Consultation open on proposed changes to the childcare provision delivered by the Council’s children’s centres

A consultation has begun in Hackney on a proposed restructuring of the early education and childcare delivered by the children’s centres funded by the Council, in order to achieve greater efficiency and sustainability across the early years system.

If adopted, the proposals would see changes to the way some of the Council’s children’s centres deliver nursery provision to children aged between 6 months and 5 years. 

The consultation includes proposals relating to the way four of the eleven Council-maintained children’s centres deliver childcare:

  • Hillside Children’s Centre: the centre would transform into an early years 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 and disabilities (SEND);
  • Oldhill Children’s Centre: the centre would provide nursery places for children 6 months to 3 years old, phasing out places for 4 year olds;
  • Fernbank Children’s Centre and Sebright Children’s Centre: alternative providers would be invited to take over the management of the centres. If a suitable alternative provider could not be found by Autumn 2024, the two centres are proposed to close by August 2025.

The proposed changes aim to improve the sustainability of the centres, making them more efficient and financially viable, while continuing to fulfil the Council’s statutory duty to meet the needs of young children and parents living in the area, particularly those in greatest need of support.

The restructuring also looks at the expected impact of the expansion of government-funded childcare for working parents announced in March 2023, which will gradually replace the current Council’s subsidy to children’s centres.

This follows the findings of a 2023 independent review of the childcare delivered by the eleven children’s centres currently funded by the Council to make them more sustainable, and in order to meet the £4m savings required from the early years service within the next three years. 

The review found that the model of provision was not financially sustainable based on the existing fees and spend, even if the centres were at 100% occupancy, and fully occupied by families on the highest fee band. The average occupancy across the maintained centres was 88%. 

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 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.

Caroline Woodley, Mayor of Hackney

Access to high quality, inclusive early childhood education is essential to ensure that children grow up happy, healthy and ready to learn. 

In Hackney, we are fortunate to have a wide range of maintained, private, voluntary and independent childcare settings, as well as a strong network of childminders. But the sustainability of our early years provision continues to be threatened by the rising childcare delivery costs, the decrease in the number of children across the borough, as well as the challenges of finding sufficient staff - all while local authorities struggle with insufficient central funding. 

The proposed restructuring of Council-funded childcare is intended to set the foundation for a more sustainable early years offer across the borough, while ensuring that our funding goes towards supporting the children, parents and carers who are in greatest need. 

We will continue to work together with all our partners and local residents towards finding the right solutions for Hackney, and we encourage all those interested to share their views with us as part of this consultation.

Caroline Woodley, Mayor of Hackney

The consultation is open until 24 April 2024, 11:59pm. Those interested can find out more information and have their say by visiting the Council’s consultation page at bit.ly/childrens-centre

The results of the consultation will be analysed and will inform the Cabinet’s final decision on the proposals, expected in summer 2024.