Tearful parents make heartfelt plea to save outstanding Sunderland nursery from closure

Heartbroken parents left in tears by the decision to close a nursery judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted are urging a rethink from education chiefs who say it is no longer financially viable.

Hudson Road Primary School is home to Bright Stars Nursery, which is run by the school’s Governing body.

Headteacher Cathy Westgate and nursery manager Louise Austin wrote to parents in February 2023 to inform them the nursery will cease to operate from Thursday, July 20.

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The letter said they understood the decision would “come as a shock” and it had been taken after “significant consultation with governors and the headteacher”.

The letter stressed it had “not been an easy decision” and “all avenues had been looked at to support the setting”.

It’s a decision which has left Heather Yemm, 35, whose daughter Imogen, four, and son Taran, one, attend Bright Stars, “absolutely devastated”.

She said: “This came totally out of the blue. I was shocked when I opened the letter and in tears. I think this is part of a national issue. The Government advertises places for three-year-olds as free but my understanding is this is not the case and is leaving nurseries having to make-up the shortfall.”

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It’s a sentiment shared by fellow mum, Clare Craig, 44, whose son Finley, three, also attends the nursery.

(left to right) Mums Monika Kwapimska, Katherine Streets, Heather Yemm and Clare Craig.(left to right) Mums Monika Kwapimska, Katherine Streets, Heather Yemm and Clare Craig.
(left to right) Mums Monika Kwapimska, Katherine Streets, Heather Yemm and Clare Craig.

She said: “I’m from an Early Years background and this is just such a unique place – there’s no comparable setting. They make use of natural resources and the children get the chance to explore and develop life-skills.

"When I got the letter I was in tears, I just started sobbing. Finley goes to school in September and so I’m not really going to be affected by this decision but I feel so strongly that something needs to be done for the younger children and babies who are there at the moment.”

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Monika Kwapimska’s son, Nathan, attended the nursery for three years and when her maternity leave finishes next month, she was hoping to send daughter Naomi.

Hudson Road Primary School which is home to Bright Stars Nursery.Hudson Road Primary School which is home to Bright Stars Nursery.
Hudson Road Primary School which is home to Bright Stars Nursery.
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The 37-year-old said: “I was devastated when I found out the nursery is closing. I know several mums whose children attended the nursery and they’re all saddened by the news.

"There are no other nurseries like this one. I trust and feel confident about sending my children there and I’m now reconsidering whether I can go back to work.”

Heather added: “The Government want women to return to work but they need to provide funding to retain staff and ensure nurseries don’t have to close due to lack of money.”

The closure is even harder for parents to accept after the nursery was judged outstanding at its last Ofsted inspection in 2020.

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Inspectors stated: “Children thrive at this exceptional setting.”

Katherine Streets, 37, from Southwick, whose daughter Betty, two, attends Bright Stars, added: “My daughter Dorothy is now seven and she attended the nursery and I was hoping my baby daughter Izabelle would be able to go when she gets to 18 months.

"This is a place I trust and I’m confident sending my children and it will be such an injustice if it has to close. Out of all nurseries, Bright Stars has so much to offer and it will be tragic if it has to close. It’s heartbreaking.

"There are children at the nursery with special educational needs and disabilities and it’s going to be very difficult for both the children and their families to have to settle into a new nursery.”

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While the parents main grievance is against the funding situation which has resulted in this decision being taken, they did feel they should have been consulted about possible solutions.

Heather, who works as a researcher at the University of Sunderland, said: “Rather than just being told this was happening, I just wish we had been consulted as the common consensus amongst parents is they would be willing to pay higher fees if it helped to keep the nursery open.

"I’ve looked at other nursery prices and they’re a much higher rate and we are now going to have to pay more anyway. Paying more may not have been enough, but this all just feels very sudden.”

"If there is anyone out there or something which can be done to stop an outstanding nursery having to close then please come forward and help.”

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Explaining the decision, Hudson Road Primary School Headteacher Cathy Westgate said: “It’s with great regret that the school’s budget can no longer afford to support the separate but on-site and privately run Bright Stars Nursery.

“Like other schools, parents, households and businesses, costs are increasing and despite looking at a restructuring and other options, Bright Stars has become increasingly financially vulnerable and runs at a significant deficit.

“We do appreciate all the care and support the nursery has provided to children, parents, the school and the wider community.

"Our school, the nursery and Together for Children are working with parents, children and staff to identify alternative day care provision and provide a smooth transition for all the children.”

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In February, Buttons Nursery manger Michelle Barr highlighted the shortfall of funding in the sector which had left many settings having to increase their fees, with some nurseries facing the threat of closure.

Michelle said: “We receive £4.88 per hour of Government funding for ‘free place’ children. When you take into account staff ratios, their hourly rate,as well as rising costs of food, energy and classroom resources, this doesn’t come close to covering the costs.”

Responding to the situation, a Department for Education spokesman said: “We recognise families and Early Years providers across the country are facing financial pressures and we are currently looking into options to improve the cost, flexibility, and availability of childcare, ensuring any plans we bring forward focus on improving outcomes for children.

“We’re investing millions in better training for staff working with pre-school children and have set-out plans to help providers run their businesses more flexibly.”

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