Bold step in nursery schools' battle

June 29 2018
Bold step in nursery schools' battle

TWO of east Bristol’s best-loved nursery schools are proposing to work more closely together in the hope of securing their futures.

Under the plans, Little Hayes and Speedwell would form a federation, sharing a single headteacher and governing board while keeping separate identities.

Governors at the two schools, which are among 12 maintained or publicly-funded nursery schools in Bristol, say federation is as an opportunity to protect the schools against an uncertain funding situation, while enhancing what each nursery has to offer children, parents and staff. 

Parents, staff and members of the community are encouraged to share their views by July 20. Public meetings have been held at both centres, at which a number of points were raised. Governors will meet over the summer to decide whether to proceed. 

Between them, Little Hayes and Speedwell are attended by more than 300 children aged two to four, and have served their communities for over 70 years. Both schools are highly regarded by parents, pupils and Ofsted. Highlights of the settings include the ‘secret forest garden’ that opens up behind Little Hayes on Symington Road, while Speedwell’s focus on creativity helped it earn an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating. They are already sharing a head teacher temporarily, following the retirement of Shirley Doveton earlier this year. Both schools still have places available for September.

Unlike other early years providers, nursery schools are registered with Ofsted as schools and so are required by law to employ qualified teachers and other specialist early years practitioners. 

Despite their advantages, the UK’s maintained nursery sector is shrinking, with around one in three schools closing in the last 30 years as a result of financial and structural challenges, to leave only about 400 today. 

Harriet Williams, parent and acting chair of governors at Little Hayes, said: “Little Hayes and Speedwell are valuable community assets, and we see federation as a means to protect and enhance our nurseries for the long-term. Whether we federate or not, the schools need to fill their places which means getting word out about the fantastic teaching, play and adventures we offer to children every day. We encourage parents to come meet staff, and visit any of our sites.”

Rob Davies, chair of governors at Speedwell, said: “We are very excited about the opportunities for the two schools to collaborate and to share outstanding practice. Access to high-quality, play-based pre-school education supports the important early steps in a child’s learning.”

Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy is backing the proposal.  “There are few things as important as investing in our children’s future and making sure they have the best start in life. Maintained nursery schools, many of which are located in deprived neighbourhoods, are doing a tremendous job, and deserve to be properly funded,” she said.

Bristol City Council supports federation. Sally Jaeckle, head of early years, said: “Federation brings many benefits, including opportunities to pool resources to make the most effective use of expertise."