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Popular nursery class may close

Estelle Maxwell reports as the Government's controversial proposal for funding under-five's education takes shape.

For the next four months, Rokeby county first school must live with the threatened closure of its long-established nursery class.

Concern is mounting among parents and staff at the 350-pupil school in Rugby, Warwickshire, which admits 80 children part-time to its nursery. If the local authority cuts funding, it will be catastrophic for staff and children alike.

Warwickshire has struggled to protect education services for as long as possible despite a lower than average standard spending assessment. The hung council provides funding for 2,000 three and four-year-olds in nine nurseries and units attached to primary schools.

But now councillors are considering whether to cut Pounds 1 million in non-statutory nursery provision to stay within budget limits next year.

"It is a very unhappy situation all round. We are very concerned about our nurseries," headteacher Margaret Cooter admitted. "But we know the authority is under enormous pressure."

If councillors decide in February to reduce funding, then the fate of Rokeby school's nursery, which has been in existence for more than 20 years, is sealed. The main school has already lost one teacher this year and will be forced to cut staff again next year. It cannot afford to run the facility, which employs one teacher and three nursery nurses. The cost of running the nursery each year is Pounds 80,000.

"We will certainly have to close the nursery. Our school budget is already under enormous pressure, we would have no choice," said Mrs Cooter. "We believe nursery education is invaluable. Our children would lose out on a social experience which gives them the chance to be independent and develop self-confidence. For many of our children it would be a major setback."

James Pawsey, chairman of the Commons backbench education committee and MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, is being lobbied next month to increase Warwickshire's education spending.

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