Award-winning Corby school hits out at impact of early years funding cuts

The Pen Green Centre is the reigning TES School of the Year. Angela Prodger is pictured holding the award.
The Pen Green Centre is the reigning TES School of the Year. Angela Prodger is pictured holding the award.

The head of an award-winning Corby school currently named as the TES’ School of the Year says a combination of government and local funding cuts is putting its services ‘under threat’.

The Pen Green Centre has been the jewel in Corby’s educational crown for the past 35 years, helping many children from deprived backgrounds off to a flying start.

But now joint headteacher Angela Prodger says the latest round of funding cuts, plus a request by Northamptonshire County Council to repay funds of £98,000, will force them to cut back on services.

The county council wants to claw back £300,000 already paid to its nine maintained nursery schools after receiving less money for maintained schools from central government.

At the same time as the clawback, the schools, along with all early years providers in the county, have been hit this month with a funding reduction which will see supplements for special education needs, quality and high needs either reduced or removed completely. The loss in income to Pen Green is estimated to be more than £190,000. The exact amount is unknown as the county council has still not given the nurseries their indicative budgets. The authority says it needs to save £1.5m from its early years budget this year.

Some providers say the funding will force them to close or have to make staff redundant.

Mrs Prodger, who has worked at the Ofsted-rated outstanding school for 30 years and runs it alongside joint head Tracey Gallagher, said it is ‘a real time of uncertainty’ and funding reduction will threaten the viability of the centre.

It may even need to consider how much of the year it can offer services. It currently opens five days a week from 8am to 6pm, 48 weeks a year.

The headteacher says the government’s 30 hours funded childcare offer for working parents, which was introduced two years ago, has had a big impact and the result may be that disadvantaged children suffer. Because of the way the funding works nurseries often lose out and have to cover the cost of the additional hours. Before the 30 hours was introduced the nursery was earning £750,000 a year from charging parents for the childcare over the universal 15 hours funded.

She said: “Families can claim the 30 hours extended care whether they are on minimum wage or earning £200,000 a year. The only place the funding can come from is the budget used for children and families in need of complex services. We will have to cut back. What I’m seeing is that the support is being taken away from families who are living in challenging circumstances and the result is that the attainment gap is widening. These children have a right to high quality services.

“The government’s policy on 30 hours was not clearly thought through and was brought in to win votes.”

The finances of the centre will also be affected by a two per cent pay rise which the county council is proposing to bring in June. Mrs Prodger said staff deserve the pay rise and are working increasingly hard but the pay increase will cost the centre an additional £50,000 in salary payments. The centre employs 120 staff across its early years provision and research base.

The centre was opened in 1983 and since then has pioneered the way forward for social care and education for under fives. It was the country’s first Sure Start centre and its practice is world renowned.

Two years ago it opened an off-site nursery on the Kingswood estate.

The school brings in its own income from its research base, which provides training and the centre says without this additional income it would be facing a deficit.

The county council says it will be setting up a working group with the maintained nurseries to ‘ensure effective planning for sustainable model for the future considering the financial challenges to this cohort’.