Memorandum submitted by Walkergate Early Years Centre

 

 

Please accept the attached submission on behalf of children, parents, staff and governors of Walkergate Early Years Centre as evidence to your committee's inquiry into the Early Years Single Funding Formula.

 

We are moved to write because of the devastating loss of funding facing our outstanding nursery school as a result of the proposed formula. We have worked hard and gained our outstanding status not once but four times in inspections over the last decade or so and we are understandably determined to defend the quality we provide for the children of this disadvantaged community.

 

Governors understand and applaud the government's aim to enable more children across the nation to access the extended 15 hours a week offer. We cannot, however, accept that it was ever the government's intention in pursuing that aim to dramatically penalise the outstanding beacons of excellence that are the nursery schools of this country.

 

You will be aware that the Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills 2007/08 confirms that 97% of nursery schools attained OFSTED inspection grades of outstanding or good, with only 3% satisfactory and not a single nursery school in the country judged inadequate. This unparalleled record, better by a wide margin than that of any other sector of education, is what we seek to defend because it defines the quality of our most powerless children's experiences.

 

Our nursery school faces the loss of around 250,000 on its current formula allocation of almost 600,000 over the three years of transition, losing over 40% of its budget. This is likely to mean that:

 

Pupils will have a 15 hour weekly entitlement, spread over two and a half days, instead of the current five day placement from 9.00a.m. to 3.00 p.m. each day;

As a consequence parental ability to maintain employment in this highly deprived community will be severely reduced;

A minority of children, who are at more risk in their homes than in school, will face greater vulnerability;

There will be jeopardy for ongoing staff employment;

Quality will be compromised as time previously spent directly on meeting children's and parents' needs will have to be diverted into business planning and marketing to raise income to secure the school's viability.

 

Newcastle upon Tyne includes some of the most disadvantaged communities in the nation. For over 75 years it has earned a proud and distinguished reputation in providing full time nursery education for its most highly deprived communities. This provision is now in jeopardy, apparently as an unintended consequence of a good intention. We ask the select committee to use all its influence to prevent this from happening.

 

1.1 About the School

 

1.1.1 Walkergate Early Years Centre has been a focal point of the Walkergate Community, for the past 30 years. We are an integrated centre serving a community which has areas of high deprivation. Our provision matches up exactly with the government expectations to provide early intervention for parents and children. Our holistic centre offers

The equivalent of 104 full time nursery school places

Private Day Care

A Children's Centre which encompasses outreach work, training for work, working with young parents and family learning groups, work on health and safety for families. This fulfils the requirements of the National indicators.

 

1.1.2 We have been rated Outstanding by Ofsed four times.

 

"Walkergate Early Years Centre is outstanding and has maintained the same high standards observed during the last inspection. Its headteacher, staff and governors have successfully raised children's achievement and personal development by the provision of excellent teaching and learning, an exciting curriculum and a very high standard of care. The role of parents in their children's learning has also been strengthened because of effective communication and the provision of services for families and their children, from babies to nursery. These enhance parents' understanding of early childhood development and learning. As one parent wrote, 'Everything offered to my child is explained and backed up. I feel very involved and able to carry on at home.' As a result, the Centre and its staff are held in very high esteem by parents and their children." Ofsted July 2008

 

1.2. About the Children

 

1.2.1 As the children are with us full time we are able to ensure outstanding progress is achieved because highly skilled staff provide exciting experiences and interesting activities to develop all abilities and interests in all the areas of learning. Because of the funding we receive the children and their families benefit from a high level of adult support and achieve well because of targeted individual help and well planned group activities.

 

1.2.2 Because of our full time provision we are able to offer the correct balance between adult led and child initiated learning, which is very difficult for establishments offering 12.5 hours, or even 15 hours. This is due to the depth of experiences we are able to offer.

