Where proposals relate to the discontinuance (closure) of a maintained nursery school, a statement must be made setting out
- the local authority’s assessment of the quality and quantity of the alternative provision compared to the alternative provision compared to the school proposed to be discontinued and the proposed arrangements to ensure the expertise and specialism continues to be available; and
- The accessibility and convenience of replacement provision for local parents.
Cheshire West and Cheshire Council’s Statement on the Legal Presumption against the Closure of a Maintained Nursery School.
This statement outlines the local Council’s assessment of the quality and quantity of the proposed alternative provision compared with that of the school proposed to be discontinued and of the proposed arrangements to ensure the expertise and specialism continues to be available; and the accessibility and convenience of replacement provision for local parents.
In March 2020 Ofsted found St Mary’s Community Nursery School, which had previously enjoyed a positive reputation for the quality of early years education, to ‘require improvement’. The Council believe this judgement is in part a consequence of the ongoing financial pressures faced by the governing body in an attempt to achieve a balanced budget. Since the inspection the governing body have had to make further staffing reductions. Despite these reductions the staffing establishment remains financially unsustainable with the result that the school has an accruing deficit currently forecast to be £274,445 by 31 March 2023. This position may be further compromised if the lump sum currently payable to the school from the Dedicated School Grant as a transitional arrangement is withdrawn in line with the government’s policy to harmonise funding across all early years settings.
The proposal places the governance of both schools within the responsibility of the governing body of Overleigh St Mary’s CE PS; this has been found by Ofsted to be a ‘good’ school, a judgement extended to its early years teaching. Amalgamation will enable the ending of the financially unsustainable employment of separate headteachers. Early Years provision would be combined under the leadership of the existing Overleigh St Mary’s CE Primary School Foundation Stage lead. Amalgamation permits a rationalisation of management, business support and governance functions allowing a greater proportion of available resource to be directly targeted on teaching and learning.
Since September 2020 reduced demand for places has meant the St Mary’s Nursery School governing body has only been required to offer half of the number of places that its physical capacity permits. This arrangement is sufficient to meet the current demand for places and will be increased should future demand for places rise to meet the physical capacity of the premises.
Both schools currently have their own outdoor play areas leading to duplication of resources and a limited range of learning environments, it is proposed that as part of the amalgamation process there is a review of internal and external space with a view to achieving an integrated and enhanced range of learning environments.
This proposal maintains the current arrangement whereby the two schools are co-located on the same site. Whilst eager to make a more flexible and extended offer to working parents the St Mary’s Community Nursery School governing body have felt unable to implement such proposals because of the constraints on their space. Amalgamation of the schools and their proposed physical integration will permit a review of how the totality of accommodation can be used to make a more flexible and extended offer better able to meet the needs of working parents. The Overleigh St Mary’s CE Primary School governing body are committed to providing this extended offer and the Local Authority has agreed to meet the cost of works necessary to create a safe and accessible integrated school.