CHILDCARE: Options are diminished

At a meeting in Wooler First School last week, parents were informed that when the school relocates to the Glendale Middle School site in September, the Sure Start children’s centre will also relocate and work more closely with the pre-school service.

However, from September, childcare for 0 to two-year-olds will not be provided as it is currently. I understand there are three children who fall into this age bracket within the system currently who will be provided for, but they will not take on any new children.

In addition, staff from Sure Start and the pre-school will be facing job cuts in December as the service is reduced and staffing re-aligned.

The headmaster and a representative from the county council who led the meeting did state that they will look at whether they need to provide a 0 to two-year-old service at some point, but there was no timescale and no guarantee that this will happen.

This leaves parents not currently registered with Sure Start, but needing 0 to two-year-old childcare in the near future, without any options in the interim. As there are no other nurseries in Wooler and only one childminder, the proposed changes are really eroding a family’s options for when a mother or father has to return to work.

My family will be directly impacted by the proposed changes. We have a two-and-a-half-year-old who attends Sure Start and has done since seven-months-old. I am expecting my second child, due in August. Our plan had been to put the second child into Sure Start when I return to work next April/May.

Now, under the new proposals, we will have to get each child to a different childcare setting before my partner and I get to work in Newcastle. And if the only childminder in Wooler for under two-year-olds doesn’t have capacity, we will be forced to put the second child into childcare outside of Wooler. Logistically this will be bad enough, but the fact that our family will have to get used to a new childcare provider is even worse.

Although parents who were going to be impacted by the changes were assured that we would be worked with to find a ‘bespoke solution’, I really don’t see there is going to be any option other than the childminder. My son has really benefitted from the routine of going to nursery in a classroom-like environment. A childminder is a completely different environment and this would never have been my first choice.

The reason given for removing the current provision was that they didn’t feel they could provide the required quality of childcare for this age bracket. In my experience, the team at Sure Start has done and is doing a fantastic job at caring for, playing with and teaching my son. I would not have left him in this setting for this period of time had I thought otherwise.

The fact that staff are now faced with job cuts is an awful situation for them personally, and in the wider community Wooler is losing jobs and economic prosperity.

The way in which these proposed changes were announced was also ridiculous, there having been no consultation, to my knowledge, with parents prior to this decision being made.

Announcing it in the last week of the summer term, when changes start in September, it seems as though the school and Northumberland County Council really don’t want to listen to any feedback or challenge from concerned parents.

To my mind the re-location of primary and secondary schools to one site has the aim to protect schooling in Wooler for the future. I am in favour of this move, but find the proposed changes to the 0 to two-year-old provision very shortsighted.

Surely young families will be put off moving to Wooler in favour of larger towns where all childcare needs can be accommodated, thus decreasing potential numbers for the Wooler school system in the long run. My family moved to Wooler just after my son was born. Had we known this situation was going to arise, I don’t think we would have made the move.

Whether you are a past, present or future user of the childcare system in Wooler and whether you have chosen Sure Start, pre-school or childminding services, the point is that families are having our childcare options diminished without consultation or consideration. I would urge all concerned to oppose the changes by lodging a complaint with Northumberland County Council online at https://online.northumberland.gov.uk/citizenportal/form.aspx?form=Feedback_Complaint, and writing to the local Unison representative at joyce.guthrie@northumberland.gov.uk

Linzi Reid,

Wooler