Jess visits local Chichester Nursery

20 Jun 2024
Jess chats to nursery head teacher

Chichester Nursery is a picture of how childhood should be. Outside children play together with water, balls, and toys enjoying the fresh air. Inside some are role playing, pretending to be a vet or a shopkeeper, others are painting boxes or searching for treasure in the sand pit. Teachers and staff quietly interact with the children, patiently teaching them life skills such as counting and talking, negotiation, and eating skills.

Chichester Nursery is a maintained, teacher led nursery with a reputation for providing the very best education and support for families in the Chichester area, including some of the most vulnerable.

However, head teacher Ruth Campbell is concerned that continual cuts in early learning education, care and support is leading to many children getting a much poorer start in life, a situation that will follow them throughout their lives.

“I have been a teacher, then Deputy Headteacher, Headteacher and now Executive Headteacher at Chichester Nursery School for over 16 years and it is a place I am so proud of, “she said, “however, like much of our education system, early years provision is suffering from long-standing under-funding.”

Among the most crucial losses has been the closure of Sure Start Centres, she said. In 2021 West Sussex County Council closed more than 30 Family Centres in West Sussex, providing early help services to some of the most vulnerable families and children.

Now it is the nursery sector feeling the impact of underfunding with Chichester Nursery facing teacher losses this year.

“Like virtually every other Maintained Nursery School, we have struggled financially in over the last 7 or 8 years, managing only to stay solvent through a series of cuts and staffing reductions, which have put tremendous pressure on our team,” said Ruth, pointing out that she became executive head of 3 of the 4 Maintained Nursery Schools in West Sussex in 2022, cutting the cost of individual Headteachers at Bognor, Boundstone in Lancing and Chichester Nursery Schools.

“However, as the 2023-24 budget year drew near to its end, with the impact of increased staffing costs and all our bills going up, it was clear that this was not going to be enough to save us from financial insecurity and now all 3 Nursery Schools are facing deficit budgets that require further sacrifices to enable us to survive.  For Chichester, I am devastated to say that this comes in the shape of taking immediate steps to reduce our number of qualified Teachers - the very thing that is at the heart of our quality and excellence and sets us apart from other providers in the sector,” said Ruth, warning that  “with very few teachers on our staff and costs increasing year on year, I can see no certainty in maintaining our status as 'Teacher-led' Maintained Nursery Schools and I am worried about our future.”

“I am passionate about Chichester Nursery School and the vital work that we and all our Maintained Nursery Schools do, supporting our most vulnerable families and a high number of children with complex SEND needs, whom other settings reject or do not feel they have the expertise to support,” said Ruth

“I know the Lib Dems are committed to investing in Education and to supporting the vulnerable in our society and I call on your political colleagues to provide the urgently needed support to the life-changing work that Chichester Nursery School and Maintained Nursery Schools do in providing the very best start for our youngest children and their families,” Ruth wrote to the Liberal Democrat Candidate for Chichester, Jess Brown-Fuller.

Jess, who ran a baby club at the Sure Start centre previously adjacent to Chichester Nursery when her own children were young, visited Chichester Nursery and spoke to Ruth last week after receiving her letter. The Liberal Democrats are offering to increasing the provision of free childcare and provide additional funding for nurseries and other early year settings.

“Giving our children the best start helps individuals, families, and the country. If we don’t deal with issues children are facing when they are under five, their problems will only grow throughout their childhood and adult years. Allowing children to socialise, enjoy their childhood and learn life skills, will make them far better and happier students when they get to school,” said Jess.

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