Nursery group closed over safeguarding fears

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Four nurseries in Devon are to be permanently closed, leaving more than 400 children without childcare and 100 members of staff without jobs.

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Claire's Children's Nurseries are to be closed

All four settings run by Claire's Children’s Nurseries had their registrations suspended last month following a safeguarding investigation, and Ofsted has now issued a notice of intent to cancel them. 

The nurseries involved are Claire’s Flying Start, Claire’s Little Bears, and Claire’s Newport Nursery in Barnstaple, and Claire’s Little Robins in Northam, which employed 100 members of staff between them.

The BBC reported viewing the nursery’s official notice of suspension, which Ofsted does not make public.

Owner and manager Claire Symons had employed her partner Shane Connolly, who had a criminal record for battery and theft, at the nurseries, according to the BBC. Mr Connolly had also received a caution for six counts of willful neglect in 2005 which Ms Symons had not disclosed to Ofsted.

The BBC report said Mr Connolly had worked as a handyman and then as operations manager at the nurseries, and was based chiefly at Claire’s Little Robins.

Ms Symons established the company in 1995 after previously working for 16 years as a nursery nurse on the children’s ward of North Devon District Hospital.

In 2006 she opened her second setting and further acquisitions followed between 2008 and 2011.

An Ofsted spokesperson commented, ‘We can confirm that we have issued a notice of intent to cancel the provider’s registration. This is because we are not satisfied that the provider remains suitable for registration or that they are able to take sufficient steps to ensure they sustain compliance with the requirements of registration.’

A message on the nurseries’ website read, ‘Our nurseries are closed. Following a complaint to Ofsted, Claire's registration as a childcare provider has been suspended to allow Ofsted the time to investigate. As a result, we had to close all nurseries owned by Claire. We will update you as soon as we have more information.’

Peter Heaton-Jones, MP for North Devon, said, ‘I am extremely worried by the news that Ofsted has suspended four privately-run nurseries in northern Devon, pending an investigation into safeguarding. 

‘My first concern of course is for the wellbeing of the 450 children who attend these nurseries, and I have written to Devon County Council to seek urgent reassurance on this matter. 

‘I have also asked about the future provision for the affected families, and sought assurances about the employment situation of the 100 staff.

‘This is a very worrying situation and I will be monitoring it closely, but while the investigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment further.’

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