SEND nursery may close after LA cutbacks

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A charity that provides care and support for children with SEND and their families in Essex is at risk of closure due to withdrawal of local authority funding.

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First Step, an Ofsted outstanding nursery for children with special educational needs and disabilities, is under threat of closure, photo courtesy of First Step

First Step in Hornchurch, which runs a 30-place Outstanding-rated nursery exclusively for children with special educational needs and disabilities and provides a range of services to support families, needs to raise £200,000 to survive.

The charity used to receive funding from the local authority on top of what it receives to deliver two-, three- and four-year-old places, but this was withdrawn in March 2017.

Chief executive of First Step, Mark Hall, said, ‘For many years, we received additional funding. At one stage, we got half a million pounds, which funded a minibus and a music therapist.

‘In 2007, we moved to the building we are in now, a former school, after the local authority encouraged us to move to somewhere bigger. Then in 2008, the financial crisis hit. As of then, our funding from the local authority began to fall. By 2016, our funding had reduced to £120,000 a year. To make up the money, we fundraised, generating nearly £200,000.

‘In March 2017, the local authority withdrew our funding completely. Since then, we have been drawing on our reserves. The situation is now critical.’

Mr Hall told Nursery World the charity has three options:

  • To significantly reduce services from September.
  • Continue as they are, which would result in closure of the charity by March next year.
  • Raise £200,000 to allow First Step to set up as a social enterprise, producing a long-term income stream. This would involve becoming a mainstream setting and continuing to support children with SEND and their families through advocacy work and establishing a programme of training.

Councillor Robert Benham, cabinet member for education at Havering Borough Council, said, ‘We are aware of the concerns raised by First Step and the residents they support.

‘I recently visited First Step and met with the director and trustees of the charity, along with members of staff, children and parents to learn more about the issues. Talks are also taking place between the Council and the charity to explore possible solutions.

‘We recognise the valuable contribution First Step makes to the local community and we will do all we can within the resources available to continue to support the charity.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is exactly the same for every other child – to make the most of early education, do well in school and to live happy and fulfilled lives.

'The high needs budget is £6bn this year, but we recognise the strain on local authorities’ budgets which is why in December we announced an additional £250m over this and next year which will go some way to helping councils manage their high needs cost pressures.

‘London Borough of Havering Council received an increase of more than 30 per cent to its hourly rate for three- and four-year-olds as part of the Early Years National Funding Formula.’

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