Parks Special Nursery Consultation

Public consultation on proposals regarding the future of The Parks Special Nursery School in Oakham closed at midnight on Sunday 3 December 2023.

A final decision on the proposals was taken by Cabinet on Thursday 11 January 2024.

About the Parks Special Nursery School

The Parks Special Nursery School in Oakham consists of two classrooms attached to Oakham C of E Primary School. It offers support to a maximum of eight children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The Parks caters exclusively for children aged between two and five years old. There are very few examples of this type of special nursery provision elsewhere in the country.

Because it is a maintained school, Rutland County Council has responsibility for The Parks. Oakham C of E Primary School has recently become an academy and now forms part of the Rutland Learning Trust.

The Parks offer includes support for children with moderate and severe learning difficulties, as well as support for speech, language and communication, autism and physical disabilities.

Children who are currently being taught at The Parks Special Nursery School are primary school (reception) age. This means there are no children accessing a special nursery place during this academic year.

From August 2024, children currently attending The Parks will be Year 1 age and are likely to move into Oakham C of E’s extended Designated Specialist Provision (DSP), depending on parental preference. The DSP provides additional educational support from reception age so that children’s special needs can be met within a mainstream school or academy setting, rather than a separate special school.

Rutland County Council is not aware of any children of nursery age needing specialist nursery provision from September 2024.

What the law says

Rutland County Council has a duty to provide sufficient education places for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. We also have a duty under the Children Act and the SEND Code of Practice to meet the needs of children with additional needs or deemed to be children in need.

Councils do not have a legal obligation to transport pre-school children to education settings like nurseries or reception classes. Early years children below compulsory school age may receive some travel assistance under exceptional circumstances if parents can’t transport their child to the placement themselves. Having suitable settings closer to home which reduce the need to travel is widely understood to be better for children and their families.

What our information is telling us

Rutland County Council organised a survey of local parents in September 2023, asking what families want from an inclusive Early Years setting. Those who responded told us they would like their children to receive support in a mainstream environment, located close to home and in their local community.

Rutland’s latest Childcare Sufficiency Report found there is currently around 28% vacant capacity across the county’s 32 registered childcare providers. The latest published School Capacity Assessment shows around 15% vacant capacity across Rutland primary schools.

All Early Years providers who receive government funding from Rutland County Council must know, understand and apply the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. Away from The Parks, Rutland County Council’s Inclusion team is working with mainstream Early Years providers to support more than 30 reception age children with additional needs. All of these children (100%) are successfully maintaining their education in mainstream settings.

Rutland’s wider school support programme for children with SEND was recently praised by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC). This Local Area Partnership inspection named Rutland as one of only four areas in the country to receive the highest possible inspection outcome for children's SEND services.

Increasingly, there is a desire to see children receive the support they need in suitable mainstream settings located close to home. We know there is sufficient space for more children in Rutland’s Early Years settings and primary schools. Furthermore, when children with additional needs are placed in mainstream settings, they are benefitting from high-quality care and support, as shown by the findings from independent inspections.

The future of local SEND provision

National government is currently working to reform SEND and Inclusion services to make sure children can access education locally, alongside their peers.

Here in Rutland, we’ve been working with Early Years providers, parents and carers to look at what future Early Years SEN provision might look like and what we need to do to best meet children’s needs. We want to make services more accessible for families as part of a Family Hub programme that provides comprehensive care and support – particularly in the early stages when an emerging additional need has first been identified.

By working with Early Years settings, including The Parks team and Oakham C of E, we want to increase opportunities for children with SEND or emerging needs to access mainstream Early Years education closer to home. This would reduce the need for long journeys and give children with additional needs the opportunity to form friendships with other local children their age.

More choice and better support closer to home means we can invest more money into mainstream SEND support locally. Rutland’s High Needs Funding can then be shared more equally among providers to widen the support available to a greater number of young children, leading to better outcomes for everyone.

Proposals for the Parks Special Nursery School

Working with The Parks, Rutland County Council has commissioned independent experts to undertake a review of the special nursery provision. This has been ongoing since 2019 and has looked closely at the support on offer for children, the way the nursery operates and how it’s funded. This has involved the school leadership, governors, teaching staff and parents.

