Children's Centre Childcare Consultation

Overview

Hackney Council is proposing to make changes to the way some of its children’s centres deliver nursery provision to children aged between 6 months and 5 years. 

This follows Hackney Cabinet’s decision on 22 January to begin a 12 week statutory consultation and engagement period on the restructuring of early education and childcare provision delivered by the children’s centres funded by the Council to deliver subsidised childcare, as a means to achieving greater efficiency.

Those interested can have their say by visiting the consultation page between 31 January and 24 April 2024, 11:59pm.

The children’s centres included in the proposals are:

  • Hillside Children’s Centre: We propose to make changes to Hillside Children’s Centre and for the centre to become an Additional Resource Provision (ARP) for early years. Hillside currently has 41 universal full time places for children aged 6 months to 5 years. We propose to make Hillside an Additional Resource Provision (ARP), a specialist nursery delivering term-time early education and care for children aged 2 to 5 years with special educational needs or a disability (SEND). 24 ARP places would be available to children with SEND. In addition to the ARP, 17 universal term-time places for children without SEND aged 2 to 5 years would be available for 38 weeks of the year. Paid for holiday places and wraparound care at the beginning and end of the day is also being proposed.
  • Oldhill Children’s Centre: We propose to make changes to the services currently delivered at Oldhill Children’s Centre. The centre currently has universal full time nursery provision for 60 children aged 6 months to 5 years and this would change to term time places for up to 60 children aged 6 months to 3 years. These places would be funded by the early years entitlement and fees. Additional paid for holiday and wrap-around care at the beginning and end of the day would also be available.
  • Fernbank Children’s Centre: We propose to invite alternative providers to take over the management of Fernbank Children’s Centre. If a suitable alternative provider cannot be found by Autumn 2024, we propose to close Fernbank Children’s Centre by August 2025. 
  • Sebright Children’s Centre: We propose to invite alternative providers to take over the management of Sebright Children’s Centre. If a suitable alternative provider cannot be found by Autumn 2024, we propose to close Sebright Children’s Centre by August 2025.

These changes have been proposed to improve the sustainability of the centres. If the Council does not make changes now, the current deficit of £1.07m across the children’s centres is likely to continue to increase, which may mean having to make more far-reaching proposals at a later date. By making decisions now, even if they are unpopular, the Council aims to deliver an effective and efficient early education and childcare service, with centres that can retain a high level of occupancy. 

Background

In 2021/22 Hackney spent on average £666.00 per child aged 0-4 years, which is the second highest in London when compared to a statistical neighbour average of £242.00 per child. This is an increase from 2020/21, where Hackney spent on average £657.00 per child, compared to a neighbour average of £279.00. This is because Hackney continued to subsidise childcare in children’s centres, when most local authorities either ceased to subsidise maintained childcare with the introduction of the government-funded entitlement, or have not previously funded childcare. However, this situation is not sustainable. 

Occupancy at children’s centres has been impacted by a reduction in the 0-4 population, down from 20,375 children in 2018 to 18,840 children 2022/23. The decline in the 0-4 population is projected to further dip to 18,389 between 2026/27 and 2030/31, according to estimates from the Office of National Statistics.

There are 500 surplus nursery places in Hackney schools, and over 600 surplus places in reception classes (21% surplus). To reduce the reception surplus, the Cabinet decided to close 4 schools in Hackney by September 2024, removing 105 places and reducing the reception surplus to 17% by 2029 (based on current projections).

The Council’s financial planning requires £57m savings across the Council by 2026/2027, out of which £4m are to be delivered by the early years service over the next 3 years.

In Spring 2023, Hackney Council commissioned Ernst and Young (EY) to deliver an independent review of the nursery provision delivered by the 11 children’s centres currently funded by the Council (Ann Tayler, Clapton Park, Mapledene, Woodberry Down, Hillside, Fernbank, Oldhill, Lubavitch, Sebright, Linden and Comberton).

