Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 10 - 19)




  10. We have tried to get a range of people in front of the Committee today. I do not think Pam Bolton or her organisation, Handsworth Community Nursery in Sheffield, gave evidence to the Committee, written evidence, and we did not call her for oral evidence, but, as Chairman, I did visit Handsworth Community Nursery and it seemed appropriate, because of a certain phase of development (you politely called it that, Pam) that you were going through at the moment, that it would be interesting, where it is really happening on the ground, if we asked you in and heard what you thought about (a) our report and (b) how you see that reflecting on your experience at the moment. Do you want to give a thumbnail sketch of your organisation, what you do on the ground, very quickly?

  (Ms Bolton) It is a community-based nursery. We started sort of ten years ago as a mother and toddler group, basically. All the staff who work in the setting now were once parents, so we have all gone through training, have all qualified now. It has just built up. It has been capacity building at its basic level. We are now running a 40-place nursery, giving holiday respite care for special needs, holiday care, after-school care, and we actually cater for about 85 families in the community.

  11. How is it funded?
  (Ms Bolton) It is funded through parents and obviously the nursery is funded through the three- and four-year-old funding—and that is it.

  12. But you are going through a particularly difficult period.
  (Ms Bolton) We are at the moment. I mean, we do apply for grants. I mean, my role now in the nursery is I do not see very many children but I just apply for grants to keep the setting going. Obviously, we have been there now so long that parents do rely on us in the community. We are the second largest nursery in the community—the others are state maintained—and our role is that we feel we have got to be there. Regardless of what happens, we keep it going. We take cuts in wages, we cut hours, staff leave, staff come back, just to keep it going, to give that service to parents who really want us to be there.

  13. There you are, sitting there, running this organisation, trying to make ends meet. When our report came out, did you find it helpful at all?
  (Ms Bolton) Yes. In the long-term, I think especially the Nurseries in the Neighbourhood initiative is going to help immensely. We are looking to move out of the setting we are in now to a derelict school, so obviously that is actually going to help. It is the short term, before that sets in. Many, many settings just like ours will fold because there is not that support, there has not been that support there. We have taken every opportunity that has been thrown at us, but still it has been lacking in financial support. We are lucky in Sheffield that training opportunities have been really good. We are well supported by the Sheffield Community Childcare Network and area planning. We really, really are well supported. The local colleges have got problems—they have got financial problems with assessors and stuff like that. But really it is there for us to have and we are really lucky. And I think most settings in Sheffield do take advantage of that.

  14. What is the difficulty? What would make your life easier?
  (Ms Bolton) If settings like ours were given a budget, based on what we do and how we deliver it. At the moment, I use a crystal ball. Our local EYDCP say to me "sustainability". Sustainability can only be made on a good business plan with a sound budget. You cannot do it in any other way. And I use a crystal ball. My hours can change term by term. You cannot plan any further ahead. We have to put three-year delivery plans in and it is virtually impossible because we have no sound budget to work to.

Helen Jones

  15. You said you had got support from the Early Years partnership.
  (Ms Bolton) Yes.

  16. Can you tell us how well in your experience those partnerships work as, if you like, "mummy" groups for nurseries like yours with local government and with national government too? Are there any changes you would like to see made in partnerships? Or do you think they function properly as they are?
  (Ms Bolton) Ours functions very well. We do get lots of support, financially as well as, you know: "Things are bad but we will come and talk to you," that kind of thing. So, yes, that has been a help. Without that being in place, we would have folded before now. There is no doubt about that. I think the structure is working well for us and the feedback we are getting from that seems to be good.

  17. Does it work well, in your opinion, in planning provision across the authority?
  (Ms Bolton) Yes, I think so. In Sheffield it does.

  18. I know you can only answer from your experience.
  (Ms Bolton) I mean, I cannot say for anywhere else, but in Sheffield, yes, planning seems to be there in place. Consultation is there. Nothing is done without consultation. The voluntary sector have got this childcare network and I think two or three people on that sit on the EYDCP, so we have got a really strong voice on that.

Charlotte Atkins

  19. Are you under pressure because schools are taking children at a younger age?
  (Ms Bolton) Yes.

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