Proposed changes to the childcare provision delivered by Hackney Council’s children’s centres

A consultation will begin in Hackney on 31 January 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 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 children’s centres included in the proposals are:

  • Hillside Children’s Centre: 
    • We propose to change Hillside Children’s Centre 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 or a disability (SEND).
  • Oldhill Children’s Centre:
    • We propose to change Oldhill Children’s Centre to provide nursery places for children 6 months to 3 years old, phasing out places for 4 year olds.
  • 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 sourced 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 sourced by Autumn 2024, we propose to close Sebright Children’s Centre by August 2025.

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

The proposals aim to improve the sustainability of the centres, allowing the early years service to be 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, and particularly those in greatest need of support. They follow the findings of an independent review conducted by Ernst and Young (EY) in 2023, which looked at the childcare delivered by the 11 children’s centres currently funded by the Council. 

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 across the Council’s Early Years service within the next three years;  
  • 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.

The 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, they would still not be financially self-sustaining. The average occupancy across the eleven 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

We know how important it is to give our children the best possible start in life - and that 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, as well as the challenges of finding sufficient staff - all while local authorities continue to 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 are committed to continuing to work together with all our partners and local residents towards finding the right solutions for our borough. We would like to encourage our residents, and especially those directly impacted by the proposals, to share their views with us as part of this consultation.

Caroline Woodley, Mayor of Hackney

The consultation will be open between 31 January and 24 April 2024. More information about the proposals can be found in the Cabinet report