The intention of the review was to:

  • identify solutions to achieve sustainability, taking into account the £1.07m budget deficit from a reduction in nursery fees in the last few years, and increased operational cost 
  • identify opportunities to meet the £4m savings required factored into the Council’s mid-term financial plans
  • provide an opportunity to examine the potential impact of the national early years reform to expand the 15 and 30 hours government-funded early years entitlement to working parents

EY worked with the children centres managers, school leaders, and stakeholders representing children in need and those with SEND over a ten-week period to understand the current service, how this could be improved and whether there are opportunities to remodel the provision.  

The independent review found that the current model of provision is not financially sustainable based on the current fees and spend. Even if the centres were at 100% occupancy, and fully occupied by families on the highest fee band (Band 5, families with an income of at least £100k), they would still not be financially self-sustaining.

EY also looked at the national expansion of the funded early years entitlement due to be implemented in April 2024, and found that its implementation could increase nursery income by up to £5m by 2025/26, which could reduce the current level of subsidy of £6.7m. However, it also found that the funded places will not fully meet the cost of the provision unless more steps are taken to make the service more efficient by reducing costs. 

The estimated income from the expanded funded early years entitlement is dependent on:

  • Receiving an adequate early years entitlement funding formula from the government to cover the full cost of the service next year and in coming years. The current funding from the government does not meet service costs
  • Full occupancy of the centres, which is critical to achieving the required income to meet running costs. Only 4 of the 11 centres are currently reaching full occupancy

The review identified ten opportunities that could be used to make the service more sustainable, grouped into three categories: reducing expenditure, increasing income, and redefining the model.

Central Government expansion of funded childcare for working parents

In March 2023, the government announced the expansion of funded childcare for working parents. From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of government-funded childcare. From September 2024, 15 hours of government-funded childcare will be extended to include all children from the age of 9 months for working parents. From September 2025, working parents of children aged 9 months and over will be entitled to 30 hours government-funded childcare per week right up to their child starting school.

Due to the expansion of government-funded childcare for working parents, the Council’s subsidy to children’s centres will be replaced with:

  • the expanded 15 hours funded early years entitlement to:
    • 2 year olds in working households from April 2024, and
    • babies aged 9 months in working households from September 2024
  • the expanded 30 hours funded entitlement to 
    • all children from 9 months old in eligible working households from September 2025

In preparation for the expansion of the government childcare entitlement for working parents, the Council assessed the existing childcare places to confirm that there are enough places for children to take up their funded entitlement in April. 

In addition to the proposed restructuring, the Council will consider opportunities to:

  • reduce the use of agency staff, therefore providing better value for money and improving the consistency of care
  • facilitate more efficient and effective building maintenance, by streamlining costs
  • improve budget management and governance with improved systems
  • target the use of Council childcare subsidy to support low income, disadvantaged and vulnerable children to access provision at children’s centres

How were the children’s centres included in the proposals selected?

5 centres were identified by the EY review as operating below the average 88% occupancy: Oldhill, Fernbank, Hillside, Sebright, and Woodberry Down.

Graph shows the average occupancy of children's centres in 2022/23

Three centres - Oldhill, Hillside and Fernbank - are in very close proximity. Making significant changes to all three centres presented a risk to having sufficient childcare places in the locality. The options were based on working towards maintaining sufficient provision to support children’s outcomes, and to enable parents to work. Reducing the childcare provision will reduce surplus places and support the remaining children’s centres to optimise occupancy.   

Oldhill

Oldhill supports marginalised, low income families who would benefit most from joined up services delivered as part of the school and children’s centre. 71% children are of Black and global majority heritage, 39% assessed as being in need, 1% are above average income. Maintaining the children’s centre, and reducing cost by changing the age range and configuration of places would sustain both the children’s centre and the school where the children’s centre is co-located by removing surplus places.

The Effective Provision of Preschool Education study found that disadvantaged children benefit significantly from good quality preschool experiences, especially when they are educated with a mixture of children from different social and economic backgrounds. The proposed changes would enable the centre to continue to support children from marginalised communities, those in need, and those from lower income households, with a number of places for higher income families (to be determined following the consultation). 

