Children as young as three or four are being threatened with the consequences of the crass mismanagement of the local council and the failed £1bn property gamble by the borough’s biggest land-owners. By education correspondent GENE BRODIE
It was all so very Croydon on Saturday morning.
There, at different ends of the borough, were two separate protests taking place, both involving parents concerned over the continuing provision of vital and trusted educational facilities, which have been jeopardised by the borough’s over-weening dependence on property developers.
In Shirley’s leafy suburbs, young girls, many of them wearing their prep or primary schools’ green uniforms, together with their mums and dads, were demonstrating over the closure of the fee-paying Old Palace School, as decided by the Whitgift Foundation, the borough’s largest land-owners which has hit money problems caused by their failed £1billion gamble on redeveloping the Whitgift Centre.
Meanwhile, at the same time in South Norwood, mums and dads, boys and girls, were gathered for a “Day of Action” to try to save their state-funded nursery schools, Crosfield and Selhurst, which are both under threat of closure from Croydon’s cash-strapped council, which went bankrupt largely due to the failed £200million gamble on its own, in-house house-builder.
Though, it is worth a mention, Croydon Council’s fortunes have also been adversely hit by the Whitgift Foundation’s massive property gamble, too, with much-reduced business-rates and the dire decline of the town centre. Just look at the state of North End…
Both events, entirely separate, were organised by community groups and organisations which have sprung up in the last few weeks to try to counter the respective bureaucratic juggernauts of land-owner and local authority.
In South Norwood, the campaign group Our Nursery Schools Matter attracted nearly 200 people for a range of child-friendly activities, as well as free food provided by South Norwood Community Kitchen as part of their weekly Saturday community lunches from their space at Socco Cheta Community Hub on Portland Road.
One of the activities was banner-making. Expect marches on the Town Hall sometime soon.
The Mayor of Croydon, Jason Perry, opened a public consultation last month, supposedly to seek people’s opinions over the fate of five of the borough’s state-maintained nurseries. After which, Tory Perry is expected to close or merge at least two nurseries.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” piss-poor Perry told local TV at the beginning of the consultation, at a stroke completely prejudicing its outcome. The nurseries earmarked by Perry for closure are not expected to be in the Tory-voting parts of the borough. Punishing three- and four-year-olds for the past mismanagement of the council is an all-too-easy move for Perry, who is paid £84,000 per year by the council.
First steps first for Our Nursery Schools Matter on Saturday, though, with a march to nearby Crosfield Nursery to rally in support of the nursery and their much-admired specialist early years education staff.
Established in 1949, Crosfield is at the heart of supporting many vulnerable and disadvantaged families, including those with children with Special Needs. Parents at Selhurst had met council officials at their nursery earlier in the week to express their concerns about the possibility of closing an essential service that would leave many unable to access either specialist staffed or affordable early years provision.
Georgia Martin, from Our Nursery Schools Matter, said: “Support today for the children, families and staff of Crosfield and Selhurst has been fantastic.
“It is vital Croydon Council understands the true value of these nurseries and the devasting impact their loss would have. Flourishing, resilient young people of the future need the best possible early years start. We are concerned that not everyone who would be impacted knows about or has a meaningful opportunity to respond to the council’s consultation without better access to translated publicity and survey questions or different formats.
“Those with lack of access to the internet or those who choose not to use the internet may also struggle to make their views known.”
Laptops with WiFi were provided at Socco Cheta for those attending to access the council’s calculatedly inaccessible consultation.
“We call on Mayor Perry and the Director of Education, Shelley Davies, to give Croydon residents an assurance that no nursery schools will be closed and relieve families of the stress caused by the uncertainty of the current situation,” Martin said.
“We have seen nothing that indicates any analysis of how the possible effects on the most vulnerable children of reducing the existing maintained nursery schools would be mitigated, particularly families on low incomes, those in temporary accommodation and children with SEND.
“We are frustrated that the first option the Mayor chose to consult on is a reduction in the number of nursery schools. Why not make a more detailed analysis of other options public? Why not research the long-term value of these nurseries in avoiding further intervention costs down the line?
“Croydon has well-below-average take-up of funded places for two-to-four-year-old children. We are concerned there is no robust plan to bring this up to at least average levels and support these fantastic nursery schools in reaching more families.”
South Norwood Community Kitchen spokesperson Emma Gardiner described the council’s plan to close nurseries as, “Yet another example of local authorities exercising their power to destabilise local communities for a quick financial win. Our communities are under attack by the very systems designed to keep them safe and support them to prosper. We must take action.”
A petition to save the Croydon nurseries has been started (click here to add your signature) by Elizabeth Daniels, a local mum and co-founder of Our Nursery Schools Matter.
She said: “We want to invite anyone who loves their nursery and shares our concerns to sign the petition, get in touch with us, write to their local MP or councillor, and of course, fill in the consultation. We are also providing resources for any families and staff members who may be worried.”
- Croydon council’s consultation document is available here. It is to close on October 17.
- You can take part in the consultation by clicking here
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