Salford City Council’s latest proposal to merge the five local nurseries up for closure, with local primary schools, threatens the education of children with special needs difficulties.

Back in February, the council made the controversial decision that it would close five local nurseries due to budget cuts. It’s latest scheme to snowball those nurseries into primary schools has been met with strong criticism from staff, parents and children alike.

The five nurseries under threat of closure are Little Hulton, Barton Moss, Belvedere, Winton Day Nursery and Higher Broughton.

Ameen Hadi, a representative of UNISON, argues that children with SEN (special educational needs) are at considerable risk as they rely heavily on placement at council run nurseries.

“A lot of the children that these nurseries take are children with special educational needs. They need specific support and they need staff who’ve got the skills and know what to do. So, some of the kids that have come there have come there because they have failed in other settings. That’s become a problem for them.”

Ameen argues that children with speech impediments are most likely to suffer if these cuts become a reality.

“For instance, a kid who has a speech difficulty, is three-years old and still can’t speak. They’ve tried the private nursery. They tried the school setting. Neither are suitable. The only setting that will get them school ready is the council run nurseries.”

This enhances the argument that public spending should go into helping the vulnerable. Ameen wants local, as well as national government, to focus its financial efforts on supporting children in early education.

“There’s a lot of children that will lose out on their early development. It’s a lot harder to correct when you get older, if it’s not addressed when their very young. So, all the research will tell them that actually you need to invest in children at an earlier age to stop them having problems in their later age.”

Parents have strongly opposed the latest idea to effectively relocate the nurseries into local primary schools, merely watering down the planned closures. Many of which have busy working lives and the merging proposal would complicate their lifestyle and challenge children to settle into a challenging new environment.

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Kelly Bentham, a parent of three who’s youngest attends Barton Moss, argues that the sensational u-turn of city mayor, Andy Burnham, from advocating closure to now supporting the cause, represents further proof that keeping the nurseries open is the right thing to do.

“I don’t follow politics, I don’t like it. I think all politicians are out for themselves. I also thought the city mayor was as well because obviously he’s the one who’s made the decision. But to be honest, the more I’ve had meetings with him, the more I do actually believe he’s on our side and he’s fighting for the same as us.  We are fighting for it from government rather than the council.”

The “Fight for the Five” campaign and hashtag has won growing support on social media. Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, and also Rebecca Long-Bailey, Salford’s local MP, have also endorsed the cause.

Long-Bailey called on the government to secure Salford City Council the funding it needs to keep the nurseries open.

What is likely to happen?

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The merger is still the most likely course of action. Although unpopular, it would simply transfer the pupils over to a lower subsidiary of the school, classing it as under-fives education.

This would cause considerable uproar as special needs children will be displaced and deprived of the education they deserve. It would also deny the nurseries of their sheer function and identity. It would keep most children in education, but put an estimated 500 jobs at risk. The government is notorious for initiating cuts and is highly unlikely to back down, however strong the opposition.

The planned closures has caused much debate in Salford. If other alternative ideas are put forward or outside benefactors are found, the picture surrounding the nurseries may continue to change.

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