Nursery closures 'punishment' for choosing rural life

Parents of children at Fountainhall early years centre
Parents are angry that Fountainhall early years centre is closing without consultation [BBC]

Parents in the Borders claim they are being punished for choosing country living after their local nurseries were earmarked for closure.

Scottish Borders Council announced at Easter that early years centres in Westruther and Fountainhall would close this summer.

Parents now face trips of up to 15 miles to the closest alternative nurseries.

Mum-of-two Rebecca Brinson, whose son had just started at Fountainhall, said: "One of the draws of moving here was the small country school and nursery along the road."

No consultation

Like many local authorities Scottish Borders Council is facing budget pressures.

Departments have been tasked with finding significant savings.

Education officials at the Newtown St Boswells HQ identified a reduction in early years provision - which includes the loss of five full-time posts.

Parents at Fountainhall and Westruther say a lack of consultation has led to mistakes being made.

Mum-of-three Natasha King, whose daughter attends Fountainhall early years centre, said: "The whole reason for our children going to a school nursery is so they can progress to the school with their peers.

"If the council had spent five minutes talking to us, they'd realise this is a big mistake - they are working from inaccurate figures.

"I feel we're being punished for choosing a rural life."

Mum-of-three Natasha King
Mum-of-three Natasha King is angry at the decision to close Fountainhall nursery [BBC]

Although numbers at both pre-school centres have dropped in the past two years, parents claim new housing being built and other families recently moving to both areas would see the rolls swell in future years.

Pleas to education bosses to reconsider the decision have not been sucessful. All pre-school children are now being offered alternative arrangements.

Parents of children at Fountainhall are being offered places five miles (8km) away at Stow Primary School.

Parents in Westruther will have to take their children eight miles (13km) further to Lauder.

MSP Rachael Hamilton with concerned parents in Westruther
MSP Rachael Hamilton with concerned parents in Westruther [BBC]

They approached local MSP, Rachael Hamilton, to take up their fight.

The member for for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire said: "We’ve had over one hundred signatures for our campaign to keep the Westruther nursery open so far.

“Nursery provision and childcare in rural towns and villages is incredibly important to ensure that our children get the best start in life.

“Working parents often rely on local childcare support to look after their child while they’re at work.

“Without these basic services available to new families, it only makes it harder for people to settle in the Borders."

Rebecca Brinson
Rebecca Brinson's son has just started at Fountainhall early years centre [BBC]

Many parents are angry about the inconvenience of changing nurseries along with the additional cost and time before and after work.

But changing to larger facilities - where the rolls are around four times higher - will cause further difficulties for some children.

Rebecca Brinson explained: "My son is not keen on big settings and lots of people - that's why we're so pleased with him going to Fountainhall.

"Starting at a new place won't be easy for him.

"And the idea of him being at Fountainhall nursery for one term, then moving for a year to Stow, and then coming back to Fountainhall to start primary school is far from ideal."

Agnes Dun
Agnes Dun was hoping all her three children would attend Fountainhall early years centre [BBC]

Agnes Dun, who lives on a farm near the village of Heriot, was hoping to return to work after maternity leave for her third child.

She said: "This couldn't have happened at a worse time. My daughter just started at Fountainhall and she loves it - she's settled in really well.

"Stow is too far away for us, so it looks like we'll have to try to get hours at the private nursery over at Pathhead.

"We've not had much notice from the council so we're still not sure exactly how we're going to manage things."

All three and four-year-olds in Scotland are entitled to 1,140 hours of fully funded early learning and childcare.

The Scottish government also provides funding for some two-year-olds.

Scottish Borders Council said the decision was made to close both early years centres due to 'very low numbers of children'.

And both nurseries have been moved to 'inactive'.

A spokeswoman added: "The enrolment period was taken up until the end of Easter term to allow for any late preferences being expressed but the numbers were too low to ensure the children attending received the high quality experience we require of our settings.

"All children have been offered their second choice setting and will continue to be able to access their full entitlement of funded early learning and childcare."

A further review will take place next year to gauge whether they can be re-opened.