our children."

Coun Jones raised the issue at a meeting of Wakefield's children and young people scrutiny committee on Wednesday.

A onetime head at Carleton High School in Pontefract, Coun Jones said: "We've had conversations with the the three local authority maintained nurseries in the Wakefield district, and we must, as far as we possibly can, protect them, because they take on a lot of children who are showing early signs of special needs.

"Sadly, a lot of the private providers don't wish to support those children.

"That's why it's vital that we protect our maintained nurseries because they do provide that service."

Local Democracy Reporting Service