Since the Parks Special Nursery School was first established, the offer for children with additional needs in Rutland, including Early Years, has improved significantly. The Early Years sector now has direct access to advice and support from Specialist Early Years Teachers and Speech and Language Practitioners. These initiatives have helped to improve confidence in SEND practice across mainstream settings.

While SEND support has been improving across Rutland’s Early Years sector, the number of children who need specialist nursery provision has reduced. As a result, The Parks Special Nursery School is no longer supporting the number of children it was set up for. There is an opportunity to use The Parks space to increase the size of Oakham C of E’s new Dedicated Special Provision, which has around 20 places and is often oversubscribed.

The cost of a placement at The Parks Special Nursery is around three times higher than a place in Designated Special Provision, meaning Rutland’s High Needs Funding is not being equally shared amongst all children with SEND.

Taking all of this into consideration, Rutland County Council is proposing that the Parks Special Nursery School in Oakham is no longer viable and should be discontinued. This proposal reflects the current level of need for special nursery places in the county, as well as a desire to increase the wider support available to young children with SEND in mainstream settings. It is not a reflection of the level of care and support provided by The Parks, which has been outstanding over many years.

If this proposal is implemented, the special nursery school would close with effect from 31 August 2024. At this point, there would be no children of nursery age who need to attend The Parks, meaning the closure would not displace any children if it were to go ahead.

Any discontinuation of The Parks Special Nursery School would not represent a cut to Rutland’s High Needs Funding. Any financial savings resulting from discontinuing The Parks would be reinvested into Early Years SEND support across the county.

Rutland County Council (Catmose, Oakham, Rutland LE15 6HP) is making this proposal in accordance with schedule 2, Annex C to the Department for Education (DfE) Establishment and Discontinuance Regulations.

Taking part in this consultation

Consultation on this proposal opened on Wednesday 1 November 2023 and closed at midnight on Sunday 3 December 2023.

Rutland County Council conducted The Parks Special Nursery School consultation in line with strict legal requirements, set by the Department for Education. All comments and feedback submitted as part of the consultation will be reviewed independently before a final decision is made by Cabinet in January 2024.

If you have any questions about the proposal or this consultation, please email: parksproposal@rutland.gov.uk

Questions and answers

We have published the answers to questions that have already been asked in response to these proposals. We'll keep updating this list with any new questions that we receive.

The Parks - Accordian - Questions and answers

Will our voices be heard?

Yes. Public consultation on the Parks Special Nursery School is running from 1 November to 3 December 2023. All responses we receive via our dedicated consultation email address during this period will be considered.

The Council has enlisted Maureen Morris to support the consultation and provide an independent overview of the process. Maureen is a parent-carer herself and has worked as a parent participation consultant nationally for a number of years, as well as being an associate of the charity Contact for families with disabled children. She is highly experienced in gathering the voice of parents, carers, and children. 

Maureen is reviewing the comments, questions and responses as they come in, and she will take into account the impact on the author, the number of responses and the themes raised to compile a report. Maureen Morris is providing an independent view on the consultation process and the comments that come in. She has been fully informed of the launch,  the content of the proposal and sees all entries to the Council. She is asking questions of the Council as they arise.  

From this, a report will be created and presented to Rutland County Council Cabinet which will be published in advance of the Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet will then make a decision on the proposal. The Council will publish all representations received as part of the Parks consultation. This information will be anonymised, so as not to identify individual respondents, and will be made publicly available with papers for the Council’s January 2024 Cabinet Meeting. Councillors will also receive this information. 


Who has been involved in developing this proposal?

An experienced group of independent SEND professionals has been reviewing the special provision at The Parks Nursery School since 2019. This has been done to examine the current arrangements and make sure they are fit for purpose, or plan for a future delivery model. Following on from this review, a working group made of Council officers, The Parks staff, Oakham Primary School teaching staff and leadership, as well as parent governors, was set up to develop a more inclusive Early Years offer for Rutland, targeting a wider group of children including those with additional needs.

How much does it cost to run the Parks and what would you do with this money?

The funding for Special Needs education and provision comes from the High Needs Fund (HNF), which is part of the Dedicated Schools Budget. The HNF is currently running at a deficit of £1.3million. The Parks has a Minimum Funding Guarantee of £250,719 for 7.5 places. This is to ensure the school and the provision has sufficient funding to maintain a safe learning environment for students.

