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Consultation on the Proposed Merger of Pennywell Early Years Centre and Academy 360

The Governing Body of Pennywell Early Years Centre, the Board of the Laidlaw Schools Trust (LST) and Sunderland City Council are currently evaluating a proposal to merge Pennywell Early Years Centre with Academy 360 (part of the Laidlaw Schools Trust).

Background

Pennywell Early Years Centre currently operates as a local authority-maintained nursery provision, offering education and day-care in the St Anne’s ward of the city for children between the ages of 0 and 5 years old. It has been recognised as an outstanding provision by Ofsted.

The nursery is a popular community resource, with 151 children on roll at the nursery as of January 2019’s School Census. However, changes in national education policy and funding are making it increasingly challenging for nursery schools to continue to operate. In January 2019, there were 392 state-funded nursery schools in England, a reduction of 85 since 2003. This means that more than 17% of the country’s nursery schools have closed or have ceased to be state run during this period. Pressures on Nursery schools have been reflected in Sunderland, with the closure of Concord Nursery and proposed closure of Millfield Community Nursery consequences of national and local pressures.

Sunderland City Council, the governing body of Pennywell Early Years Centre and LST (on behalf of Academy 360) have recognised the need to sustain nursery provision in the St Anne’s ward. Two of the four primary schools within the ward do not currently operate a nursery class. There would not be sufficient alternative nursery places for the children in the local area should Pennywell Early Years Centre become unsustainable in future years.

The Proposal

It is considered that merging Pennywell Early Years Centre with Academy 360 would ensure that Pennywell Early Years Centre’s Outstanding provision would be sustained in the area. In addition to securing the long-term future of the nursery provision the proposal would also;

  • Enable wider savings to be made through joint commissioning of goods and services between the nursery and Academy 360 (and the wider Laidlaw Schools Trust). This would create additional funding that could be re-invested in delivery of education at the nursery
  • Strengthen the relationship between Academy 360 and Pennywell Early Years Centre
  • Further assist the effective transition between children leaving Pennywell Early Years Centre to take up reception places at Academy 360 and
  • Enable Academy 360 to access the high-quality early years expertise of Pennywell Early Years Centre and to utilise this expertise in the Academy’s wider educational delivery

Parents and children would continue to have the same excellent experience in the Nursery provision as part of the Academy. The current nursery building would remain as the Nursery phase and accessed by users as it is now. There will be no reduction in the capacity of the nursery nor changes to the ages of children accessing it. Families will continue to access the nursery as they always have. However, even closer co-operation with the one of the local Primary phase providers should ensure that the children benefit from knowing the Primary building, staff and pupils very well before they transfer to Key Stage 1 education.

Current nursery staff would transfer from the Local Authority to LST and the nursery would remain under the leadership of Mrs Nicholson. There would be no detriment to terms and conditions of employment for any staff member as a result of the merger. LST would benefit from the skills, experience and expertise of the Nursery staff and would welcome them as colleagues in the Trust.

The Process

Legally there is no formal process for a nursery to join an academy group so to enable this proposal to proceed it will be necessary to merge Pennywell Early Years Centre and Academy 360. This would require the nursery to be technically closed from 31st December and the lower age range of the Primary School extended to accommodate the nursery aged pupils. Pennywell Early Years Centre would then become part of Academy 360, under LST, from 1st January 2020

This would enable the two schools to work seamlessly and bring together all systems and staff. There would be one overall budget and one OFSTED inspection but no change in staff, leadership at the nursery or the education provision delivered by the Pennywell Early Years Centre.

Timeline and Actions

Sunderland City Council, Pennywell Early Years Centre and LST are seeking views on this proposal. Comments can be made by completing a consultation, accessed via the link below. Comments must be received no later than noon Friday 5th July, 2019.

https://tinyurl.com/Pennywell-Early-Years

Following the consultation, we will collate all responses for all decision-makers to determine whether to proceed to the next stage of the process, which would be a 4-week statutory notice period. After this is complete, final decisions would need to be made by the Regional Schools Commissioner (Department for Education), Laidlaw Schools Trust and Sunderland City Council.

It is anticipated that, should this proposal be implemented, the merger of Pennywell Early Years Centre and Academy 360 will be complete on 1st January 2020.