Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Handsworth Community Nursery (EYF 05)


  1.  Situated on the outskirts of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and serving many families on low to middle incomes, Handsworth Community Nursery had developed—in response to local demand and over a period of almost 40 years—from a parent and toddler group and sessional pre-school into a fully-fledged early learning centre. Handsworth is a voluntary group—run by a management committee—and it is funded entirely through parental contributions, small grants, fundraising efforts and nursery education grant funding for three and four year olds.


  2.  The aim of Handsworth is to offer affordable education and care for young children and a full service to meet the needs of families from the local community. The group is open from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm, Monday to Friday, 51 weeks of the year for full day care. In addition, there are pre-school sessions which are held on five mornings a week from 9.30 am until 12 noon and on five afternoons each week from 1.00 pm until 3.30 pm during school term times. The fees are £2.00 per hour.

  3.  The group which employs approximately 20 members of staff (including administrative support) caters for children aged three to five years old. It currently has 66 children on the register and a further 20 children are registered to use the after-school club and the holiday scheme—which runs from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm for children between the ages of four and 14 at a charge of £10 per session. Services also include lunch and wrap-around care dependent on the needs of each child.


  4.  Parents and carers are involved enthusiastically in the day-to-day activities of the group either through fundraising initiative or through the voluntary management committee. Parents of children using the pre-school are encouraged to join the committee or put their views forward via other means. For example, the group has sent out survey forms to parents in the local community to assess the type of pre-school provision available and sample opinion on a range of issues including demand for daycare and the level of fees. The partnership with parents is developing continually and future plans include the opening of an advice centre.

  5.  Parents have also benefited personally from the service the group provides. One parent became the catering manager for the group and achieved an Honours level in her exam for food and hygiene course. Although she had not undertaken anything of this type before, she has now become interested in working with young children and in September last year she started a qualification in childcare.


  6.  In 1999-2001, 15 families who use the group took part in the Pre-school Learning Alliance's Sheffield-based project funded by the Adult and Community Learning Fund which targeted hard-to-reach learners. The target groups were refugees, parents with poor basic skills, young unemployed lone parents, parents with English as an additional language and homeless families.

  7.  The ACLF project at Handsworth was based on the Pre-school Learning Alliance's Parent Pack, Looking at Learning Together, and was facilitated by the pre-school leaders. It gave parents an insight into how children learn and helped them to focus on their own learning needs. A Learning Support Development Officer provided individual support to parents and acted as a "signpost" to help parents find training and learning opportunities to meet their needs.

  8.  Of the parents taking part in the ACLF project across the country, including Handsworth Community Nursery, 33 per cent said they had used what they learnt in the workshops in their everyday routine to help their children's developing knowledge and literacy skills. In addition, 43 per cent of parents have subsequently enrolled on, or completed, a further or adult education course, 21 per cent have enrolled on or completed a Pre-school Learning Alliance training course and 64 per cent either became regular helpers or members of the committee at the pre-school.

  9.  Due to Handsworth's involvement in the ACLF project, and with the help of the management team and local forum, the group has set up a training room for parents and members of the community who wish to access IT training and parent support. One of the group's leaders attended the Sheffield Getting your Message Across course and has achieved City and Guilds 73707 Stage 1 to enable her to deliver courses. Representatives from the local area—such as health visitors are also involved with this project making it a real community effort.


  10.  Handsworth Community Nursery also maintains strong links with two local community schools and staff have attempted to build-up links with other schools in the area. Children at the pre-school who are going to attend the schools visit as a group and with their parents and this helps them to feel more confident and to settle in comfortable, with less disruption when they move on to school. Assessments of the children are also taken into account and the schools provide the group with feedback on how prepared the children are when they join the school.


  11.  Members of staff have appropriate childcare qualifications including NVQ Level III in childcare, NVQ Level II, City and Guilds in Childcare and the Pre-school Learning Alliance Diploma in Pre-school Practice. A male member of staff is presently working towards his NVQ Level III in Playwork. Other staff have NNEB qualifications and one is currently training to become a special needs support worker based at the nursery.

  12.  The group continues to achieve the highest standards: following its last Ofsted visit, it was recommended that the next inspection occurs within two to four years. The inspection report revealed no significant weaknesses and remarked that the nursery provides a caring and stimulating environment where all the required learning outcomes are promoted. The group is also taking part in Sheffield's Young Children's Service Kite Mark Scheme.


  13.  Despite the services which the group provides, it continues to face financial difficulties which threaten its future viability. As the group is supported largely through parental contributions, fundraising is undertaken continually in order to sustain the group and buy materials and expertise. However, the burden of wages and rent is considerable and the fees which sustain the nursery are kept as low as possible to meet the needs of local families. In addition to this, the loss of four year olds to reception classes in local schools has resulted in a substantial loss of revenue. Some parents who have used the group feel they have been pressured to send their children to school at a young age rather than keep them at the pre-school.

  14.  In spite of this, Handsworth hopes to increase the availability of, and access to, affordable quality full daycare whilst continuing to offer new services for children and parents. For example, it is considering a move to new, local self-contained premises, at a "peppercorn rent", which would enable the provision of a broader range of services—including a baby unit, an indoor area for physical and messy play to complement the outdoor space and a "quiet room" to allow focused work on language, literacy and mathematics.

  15.  The group hopes that its current work with parents—family learning support parents and carers in accessing training and finding jobs—can be extended further and is currently working with the Pre-school Learning Alliance's National Centre to explore the possibility of developing its services within the DfEE's Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiatives.

April 2001

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