A petition has been started to help save the nursery provision that has been offered at Castle Newnham School for 25 years, after parents were “shocked” to be told there was no longer enough funding to keep it open after the September 2023 intake.
Liz Holley, contacted the Bedford Independent after parents received a letter about the closure.
“As a parent with three children at Castle Newnham, including my youngest who is due to finish his nursery year next month, this is terribly sad news.
“The staff at the nursery, most of whom have worked there for many years, have been incredibly dedicated to caring for our children and introducing and nurturing a love of learning.
“I understand that the school is caught between a rock and a hard place, but schools shouldn’t have to act as businesses, and prioritising the education of one group of children over another group is not right.
“The local council need to step in and offer them the funding they need so that this vital service can continue and other generations of children can benefit from Castle Newnham Nursery as mine have.”
A petition has now been set up asking the school’s senior leadership team and governors to “reconsider closing Castle Newnham Nursery and explore alternative solutions to address any concerns or challenges faced by the institution”.
It has received over 400 signatures at the time of publication.
In their letter to parents, Ruth Wilkes, Federation Principal and Jim Balmbra, Primary Headteacher wrote about how “stretched” funding has become in all areas of Children’s Services.
“The funding we receive for nursery children is no longer sufficient to pay for the high-quality provision which our community expects of us and which we have been able to provide until now albeit with substantial subsidy from the main school budget,” they said.
“We realise this news will be disappointing for some members of our school community and assure you that the Governing Body has not taken this decision lightly…
“We assure you of our continuing commitment to excellence in early-years education and, as now, our staff will continue to work closely with all local providers of pre-school education to ensure smooth (sic) and happy transition into our reception classes.”
Another parent said they had contacted Bedford Borough’s Elected Mayor Tom Wootton (Conservative) who said he was unaware the nursery was closing but that he will ask officers of the borough council to reply to parents’ emails.
Others have contacted local councillors who also said they were unaware of the closure but “will make enquiries”. Another told us that even the school’s PTA had not been told who said they were “perplexed” as they would have liked to have “tried to do something”.
Liz Holley added that she can’t understand why so many people involved with the school were not told about the closure before the letter was sent out.
“It’s quite intriguing that the school hasn’t tried to go public with this before announcing closure, it’s a very oversubscribed nursery, which has a large waiting list of families wanting their child to attend.”
Another parent joined Liz and others in their disbelief.
“My daughter currently attends our local nursery Castle Newnham and I was absolutely shocked and saddened to receive a letter to say it would be closing as of Sept 2024 due to government funding,” said Tiffany Bradshaw.
“My daughter has absolutely loved her time at this nursery and we can not fault the care or education she has received.
“It is absolutely vital that we fight to save this local childcare provision. It is walkable to most of us mums in the local area but if this closes we will be forced to drive to other nurseries which will cause them to become overcrowded or not even be able to offer a space.
“I had really hoped I would be sending my youngest daughter here too, but it now seems I will now be added to a waiting list elsewhere.
“The government has changed the funding for childcare spaces from April 2024, which will help working mums massively, so we really need to try and save this fantastic local nursery.”
Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Labour) has now also waded into the discussion.
“Childcare costs are crippling families, so this is yet another blow for children and families in Bedford, who are seeing their public services reduced while paying more,” he said.
“Nursery providers have been warning for years that the school funding cuts imposed by the Tories would lead to closures and so it has come to pass.
“I know the senior leaders at this excellent school have explored all avenues to try and keep the much-loved pre-school open but they are fighting against the tide.
“Evidence shows there’s nothing more important than investing in our children’s education and quality early years provision is critical in improving educational outcomes yet Tory underfunding of childcare places in England has led to an 87% increase in nursery closures.
“I’ve been assured that the current cohort of children will see through their year at the nursery and that all staff will be re-employed, however, I’ll do all I can in Parliament to reverse the closure and fight for the long-term sustainable funding Castle Newnham and other nurseries in Bedford and Kempston need.”
Council unable to help
The Bedford Independent asked Bedford Borough Council if they were helping to mitigate any discussion to help save the nursery or if they would be able to help subsidise its funding.
A spokesperson for the council said: “We recognise that this is a challenging time for parents and carers of children at Castle Newnham Nursery. While we are aware of calls for the Council to step in and subsidise the provision, we do not have the powers nor the funding to do so.
“We are looking at opportunities for Early Years provision and will work with providers and the community in order to support families.
“Those looking for advice and information can contact our Family Information Service by emailing email@example.com or going online to Best Start Bedford.”
The Bedford Independent also asked the school and their governors for further comment but they said they were unable to add anything to their previous communications at this stage.
To sign the Save Castle Newnham Nursery petition, head to Change.org.