Delay over plans to merge Sunderland nursery and academy as education watchdogs carry out final checks
Plans to merge a city nursery and academy have been delayed to allow for final checks from education watchdogs.
In May, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet launched the legal process required to ‘discontinue’ Pennywell Early Years Centre.
Although the nursery is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, it is expected to fall into financial difficulties in coming years.
To secure the nursery’s long-term future, plans were revealed to merge the nursery with Academy 360, off Portsmouth Road.
As there is no process for transforming a stand-alone nursery into an academy, the council has to go through a legal process to close the Pennywell hub.
Leaders from the nursery and Laidlaw Schools Trust originally approached the council with a view of merging from January 1 next year.
This week, city leaders agreed to push the date back by three months subject to final checks.
The academy has already been granted permission by the Regional Schools Commissioner to reduce its lower age range to 2-16.
However, it still needs to register the nursery’s 0-2 provision with Ofsted.
The changes were revealed at the School Organisation Committee of Cabinet on Thursday November 7.
In action, the merger aims to share costs, improve transitions for nursery students, allow staff to share expertise and also safeguard nursery provision in the St Anne’s ward.
A report prepared for the committee reads: “Two of the four primary schools within the ward do not currently operate a nursery class.
“There would be insufficient alternative nursery places for the children in the local area should, as current five-year budget projections indicate, Pennywell Early Years Centre becomes unsustainable in future years.”
During consultation 18 out of 20 responses were supportive of the merger plans.
Concerns included the merger “locking out” provision for other schools in the area and the credentials of the academy trust.
Councillors heard there would be no changes to provision, staffing, or governance at the nursery itself.
Following discussion, cabinet agreed to agreed to approve the merger from March 31, 2020.
When the changes takes force, existing staff contracts will transfer from the council to the Laidlaw Schools Trust.