Mayor John Biggs confirmed the closure of the last three remaining council-run settings at Tower Hamlets’ council’s cabinet meeting last week (27 September).
However, the decision is likely to be referred by councillors to the council’s own overview and scrutiny committee to look at details of the decision.
Campaigners blame the council for running the services down, and say that there are over 100 children on the waiting list for the nurseries, and they have space for 102 children.
Parents picketed outside the town hall meeting last Wednesday in a bid to save Overland nursery in Bow, which provides specialist support for children with deafness and autism.
Mary Sambrook nursery in Shadwell closed over the summer and John Smith nursery is also earmarked for closure.
Spokesperson Candace Reading said, ‘Our Save Our Nurseries campaign will continue and we are joining forces with other campaigns around the country including Salford, Nottingham and Birmingham whose day nurseries are threatened.
‘The integrated support provided in conjunction with neighbouring children's centres at John Smith and Overland meant specialists could coordinate early intervention for vulnerable children. There are over 100 children on the waiting lists for these nurseries many of whom have additional needs now with nowhere else to go.
‘Tower Hamlets has the highest rates of child poverty in the country, so while we are truly saddened the mayor has decided to abandon these children there is too much at stake to give up. We are looking to connect with early years professionals and campaigners to join us as we lobby local and central government for a secure early years budget ensuring the survival of birth to five services.’
Two parents with children at Overland nursery were allowed three minutes to speak at the cabinet meeting.
Niru Naidu gave a speech on behalf of the mother of a child who has attended the nursery since she was 18 months who has benefited from the specialist hearing unit.
‘I am here today to share my experience as a parent of a profoundly deaf child with complex needs who has managed to cope quite well because of the integrated support provided by Overland, which she attended from the age of one-and- a half,’ she told councillors.
‘No nursery schools take on children from the age Farah was when she started at Overland and it has meant so much to her development.
‘Farah received complete and consistent support under one roof. The physiotherapist, the feeding specialist, the teacher of the deaf from St Thomas. They all work directly with the nursery to ensure that Farah gets the right support. The early intervention provided to Farah has made such a huge difference. She has learnt how to hear and identify sounds. She is signing a lot more, able to communicate better and so gets less frustrated. Being at Overland has also helped Farah be comfortable with deaf and hearing people.’
According to the council, a place at each of the council nurseries costs £11,000, while the council’s early years budget is around £1,700 for every child under five in the borough.
It also says that it has to save £58m over the next two years due to Government cuts.
The council’s public consultation, which ran over the summer and ended on 10 September, received 592 responses. It found that out of those that expressed a view, 53 per cent supported the closure of the nurseries, and 47 per cent opposed them. However, 44 respondents said they didn’t know if they agreed or disagreed.
The council says that it is committed to supporting all parents of the 22,000 children under the age of five in the borough.
Unison, which represents the majority of staff working in the three remaining nurseries is calling on the council to re-think its decision and to instead join the national campaign to demand adequate central Government funding for nurseries and nursery schools.
Commenting on the council’s closure decision Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs said, ‘A combination of deep Government cuts to council funding alongside a growing population, means we have to take very difficult choices.
‘We have listened to our residents and gone back to see if we can find other ways to keep them open, however the reality is that we have concluded that this is not possible at this point in time.
‘If we keep them open for a small amount of children, then a much larger number of children and families miss out on council funding for other support services.
‘There are quite a number of childcare providers in our borough and we will help any of the children that had places at these nurseries to find suitable alternatives elsewhere in Tower Hamlets.
‘We will also make sure that anyone needing specialist care will continue to receive it.’
Nursery worker’s response to the closures
Reacting to the council’s decision to close the nurseries, a Unison member who has been working in the Tower Hamlets nurseries for several years said she felt let down by the council.
‘The staff are dedicated and work really hard. We are highly experienced in delivering the EYFS. Many of us know how to carry out medical procedures, for example, [for] children who are tube fed. I have experience of working with vulnerable children and those with very complex needs. Among us are the most highly trained and experienced childcare staff that you will find in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. We will probably be made redundant.
‘As a member of staff, I can’t help but feel let down by the council. All of us feel that the nurseries were systematically run down before the decision to shut them was made. This is despite the fact that our waiting lists are full and demand for places is extremely high. But we were told we were not allowed to take children in.’
The staff member also claimed that the council had ignored fundraising ideas and suggestions such as modest fee increases for working parents, adding, ‘To say we feel let down is a total understatement. I’m grateful and proud of the work that my colleagues and I have done over the years for children and families in this community.’
- More information on the campaign https://www.facebook.com/saveournurserieslbth/