The children benefit from

Highly qualified and experienced practitioners

Nurture Nursery Teams to support children's emotional and social development which is one of the 'outcomes duties' required of all local authorities

Staff who carry out practitioner action research which shapes the experiences provided to the children

The enabling environment which provides opportunities throughout the day, for the children to have the freedom to explore, learn, practice and develop their skills.

 

1.2.3 In conclusion, Ofsted states:

 

"Their experience of collaborative learning ensures they take responsibility, share and help each other extremely well for their age. Children express their ideas very confidently and listen well to others. Staff plan activities around children's own ideas. This raises their self-esteem and offers learning experiences that sustain their interest. Children also participate in a rich variety of community and cultural projects, including fund-raising. As a result, they are highly motivated and this, together with the secure development of basic skills, prepares them well for Reception."

 

The full time place enables us to do all of the above and more. The children come to us, often below National Standards, and leave us having made fantastic progress.

 

"The quality outcomes and experiences for children are fundamentally dependent on the experiences that they have every day in their childcare setting, which depends on the training, experience and quality of staff." Hansard HC 2005e, 306

 

We believe this statement to be fact.

 

 

1.3. About the Parents

 

1.3.1 Parental expectation has been built up across the thirty years for full time provision. We have third generation families who have benefited from the offer we currently have. Parents have been able to return to work as their children attend all day. This is important to our community as there are high levels of unemployment. It gives parents a higher level of self esteem when they are able to work and achieve their own goals. This, of course, will reflect on their child's value of the work ethic.

 

1.3.2 Parents are able to build up a high level of trust through daily contact with staff within the school and Children's Centre. Then they are more willing to access courses that powerfully show them that they make a positive contribution to their children's learning and that they are competent to engage with further training or work. An excellent example of this is parents last year accessed Parents as Partners in Early Learning course and have since gone on to further training in Childcare and have gained additional qualifications in Maths and English. These parents are now enjoying supported placements within our school. Indeed three parents currently have secured some temporary employment within our setting. This has been a feature in our Nursery for many years and has resulted in permanent employment.

 

1.3.3 The current feeling of our parents is one of disbelief that the government's extended hours offer will erode the opportunities that we can currently offer to them. At present, parents who would not usually access training or support are being encouraged into our nursery due to the Outreach Workers based in the Children's Centre. If there were no full time places it is much less likely that these hard-to-reach parents would actually come in e.g. those parents with drug and substance abuse problems and those with mental health issues. Parents who would only have a child in part time education would be less likely to access any of the sessions run by the Children's Centre.

 

 

1.4. About Training

 

1.4.1 We have an international reputation as a centre of outstanding practice though our practitioner research, published articles and lecturing at conferences e.g. Doing the Right Thing which was in partnership with Sightlines. This conference featured Helen Moylett who is the Senior Director of Early Years National Strategy. Helen expressed her admiration of the film we presented and that it met all of the aims of the EYFS in a reflective and pedagogical way.

 

1.4.2 The centre is able, because of the full time nature of the children's places, to offer training and support to a wide variety of clients

Parents through tailored courses

Students on Teaching practice from 2 major universities

Nursery Nurse students

Classroom assistant students

EYP students

International students

Other professionals through our links with artists

Support to other practitioners through the delivery of high impact courses such as First Aid for Mental Health.

 

 

2. EYSFF - Full Time to Part Time - The Impact

 

2.1 Impact on Children

 

Our Safeguarding role will be compromised as vulnerable children may slip through the system due to non-attendance as their place will only be part time. For example, it is very likely that parents with depression or other mental health problems will be far less motivated to bring their child in for a part time place.

Children will not have the time to deepen their experiences. This will impact on their progress and ultimately on their ability to successfully show achievement as recorded at key milestones e.g. SATs

The personal, social and emotional wellbeing of the children will be eroded as we would only be able to offer very short term interventions.

 

2.2 Impact on Parents

 

The Government has made much of all services having Every Child Matters principles at its heart. Integrated services provided jointly by school and Children's Centre (such as full-day training courses) will be jeopardised with children only being in school part time.

