Charity questions legality of nursery closure

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The closure of a nursery in Tower Hamlets that provides services for deaf children ‘may be illegal’, the National Deaf Children’s Society has said.


Parents in Tower Hamlets have started the 'Save our Nurseries' campaign

Four nurseries in the borough are under threat, including the only setting in the area that provides services for deaf children.

Overland Children Centre provides a specialist care service for deaf children, employing teachers of the deaf and speech and language therapists, with all staff trained in British Sign Language. The setting also features soundproofed rooms with good acoustics to facilitate learning.

Brian Gale, the charity’s director of policy and campaigns, described Overland Children’s centre as a ‘vital lifeline’ for deaf children and their families in the local area.

He said, ‘Closing the centre will mean removing the only day nursery in the borough with the sort of vital specialist support to enable local deaf children to thrive.’

Tower Hamlets residents have been campaigning against the closures for several weeks. As Nursery World has previously reported, local parents started the 'Save out Nurseries' campaign, held protests and launched a petition against the council’s decision, which is backed by local MPs.

The next campaign event with guest speakers will be held tomorrow (Saturday 29 November) at Roman Road Market in Bow, from 12-2pm. The charity asks for supporters to help protect the services for all the vulnerable children in the borough.

The nurseries face being shut down as part of a multi-million pound savings drive by the council for 2015, which needs to save £100m over three years.

Mr Gale said that when making a decision about the nurseries, local authorities must keep in mind the advance equality of opportunity for disabled children under the Equality Act. There are also responsibilities under the Children and Families Act to meet the needs of disabled and special needs children, providing adequate support for them.

‘Overland has been provided because the Tower Hamlets council thought there was a need for it. That need hasn’t gone away. Closing this nursery without providing any replacement services is inconsistent with the duties of a local authority,’ said Mr Gale.

He added that specialist support is essential in early years for children’s development of speech and language skills, communication skills and emotional development, which is directly linked to their success in school.

More than half of deaf children in England currently fail to meet the Government’s expected targets in reading, writing and maths when leaving primary school.

 ‘We urgently want assurance from the council that deaf children in their early years living in Tower Hamlets won’t be ignored and face an uncertain future,’ said Mr Gale.

‘At the society we realise that local authorities have to make difficult decisions, but if you are making cuts, your first point of call should not be the most vulnerable children in your community.

‘But they do say they are committed to providing good quality early years education, so what remains to be seen is how they are going to meet that commitment,’ said Mr Gale. A decision should be made by March 2015.

Other nurseries under threat of closure by Tower Hamlets are John Smith Children’s Centre in Stepney, Mary Sambrook Day Nursery in Shadwell and Queen Mary Day Nursery in Bow. The three settings provide affordable services for all children in the area, with specialist services for those with disabilities and learning difficulties.

In the case that the council does go ahead with the nursery closures, Mr Gale said that there were a number of measures that the community and the National Children’s Deaf Society could undertake to ensure a specialist provision is in place for disabled children and those with special needs.

‘We will continuously work to support parents exercising their children’s rights if the local authorities cannot provide for them through a policy level.’

The council is due to review the early years savings proposals at the December cabinet meeting next week and said it would take into account feedback from stakeholders and an equality impact assessment.

Earlier this month a council spokesperson said, ‘We are proud of the standard of our early years provision and we remain committed to ensuring that all children have access to excellent childcare in the borough.

‘Public sector cuts mean that we like all other local authorities have to make significant savings. So far, we have managed the impact of Government funding reductions, but we will have to make difficult decisions in the near future.’

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