Cabinet members will discuss the progress made to keep Ashgate Nursery School open and ensure it can run sustainably in the future.

The nursery, off Ashbourne Road, had been earmarked for closure on financial grounds. However, last summer, it was agreed that the Council would look at options to secure the nursery’s future.

Both Ashgate Nursery School and Central Nursery School, which share a headteacher and governing body but have separate budgets, ended the 2022/23 financial year in significant financial deficit. A reduction in numbers, the COVID-19 pandemic and a reduction in demand for additional childcare sessions all contributed to this. 

The Council’s previous administration proposed closing Ashgate Nursery School and relocating children to Central Nursery School. A seven-week public consultation on the proposal to close Ashgate Nursery School was held in early 2023, with 204 out of 225 responses – a total of 91% – against the proposal. Following this, a further four-week consultation resulted in a 37 responses, all of which were opposed to the closure.

At its meeting in July 2023, following a change in the Council’s administration, Cabinet members approved recommendations to keep Ashgate Nursery open and develop alternative options to address the financial deficits at both nurseries. 

Since then, the Council has worked together closely with the governing body of Ashgate Nursery School and Central Nursery School to develop a set of options to allow both schools to remain open, be sustainable and reduce their financial deficits.

These include increasing the number of children attending the nurseries by providing places for younger children – aged from nine months – through the expansion of the national childcare offer. The Council has also been working with families to help them access early education places and helping local-authority maintained settings become more commercially competitive. 

In addition to this, the authority has also identified funding to improve the entrance to Central Nursery School along with investing in new equipment. Parents, particularly those with children with additional needs, have raised concerns about the current access to the nursery. 

Through the work already done, the number of children attending the nurseries has already increased significantly. As a result, the financial picture has improved, with projections indicating that both settings will recover their deficits by 2027/2028.

Alongside these developments, the Council is working with the leadership team at Central and Ashgate Nurseries to build on their long-standing reputation for supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

A plan is in place to establish the nurseries as a centre of good practice in early child development, providing a high support programme for children with additional need.

This programme will be delivered directly to early years settings where support is needed. The local authority has allocated £0.28m funding from the Early Years budget to develop this new model.

Cabinet members will receive an update on the plans at their meeting on Wednesday 10 July. The papers can be viewed online.