On Friday the 2nd of February I met with Kathy Tracey (Cabinet Member for Education and
Children’s Services) and Councillor Steffi Sutters (Chair of Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership) and put your One O Clock Club questions to them both.
These questions had been gathered from various posts on NappyValleyNet, over 1150 petition responses and your emails and phone calls.
The situation is, understandably, complicated.
The proposed changes are a response to a government mandate to provide a certain number of childcare spaces for vulnerable children (the Government consultation relating to the extension of the free early education entitlement for two year olds).
Councillor Tracey explained that the current One O Clock Clubs are the only Ofsted suitable venues the Council has available to fulfil that mandate within the time period specified by the government. It is an argument that I can understand may be met with some scepticism, after all if the Council can afford to purchase the Bolingbroke hospital for a school, then surely a finding space for little people might not be too much of a problem?
However, Councillor Tracey was both persuasive and direct in her explanation of the issues they face in complying with a government policy with which she “does not agree”.
NappyValleyNet (NVN): Do you consider the current One O Clock Club format a success?
Councillor Tracey (CT): Yes
NVN: Before these consultations were initiated, were there any indications that the Council were unhappy with the One O Clock Clubs from either a cost perspective, a service provision perspective, a quality perspective?
NVN: How many mothers, children or families use the One O Clock Clubs per year/month/week?
CT: This obviously varies and is hard to measure as users can just come and go with no obligation to register. However during 2011 to 2012 our head count showed that their were 117,471 visits by children and 89,777 visits by accompanying adults. This is about 470 visits by children per day and 360 accompanying adults per day across all sites but it obviously varies throughout the year with Summer more popular than winter and some sites more popular than others.
NVN: Have any decisions been made about the future of the clubs?
CT: Not formally, a recommendation to use the One O’clock buildings for the 2 year old offer and to consult on plans to deliver it and still maintain a ‘stay and play’ facility will be presented to the Children and Young Peoples Committee on Feb 12th.
NVN: Exactly how under threat are they?
CT: To deliver the Council’s statutory duty to provide 850 Nursery places to disadvantaged 2 year olds by Sept 2013 the One O’clock buildings must be used for longer hours. I will do everything possible to ensure the Nursery providers that will run the Nursery provision for the Council are also able to offer other mums some ‘stay and play’ facility, the hours would be different and you might have to pay a contribution to the costs but I want to see the facility remain. I would particularly like to see use of the buildings on Saturdays somewhere for Dads to take their children to bond through play but also to give mums a rest!
NVN: Might you close all/some/none?
CT: Some clubs will continue to offer exactly the same facilities as now, some will change to accommodate the 2 year old offer but no centres will close.
NVN: When are decisions likely to be made?
CT: A decision to consult on the delivery and future provision will be proposed on Feb 12th. If agreed I imagine a final decision would be made at the May 15th Council meeting.
NVN: What is the decision making process?
CT: Complicated, the Children & Young Peoples Committee make proposals at their 6 weekly meetings, decisions then go an Executive committee for agreement or not and are finally agreed or not at a full Council meeting.
NVN: What are you taking into account in these decisions? What factors are in play that will influence the decisions?
CT: We have no choice over delivering the 2 year old Nursery offer, Government have made this a statutory duty.
NVN: What does the council propose the families affected should do? Are there any plans to replace the One O Clock Club services in any format?
CT: As we discussed just now, we will try and ensure there is a ‘stay & play facility’ at all our clubs. There will also be 14 Children Centres in Wandsworth that all on certain days offer a ‘stay 7 play’ session and various Church and voluntary groups offer similar arrangements.
NVN: We have over 1000 signatures from Wandsworth Council tax paying residents! These are not concerned mums out of the borough or people with no link to the area but residents who contribute an average of 679,000 pounds per year to Council coffers (taken from Wandsworth council own website. Average sized Band D property in Wandsworth will pay £679)
How are you taking their views into account? Are you listening to this feedback? Is so, how are you reacting?
CT: I value all the contributions to this issue; I will react to any suggestions as positively as I am able.
