The future of a Sunderland nursery school which caters for almost 100 Wearside children is under threat, the Echo can reveal.
Education chiefs are in discussions with governors at Mill Hill Nursery School, with changes to funding from central Government set to come into place.
No formal announcement has been made to parents, with education bosses at Sunderland City Council saying they are currently in discussions with the nursery’s board of governors with the aim of “ensuring this community has nursery places in the future”.
Parents have already begun a campaign to keep the nursery open, with hundreds of people signing a petition in support.
The nursery school has 90 children aged between two and four attending classes at its Saint Court site.
From this year, free care for three-and four-year-olds is set to rise from 15 to 30 hours a week in term-time.
Ministers say the extra funding will provide stability for nursery schools, but unions have warned that hundreds of nursery schools could close because they will be unable to cope with the financial cost.
Headteacher Joanne Coulson said: “We are funded through the Early Years funding programme and with that changing and the school in deficit, that is what has caused this all to arise.
“We are in discussions with the local council but no decisions have been made yet.
“Sunderland actually has a really strong tradition of maintained nursery provision that is of a very high standard and it would be great shame to lose that.
“We are very much a community resource.”
Mrs Coulson added: “Parents are aware of the situation that we are in and their support has been brilliant.
“We don’t know when the decision will be made, so we’re a bit in limbo.
“There were rumours going around saying the nursery would close at Easter and that isn’t true.
“We are now looking at what is possible, but we have been cutting back for years.”
Kim Duncan has set up the Save Mill Hill Nursery Facebook page to campaign for it to remain open and set up a petition to show the strength of feeling by backers.
Within hours each had more than 350 supporters.
Kim, a customer services adviser for an insurer from Doxford Park, is mum to Lexi, three, who attends the nursery, and Laurie, five months.
She said: “We started to hear rumours the nursery was going to close.
“We know there’s no decision made yet, but we want to show that we’ll be fighting it for the nursery and I’ve started this page to back it.
“It was welcomed by the staff, they were over the moon, and over 340 people signed the petition and it was only set up during the morning.
“The nursery is second to none.
“They are just great with my daughter, she’s come on so much.
“They have got such food relationships with the kids, because they do have more staff, and they are really good.”
Louise Kilner, a customer services adviser from Silksworth, sent her eldest son Nathan, four, to the nursery and planned to send her two-year-old Miles there once he is old enough.
She said: “They’re building lots of new houses in this area and the nursery school could be closing down, so this could be a big problem for families.
“Come September, there could be a lot of children looking for places.
“I think people have found it such a massive shock.
“It’s really popular and this has happened all of a sudden, so when people have heard, I think there’s been a massive panic.”
Councillor Louise Farthing, portfolio holder for children’s services at Sunderland City Council, said: “With changes to Early Years funding from the Government, the council has been speaking to the board of governors at Mill Hill Nursery about ensuring this community has nursery places in the future.”
The petition to keep the nursery open can be seen on the change.org website.