This money will not be taken away from the school but will be used to enhance the offer at Oakham Primary School in line with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Council and the School. This will be done by increasing the number of places in the school’s Designated Special Provision (DSP) from September 2024.

Will Early Years providers be able to cope with the influx of children who would have gone to the Parks, if the special nursery closes?

There are currently no nursery age children at the Parks Nursery Special School. All children currently at the Parks are of school age (Reception) and may be supported in Oakham Primary School’s Designated Special Provision (DSP). In the previous two academic years, there were no more than three nursery age children attending the Parks, all of whom did so on a part time basis. Looking ahead, we are not aware of any children of nursery age needing specialist nursery provision from September 2024. This means there would be no increase in the number of children needing nursery places in mainstream settings if The Parks provision were to close.

How can nurseries and childminders afford to support children with SEND without this having an impact on other children?

The number of children in mainstream nurseries or with a childminder would not change if the Parks were to close. This is because there are currently no nursery aged children attending The Parks. Early Years providers receive funding from a range of sources - the High Needs Fund, from the schools DCG budget and from the Councils Inclusion fund. From January 2024, the local authority is making changes to funding available for nurseries and childminders, so they can offer SEND support to wider range of children. This is called SENIF and the changes means that the SENIF spend is set to be higher than ever before for Spring 2024 term under a new banding system. Early Years providers should receive a similar amount of SENIF funding for children aged 3 and 4 years under the new banding system as they would have for applications under the old system. There is also exceptional funding that providers can apply for if further funding is required to meet a child’s needs.

 This will allow the sector to provide additional support at the earliest opportunity and improve the long-term outcomes for our children with special educational needs and disabilities. Rutland County Council continues to provide this inclusion funding at a significantly higher rate than neighbouring local authorities.

How do you know that nurseries and childminders have the facilities and expertise to support children with SEND?

The expertise of Rutland nurseries is growing rapidly and is currently the best it’s ever been, following support from our Early Years SEN Specialist Teacher. Nurseries and childminders can contact the Specialist Teacher at any point. They have also identified and provided bespoke training for mainstream practitioners, to help meet the needs of children with SEND. The Council’s Inclusion Team is providing more targeted support for nurseries and childminders who care for children with the most complex needs.

A Schools Support Partnership (SSP) has also been set up to promote inclusion in all schools in Rutland. The Partnership provides support for Speech, Language and Communication needs (SLC), advice for settings, training for all staff in the identification of SLC needs, ideas for promoting good SLC development and strategies for supporting children experiencing difficulties or delays. Rutland County Council also continues to fund training for Rutland Early Years practitioners from entry level inclusion training to Level 3 inclusive practice training, alongside a wide range of courses from quality trainers, such as Dingley’s Promise and Nasen.

More than 70 Early Years practitioners have now accessed inclusion training with Dingley’s Promise. The Disability Access Fund remains available for nurseries and childminders to use for children claiming Disability Living Allowance. This helps settings to provide the facilities or make adaptations and adjustments to their environment to ensure accessibility for children with additional needs. 

How many under-fives in Rutland have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan and how many have been refused an assessment or Plan in the past three years?

There are currently 11 Rutland children under the age of five (Nursery and Reception age) with EHC Plans. A further two children under the age of five are currently being assessed. In the past three years, we have refused to assess one child under five for an EHC Plan. This initial decision was eventually reviewed and a needs assessment was carried out. We have not refused to issue any EHC Plans to children under five years of ager during the past three years.

There are currently no children of nursery age being assessed for an EHC Plan and none being appealed.

Does this mean young children with SEND won’t get the education they have a right to?

Children with special educational needs and disabilities will continue to receive the right care and support in Early Years settings, whatever the outcome of this consultation. As a Local Authority, we have a legal duty under Section 27 of the Children & Families Act 2014 to keep under review the educational, training and social care provision made for children and young people with SEND. We must consider the extent to which the education, training and social care provision is sufficient to meet the educational, training and social care needs of the children and young people with SEND.

As we have referenced already, a recent Local Area Inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission reviewed the Rutland’s provision for children with additional needs and found these services to be among the best anywhere in the country.

How do you know the recent Local Area Inspection was a true reflection of the majority of parents’ views?

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reviewed assessments and plans belonging to more than 100 children and young people. They visited education settings, including Early Years and post 16 settings. They also spoke with children and parents in Rutland, as well as those in out-of-county placements.