NVN: Aside from our petition (and others) how are you gauging Wandsworth resident opinions?
CT: We formally consult via the Early Years Partnership which is made up of professionals, voluntary, private sector providers, child minders, our health colleagues and many parents. We will also consult via the One O’clock and Children Centre users. I would be very happy to also consult via NappyvalleyNet and any other websites designed for mums but the Council would only be consulting with Wandsworth resident’s which is sometimes difficult via the web.
NVN: Are these opinions important?
NVN: Is there a target number of signatures that you would consider material and so stop the closures?
CT: We will not be closing any centres.
NVN: Your statement mentions “vulnerable families”, how are you defining vulnerable?
CT: The definition is the Government’s not mine or the Council’s. It is specifically for 2013 20% of the most financially deprived and 40% by 2014.
NVN: The government seem to define vulnerable as (i) economic disadvantage (extending the entitlement to a further 260,000 children nationally); (ii) special educational needs and disability (8,250 children); and (iii) children who have left care (1,000 children).” Do you agree with this? Would Wandsworth listen to different definitions of criteria? How much flexibility do you have to interpret the national consultation criteria?
CT: The Council has no discretion in defining ‘vulnerable’ in this context.
NVN: So is this review just a reaction to the government mandate that you should be providing additional services? Surely that means additional services and not closing existing services? And if services need to be closed what other services are under review?
CT: Yes these plans are simply devised to deliver the Council’s statutory duty. There are other ways of delivering the help and support that both ‘vulnerable’ and all mothers need when caring for their children. Wandsworth, with a mixture of provision have been very successful in ‘narrowing the gap’ between the most disadvantaged children and the rest. If this was not a statutory duty to be delivered very quickly we might have chosen a different route to deliver the same outcome.
NVN: What resources are you looking to free-up by these closures for implementation elsewhere? Is it money? Would you take contributions? Is it trained staff? Would you consider volunteers? Is it space? There are many, many halls and council buildings where play groups for these children could be run from within the borough, what other options are you exploring?
CT: This is not a resource based problem. It is the One O’clock buildings that, as they are already suitable for young children, are needed to deliver this offer within the time scale we have been given. The One O’clock buildings are under- utilised and our proposals are to fully utilise them for longer periods of the day and weekend.
NVN: This consultation was announced before the government announced plans to change the structure of “Nurseries and childminders in England are to be allowed to look after more children, in a package ministers say will improve quality and cut costs” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21232270). Do these new announcements affect the Councils plans in any way?
CT: No, as there are also restrictions imposed by ‘Ofsted’ which state how much space each child needs for formal education. The 2 year old Nursery places will fall into this category and be judged by Ofsted
NVN: Is there anything that NappyValleyNet can do to help? Do you need more information? We have 35k mums visit the site every month, are there any questions you want the NappyValleyNet community to answer?
CT: I would love to hear from your mums how best we can develop and deliver both our statutory duty and our support to other mothers.
- What hours would they use a ‘stay and play’ facility?
- Would dads and carers use the facility on a Saturday?
- What is an affordable and reasonable charge for a Stay and Play service?
- There are ‘Big Society’ grants available from the Council for community engagement activities are there mums out there willing and capable of running a ‘stay & play’ session?
There are numerous questions and I promise to listen to any suggestions.
NVN: Thank you
So to summarise, our government are driving changes, through their national consultation, to the current childcare provision. To be blunt, their insistence on a September delivery of nursery places for vulnerable children means that some One O Clock Clubs will be used differently.
There is, however, an opportunity to shape a different provision of local services including “Stay and Play” childcare.
If we want to do that, we have to get involved.
So, what are the next steps?
If you would like to have your say please click on this link and get involved, specifically answering the questions raised by Counsellor Tracey above. The Council have stated they *will* be monitoring the feedback on NappyValleyNet, so please do express your opinion.
Finally, you might wonder what has happened to your petition?
Thank you to everyone who signed, I printed out all of the signatures and presented it to the Council in this meeting. In turn it will be presented to the Children and Young People’s committee at their next meeting. As a result I will now close the petition as any more signatures would not reach the committee.