Five council-run nurseries are facing closure or mergers as some of them are said to be running at a cumulative deficit of £560k.
Croydon’s Maintained Nursery Schools offer free and specialist early-years childcare to boost early development, especially for children with special needs and disabilities, but have recently proven to be financially unsustainable due to specialised teaching staff and resources.
With only about 300 maintained nurseries left in England, five of them are scattered across Croydon in Purley, Thornton Heath, Selhurst, Norwood and Addiscombe.
Alaina Packer, a representative for community-led campaign group Our Nurseries Matter, told ELL that deprived communities and families outside of Croydon relied on these nurseries for support.
Packer, who has a child enrolled in one of these nurseries, added: “Closures will result in loss of specialism and expertise across the sector, [while] negatively impacting gender equality and children’s life chances.”
Our Nurseries Matter was founded by two community members, both parents, shortly after a cabinet meeting held at the end of June which resulted in the approval of a plan to reduce the number of MNS (Maintained Nursery Schools).
Packer, who attended Crosfield Nursery in Norwood over 30 years ago, said the group is calling for sufficient funding and proper investment for MNS to be able to run sustainably.
“Aside from a huge donation of £560k to wipe the deficit, […] what MNS really need is some time and a chance to explore options and what it will cost them.
“There are many models in other boroughs that work well and even an in-borough working partnership model between a Multi-academy trust (MAT) and a nursery school.”
The group’s biggest concern is the proposed reduction of this service with no equivalent alternative being offered.
Labour Councillor Amy Foster said: “In statistically deprived areas in Croydon, there isn’t a plan B for families [whose kids are in need of special education].
“Because of the national and local austerity, the support there is to families has been reduced over time.”
Councillor Amy Foster pointed out that, for certain families, choice is a financial luxury they don’t have.
Packer said the community group’s work included encouraging people to respond to the open consultation issued by the council on September 19, which will close on October 17.
Councillor Foster told ELL: “I would suggest that [the consultation] is a long document to be responding to online. There’s an issue of digital literacy and of understanding the language of the detailed document.”
She added that the leader of the Labour group suggested to the Council that open petitions should be considered as a valid means of responding to the consultation.
ELL contacted Croydon Council Press Office for comment but hasn’t received a response.