Croydon's 5 maintained nurseries to stay open but parents worry they are being 'set up to fail'

A child at Crosfield Nursery
-Credit: (Image: Crosfield Nursery)

Croydon’s five maintained nursery schools will remain open after Croydon Council opted against initial closure plans. Instead two of the maintained nursery schools (MNS) must now find a school or academy partner by January 2025 to address the council’s financial concerns.

The council’s preferred solution has come following a nearly year-long review into the financial viability of Croydon ’s five MNS, after it was found that two of them were in a prolonged budget deficit. The two MNS in question, the partnered Crosfield and Selhurst nurseries, now have to secure a 'soft federation' partnership with a nearby school or academy to remain financially viable while providing the same educational service.

The five MNS nurseries - Purley Nursery, Selhurst Nursery, Tunstall Nursery, Crosfield Nursery, and Thornton Heath Nursery - are run and funded by the council and offer free schooling to children aged three to five. At the time of writing, all five nurseries have been rated “good” or above by Ofsted.

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Selhurst Nursery is in a federation with nearby Crosfield Nursery
Selhurst Nursery is in a federation with nearby Crosfield Nursery -Credit:Harrison Galliven/LDRS

While parents and pupils are unlikely to see a change in their day-to-day schooling, some governors now feel under pressure to secure the future of their nursery before January. Furthermore, the two nurseries, Crosfield and Selhurst, have been vocal in their opposition to the new arrangement and would prefer to manage their own future.

The decision was discussed at a scrutiny meeting last night (Monday, July 8) before it goes to Croydon Council's cabinet for a vote next week. Head of Scrutiny Rowenna Davis told the chamber how Crosfield had worked hard to address financial shortcomings and were unsatisfied with the council’s decision to impose ‘soft federation’ on them.

After visiting the nurseries, Davis admitted she “certainly did get a sense of pace” about the changes Crosfield has been making to address its finances. It was also revealed the school was on track to have a budget surplus by the end of the financial year.

However, Croydon Council's Director of Education Shelley Davies insisted "we have not seen changes made in a timely way,” adding: “We need to inject some pace.” She also acknowledged that Crosfield and Selhurst’s finances had been propped up by the department for education funding.

Davies said: “Individuals will have a view about our engagement, but doing nothing is not an option. We have to be robust if we are to move forward.” The “robust” action refers to the council’s power to install a new executive board if the MNS governors do not find a suitable partner by January 2025.

Mayor of Croydon, Jason Perry
Mayor Jason Perry, has previously stated that 'doing nothing is not an option' when it comes to maintained nursery schools -Credit:Jason Perry

Croydon’s Mayor, Jason Perry, told MyLondon, how he hopes the schools will work with the council but insisted that the council’s finances were the key concern throughout, and repeated the familiar phrase “doing nothing was not an option”.

He told MyLondon: “This is our strong recommendation to the governing bodies that this is the way forward and this is how they will deliver sustainability for their schools going forward. If the schools do not move forward, that is why there is the inclusion of the line about an executive board. I hope that’s not where this goes, I very much want to work with Selhurst and Crosfield.”

Despite this, parents believe the council’s decision is not a ‘silver bullet’ for the nurseries. Georgia, a Croydon mum who helped lead a campaign to save the MNS, feels the decision places further strain on the nurseries and is “setting them up to fail”.

Speaking to MyLondon, she said: “It's great that no nurseries are going to close but it’s taken a huge length of time to come to this decision. It’s been nearly a year of uncertainty for staff and families, and the outcome is that they have suggested something that maybe they could have thought about suggesting before they even went to the consultation process."

When asked if parents and students are likely to see any changes under the new arrangement, she replied: “Probably not, but it is remarkable that Crosfield and Selhurst have not lost a single member of staff in this time, which speaks of massive dedication. Then if you’re told that if you don’t find a partnership by January, the effect on staff morale is going to be significant.

“We don’t know how our governors are going to react, there may be governors who don’t know how to engage with a partnership that has just been hoisted on them.”

A child in Crosfield Nursery
Selhurst and Crosfield Nurseries are well known for their good SEND provision -Credit:Crosfield Nursery

This was a view shared by Councillor Amy Foster, who has supported the campaign since the possibility of closure was announced last year. She told MyLondon: "While it's welcome news that the council is no longer proposing the closure of our borough's valuable maintained nursery schools, I remain concerned that what is now proposed is closure by stealth.

“The report coming to cabinet next week does not acknowledge the work done by the Crosfield and Selhurst Federation to improve their financial position over the last year or why they so strongly believe that the only way forward is a new federation for these schools. That these proposals should be coming forward just a week before the summer holiday and using such threatening language about how they expect the leadership team to respond is hugely disappointing and in my view disrespectful of the hard work that the federation has delivered.

"I would strongly urge the mayor and cabinet member to reject this recommendation and instead continue to monitor the federation's progress over the next year if the recommendation includes waiting to ensure a balanced budget by 2025/26, why not enable the federation to pursue their plans without the disruption of a new partnership in such a rushed process?"

Croydon’s other three MNS have been engaged in the same soft federation model for the past few years, which allows them, to share staff and resources among the partners involved. While the council admit that this organisational set-up has contributed to those schools remaining in a budget surplus, there is still some uncertainty about whether it will help Crosfield and Selhurst remain financially viable in the future.

Croydon town hall
The maintained nursery school consultation is part of the council's wider effort to balance the borough's books -Credit:Harrison Galliven

At the scrutiny committee meeting, Davis warned this new soft federation model would not guarantee the future of the nurseries. She said: “This model alone is not the answer to the deficit.” While Councillor Alasdair Stewart said that the lack of information about how the model will save the schools money brings rise to a “lot of unknown unknowns”.

Parents and staff also expressed concerns over the apparent lack of attention given to the SEN provision offered at the MNS. According to Martin, "31-42 per cent of all three-year-olds receiving SEN support in state-funded settings between 2015 and 2022 were educated at Croydon's maintained nursery schools."

Despite this, the council’s report shared little detail about how the SEN provision was likely to be affected by the new ‘soft federation’ structure. When MyLondon put this to Perry, he said: “This is about the finances of the schools first and foremost.”

He added: “This authority has had a problem with schools closing previously costing local taxpayers millions of pounds. So we can’t repeat the mistakes of the past where schools that have a deficit end up costing the taxpayers. We have always recognised that the schools are well-loved by their local communities and well-used by their extra communities, that is why we have taken more time to find a solution to take this forward.

“The easier option would have been to make a decision and get on with it, instead we’ve taken the time and effort to engage with schools and parents and listen to what they’re telling us and actually find a solution that works so that we can keep all five schools going for the future.”

The new proposal will go to next week’s Cabinet meeting (July 15), where members are expected to vote it through.

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