Removing places for 4 year olds adds flexibility to increase places for younger children should they be needed. The subsidy is proposed to continue to be used to support the most disadvantaged children, alongside places for higher income families. 

Hillside

Hillside is well located in the Stamford Hill area, in a building owned by the Council that is suitable sized to develop into an Additional Resource Provision (ARP). 66% children are of Black and global majority heritage, 24% assessed as being in need, 12% above average income. Term-time SEND and universal places would continue to be maintained to meet early education, SEND and childcare needs.

Fernbank

Fernbank is located in a building that is not owned by the Council. This carries the  risk of a potentially unaffordable lease, which has been subject to ongoing negotiation over a number of years. 39% children are of Black and global majority heritage, 10% assessed as being in need, 44% above average income.

The proposal presents an opportunity for an alternative provider to take over this provision and negotiate a lease. If an alternative provider is not found, it is proposed that the centre will close. Vacancies across the childcare sector will continue to be monitored to ensure that the Council continues to meet its duty to ensure that there are sufficient places before making any changes.

Sebright

Sebright is located on the border with Tower Hamlets and attracts out of borough families. It is in close proximity to Mapledene Children’s Centre, which is at full capacity in comparison. 46% children are of Black and global majority heritage, 12% assessed as being in need, 40% are above average income.

The proposal presents an opportunity for an alternative provider to take over this provision. If an alternative provider is not found, it is proposed that the centre will close. Vacancies across the childcare sector will continue to be monitored to ensure that the Council continues to meet its duty to ensure that there are sufficient places before making any changes. 

Woodberry Down

Woodberry Down Family Hub is the only maintained nursery offering full day care in the far north of the borough, and supports a significant number of families living in hostels and temporary accommodation. 

The Council has been working with Berkeley Homes property developers towards a timeline since 2014 to relocate the existing Children’s Centre Lilliput building to fit in with the wider regeneration programme to transform one of the most deprived areas into a new sustainable neighbourhood that offers high quality new homes, and economic opportunities.

The new nursery extension was completed in August 2023. Phase 2 of the extension is due to be completed in March 2024. 9 new baby places have been created and efficiency measures such as changing the way the admissions register is managed, and how part time places are allocated to minimise unoccupied places, have already commenced as part of its new Children and Family Hub status. The recent capital investment means that closure is not an option for the regeneration of the area.  

What do the proposals mean for the four children’s centres? 

Hillside Children’s Centre

The consultation includes the proposal to change Hillside Children’s Centre into an early years Additional Resource Provision (ARP).

Hillside Children’s Centre is well placed to be developed into an early years Additional Resource Provision for children with special educational needs. We are proposing to change it into an ARP because it is a suitable size and location to meet need in the north of the borough. The proposal to develop an ARP is part of the SEND Strategy. Respondents to the Children and Family Hubs consultation last summer, requested more support for children with SEND; restructuring Hillside aims to meet the need for more SEND support.

Transition into an ARP would begin in September 2024 at the earliest, but will not be fully completed until September 2025. ARP’s must be managed by a school in order to draw down funding from the Dedicated Schools Grant. The ARP would therefore be attached to a school with significant experience in managing effective early years provision.

A cohort of children will leave to go to school and will be unaffected by the changes. 24 term time places would be available for 2, 3 and 4 year olds with SEND, and 17 term time universal places would remain for 2, 3 and 4 year olds without SEND. Wraparound care would be available at the start and end of the day, alongside holiday provision. 

The baby room may be retained in the short term for existing children to support transition from the children’s centre into an ARP, until the children turn 2 years, to prevent disruption to the youngest children. However, we propose not to retain baby places in the long term and this will mean the loss of baby places. Children who are unable, or do not wish to retain a place at Hillside, would be supported to find a place at an alternative setting.

Oldhill Children’s Centre

The consultation includes the proposal to restructure Oldhill Children’s Centre to provide early education and care to children 6 months to 3 years old.