Part time places will prevent parents accessing courses such as the Freedom Programme which helps people who have experienced domestic violence build their self esteem back up and allows them to engage back into family life. This ultimately benefits the children as parents feel greater confidence in their ability to work with the centre.

To manage our budget we will need to almost double the number of children attending the school under EYSFF. This represents a possible doubling of parents at the same time as halving the time these families are in school. We pride ourselves on having worked hard over many years to ensure the partnership that we have with parents is sustained by mutual trust and respect. Under EYSFF the depth of these working relationships with parents is eroded on two fronts: half-time places will cut in half the time available to develop these relationships. Also, the need to double the number of parents who use WEYC

Parents are worried that they will not be able to extend their families as they will have difficulties getting into training or the world of work. Often these have been planned years in advance as this nursery has historically been full time. (Please see appendices)

 

2.3 Impact on the Community

 

The centre is based in an area which falls into the top 20% of IMD (Index of Multiple Deprivation). We feel that part time places would impact on problems, which are already in focus within the community. Possible consequences include:

More Social Care intervention - this would be very difficult with this service already stretched to the limit.

Further unemployment as parents are unable to maintain full time jobs. This will inevitably increase child poverty. This is a major precept of the Labour Government to eradicate child poverty by 2012.

The amount of Common Assessment Frameworks (CAFs) will increase, however the staff will be so stretched they would be unable to attend many of the meetings or follow up with support. These are all necessary for a CAF to work successfully.

 

2.4 Impact on Training

 

Our ability to offer student placement to our partner universities and colleges will be adversely affected by the consequences of the EYSFF. The enriched experiences we are currently able to offer will be limited in the future and this will affect the students' level of professional development.

 

2.5 Impact on Staff

 

Our philosophies, experiences, research and expertise will be lost in a diluted service.

Inevitably with budget cuts there will be a loss of highly trained and excellent practitioners that are at present working at the centre. This surprises us as the Government Children's Workforce Development Council is striving to up-skill the work force in Early Years.

The quality of learning will lose its spontaneity and our ability to observe and meet the needs of individual learners.

The excellence of our practice will be affected by our lack of time to reflect on our practice and plan appropriately to meet the needs of the children.

 

2.6 Impact on Provision

 

Providing "outstanding" nursery education will no longer be possible or affordable under EYSFF as stated in the above paragraphs. WEYC is being plunged into financial insecurity as funding will depend on numbers of children which may well vary term to term under EYSFF making financial planning difficult. The School Governors are working hard to come up with creative ways to run the school including having to look at running privately for part of the school week for those families who can pay. The majority of the families in our local community will not be able to afford this service so we will have to look at attracting families from more affluent areas of the city to attend the school. The EYSFF is therefore hitting the poorest families and low-income working families the hardest here in our local community.

 

 

3. Recommendation

 

3.1 In conclusion, Baroness Warmsley, during a session in the House of Lords on the 4th of November, suggested that amendment 205 should protect centres of excellence. The figures published from Ofsted relating to 2007/8 show that 97% of maintained Nursery Schools were graded as Good to Outstanding and 39% were Outstanding. This is opposed to the much lower percentage for Private Day Care settings. We are one of the Outstanding nursery schools and we would wish for this to continue.

 

Jim Cousins MP for Newcastle Central wrote to us:

 

"You will appreciate that the purpose of the Governments proposals was to set a minimum of nursery provision across the country. This was never intended to be a state ration of nursery provision."

 

We agree with Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle East, who wrote to us:

 

"It doesn't seem right that children and parents who have come to rely on the full time provision offered by an outstanding centre such as your own should lose out as part of this reorganisation of resources."

 

3.2 We recommend that Maintained Nursery Schools be made exempt from the EYSFF as we are unique establishments where children flourish and become well rounded members of society. For us the proposed change is not a school improvement move as intended but one of devastation for a whole community.

 

November 2009