Will children who would have gone to the Parks now have to go out of county, with the associated transport costs?

We want to increase opportunities for children with SEND or emerging needs to access mainstream Early Years education closer to home. This would reduce the need for long journeys and give children with additional needs the opportunity to form friendships with other local children their age. There are currently 338 children and young people in Rutland with an EHCP and of these,  237 are in mainstream settings. 

The Designated Specialist Provision (DSP) at Oakham Primary School will be equipped to meet the needs of many of our Rutland children who may have previously attended The Parks Nursery Special School in Reception or Year 1. Our mainstream schools are also rapidly developing their expertise as part of Rutland’s School Support Partnership (SSP). In addition to this, several primary schools are now creating more flexible mainstream offers of provision to meet children’s needs and are doing so effectively and inclusively. As a result, there are lots more opportunities for children who may have attended The Parks in the past to access and thrive in a mainstream setting.

Rutland County Council does not expect the number of children travelling outside of the county for specialist provision to change. This remains a very low number of Early Years aged children. There are currently no Rutland children of nursery age and just three children in Reception or Year 1 attending out of county specialist provision.

What is the Designated Special Provision (DSP) and how will they support the reception children who used to stay in the Parks?

The Designated Specialist Provision (DSP) is part of Oakham Primary School, which is an academy in The Rutland Learning Trust. It caters for children whose special educational needs and/or disabilities require specialist support over and above that which a mainstream school can normally provide as part of an EHC Plan. The DSP provides care and support for pupils from Reception, Key Stage 1 and 2.

The DSP is designed to enable primary phase children with SEND, who require specialist and individualised support, to continue to access and experience mainstream education by offering them the opportunity to access aspects of the mainstream curriculum, the internal environment and the external environment of a mainstream school as appropriate. They do this while continuing to receive individualised specialist support within designated DSP facilities.

The DSP supports children with the following Special Educational Needs:

  • Cognition and Learning - children with learning difficulties which are persistent over time, pervasive across the curriculum and which affect, alter or slow their learning.
  • Communication and Interaction needs - children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and have difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication. The profile for every child with SLCN is different and their needs may change over time.

Like the Parks Special Nursery, Oakham Primary School's DSP is not intended to provide support to children who have severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties, who are likely to have significant levels of support requirements across all areas of special educational needs and daily care.

The provision may support children whose special educational needs might also require emotional and behavioural support and wider adaptation. This includes children with low to moderate behavioural support and sensory needs and may include children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with additional cognition and learning needs.

An explicit ambition of the DSP provision is that children will have increased opportunity to access learning and social opportunities alongside their mainstream peers as an integral part of the mainstream school community. Oakham Primary School facilitate access to support as part of an EHC Plan, if required. This includes Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Educational Psychologists and Speech and Language Therapists, to ensure provision is appropriate to the individual needs of children. There is also a dedicated family liaison officer who provides support for families and works closely with the staff at Rutland County Council’s Family Hub.

How can I be sure my child will be supported as well in the Designated Special Provision as they would have been in The Parks?

The Parks Special Nursery School and the DSP occupy the same building and much of the space is already shared between the two provisions. This includes a swimming pool, which is used by children from The Parks and the DSP.

Many of the staff, including the leadership team, already work across both The Parks and the DSP, ensuring the skills and expertise will remain. The funding used to support the running The Parks Special Nursery would not be taken away if the provision were to close. Instead, it would be used to further enhance the offer at Oakham Primary School, including the DSP.

What kind of wider support will be available to parents and families of children with additional needs, if The Parks were to close?

As well as support and signposting from individual nurseries, Rutland’s Family Hub has a range of support groups for parents. This includes an Autism Support Group, Triple P ‘Stepping Stones’ parenting programme for the parents of children with SEND, as well as play and learning activities for children with developmental needs, such as the Let’s Get Talking programme or Space to Play. Full details can be found on our Family Hub website, by calling 01572 758 383 or by emailing: familyhub@rutland.gov.uk

This support is part of Rutland early help offer, delivered through the family Hub - this will not be taken away.

Oakham Primary school also has a Family Liaison Officer available to families with children in the Dedicated Special Provision, from Reception to Year 6. Where children with SEND are not attending a nursery or childminder setting, Rutland County Council’s Early Years Inclusion team provides support via home visits.