Currently, Oldhill Children’s Centre offers 60 full-time places for children aged 6 months to 5 years. The Council is proposing to move to term-time places available to children aged 6 months to 3 years. Families would be able to pay for wrap-around care at the beginning and end of the day and for holiday provision. This is a significant change to the current all year provision and will impact current and future families.

Children in need of support would continue to be funded to access places through the current early help system that is managed via the family support teams. 4 year olds would apply for a funded early years entitlement place in Oldhill School, or at an alternative school.

The proposals would not affect children who are currently enrolled at Oldhill. Places for 4 year olds would be phased out; children at Oldhill would continue to access the nursery until they leave. The phasing out of places for 4 year olds is likely to impact future families who would be required to apply for a place at a school nursery class before their child’s 4th birthday, and would need to take up that place at the September or January intake. It is not unusual for children to leave their early years setting at 3½ years to take up a place in a school nursery class.

The places for children under 3 years are proposed to be structured for children to take up their funded early years entitlement, and pay for the hours outside of the funded entitlement at market rate. This means that parents will pay for the wraparound and holiday provision that they request, rather than paying for hours that they do not need. Children in need of early help will continue to be supported to access provision. 

Wraparound care within a school at the beginning and end of the day, and holidays is often a barrier to taking up a school place. However, alongside the expansion of the funded early years entitlement, the government has also launched a wraparound childcare programme to fund childcare in schools from September 2024. The launch of this programme will give parents the choice about where they access provision. This may have an adverse impact on future demand for places for 3 and 4 year olds in children’s centres.

Fernbank Children’s Centre

We propose to close the centre, unless an alternative provider can be found by Autumn 2024 to take over its management by 2025. We intend to invite expressions of interest from alternative providers to manage Fernbank Children’s Centre. This process will follow the Council’s procurement tender process advertising the opportunity, and inviting expressions of interest. Staff and service users would be kept informed of the outcome of the tender process. The chosen provider would be expected to deliver places with market fees. 

If an alternative provider cannot be secured by Autumn the centre will be closed. The staff consultation process would commence with a view to closing the centre by August 2025 to support transition of existing children to new settings at key transition points. This process would be managed through the Council’s procurement framework and staff and service users would be kept informed of the outcome of the tender process.

Sebright Children’s Centre

We propose to close the centre, unless an alternative provider can be found by Autumn 2024 to take over its management by 2025. We intend to invite expressions of interest from alternative providers to manage Sebright Children’s Centre. This process will follow the Council’s procurement tender process advertising the opportunity, and inviting expressions of interest. Staff and service users would be kept informed of the outcome of the tender process. The chosen provider would be expected to deliver places with market fees. 

If an alternative provider cannot be secured by Autumn 2024, the centre will be closed. The staff consultation process would commence with a view to closing the centres by August 2025 to support transition of existing children to new settings at key transition points. This process would be managed through the Council’s procurement framework and staff and service users would be kept informed of the outcome of the tender process.

Proposed timelines

Please note that these timelines may be subject to change.

Date Event
31 January to 24 April 2024 12 week consultation
Summer 2024 The consultation report will be published.
Feedback on the consultation will be considered by Cabinet.
April to September The national expansion of the funded early years entitlement will begin.
At this point, the current childcare subsidy would be reduced and replaced by the funded early years entitlement.
Summer 2024 Begin tender process for Sebright and Fernbank Children’s Centres, after Cabinet decision.
Autumn 2024 Appointment of a new provider, if found.
If unable to find an alternative provider, staff consultation on proposals to close the centre (s) would begin.
Summer 2025 Close centre(s).
September 2024 to September 2025 Restructure Hillside to form an ARP, working towards transition to the new service from September 2024 to full implementation by September 2025.
Restructure of Oldhill Children’s centre, with full implementation by September 2025.

More details about the proposals are in the report that informed Cabinet’s decision to consult on these proposals. You can also find answers to some of the frequently asked questions below:

Those interested will be able to have their view by completing the online survey. Paper surveys are available at children's centres. 

The consultation is open between 31 January and 24 April 2024, 11:59pm.

This page was last modified on: 8 Feb 2024