A nursery in Penarth is set to be merged with a nearby primary school despite hundreds opposing the move.
Parents of children at Bute Cottage Nursery fear the merger with Evenlode Primary will eventually lead to the nursery relocating to the primary school site.
But Vale of Glamorgan council chiefs denied there were any current plans to relocate the nursery and dismissed these fears as “inaccurate misinformation”.
The council’s cabinet approved the merger, following a public consultation, on Monday, January 10. The nursery will become part of the school from September this year.
Currently the merger only means that the running of the nursery will transfer to the school, streamlining policies and communications. The nursery will remain on its current site. But council chiefs admitted they will carry out a study to see if relocating it would be possible.
Another merger is also planned for September, with Cogan Nursery and Cogan Primary School, both also in Penarth. The move will bring into line with the model used across the rest of the Vale of Glamorgan, which sees primary schools offer places from age three to age 11, and aims to ease the transition for children from nursery to primary school.
But parents raised concerns at the start of the consultation, in September last year, that Bute Cottage would eventually be merged with Evenlode. A petition against the merger was signed by more than 1,100 people. A public consultation also received 238 responses, 169 of which were opposed to the merger and only 48 in support.
During the cabinet meeting, Councillor Lis Burnett, cabinet member for education, said: “Such consultations are not a referendum. They’re not a straight ‘yes or no’ vote, because if you have loads of responses based on one particular topic that wasn’t actually relevant, it could be completely outweighed by one very strong representation that was relevant.
“There are absolutely no plans to move from the existing site. Children and staff would not move from the existing site. The key focus of this transition is to ensure best practice is maintained and all pupils receive the best provision.
“This model has several benefits, including developing continuity and progression in children’s learning from the age of three—so that you don’t go into one provision, stay there for a year or 18 months, and then have to get used to another one. Parents would only need to familiarise themselves with one set of policies and communications.”
Despite denying any current plans to relocate Bute Cottage, Cllr Burnett said the council has allocated a huge chunk of money to reconfigure nursery provision in Penarth, and will carry out a feasibility study to see if the nursery and Evenlode Primary could be relocated onto a single site. Although she added this was “a long way away”.
She said: “The council has allocated £1,362,000 as part of the 21st Century Schools programme to support reconfiguration of nursery provision in Penarth. The council would consider the feasibility and rationale for relocating nursery provision at Evenlode Primary School onto a single site.
“However, that would be subject to a number of factors including highways and cost. The council would undertake a full feasibility assessment into that. If it were viewed as a proposal worth taking forward, it would be subject to a separate consultation exercise. But we are a long way away from that.”
Reacting to the cabinet meeting, the chair of governors of Bute Cottage and a parent of a child at the nursery criticised the decision to go ahead with the merger, despite the heavy public opposition.
Richard Disley, chair of governors at the nursery, said: “It was extremely disappointing to witness the views of 71 per cent of respondents to the consultation and more than 1,000 signatories of the ‘Save Bute Cottage’ petition disregarded by the cabinet of the Vale of Glamorgan council.
“With public opinion clearly against the move, it is surprising that our elected representatives have turned a blind eye to the many genuine concerns held by governors, staff, parents, and local residents.
“Our parents are concerned the unique experience provided to our children by the current governance and management of Bute Cottage will be lost under the management of a primary school, and these concerns have not been allayed following the cabinet meeting.”
Laura Windeatt, a parent, said: “This consultation has stirred up the community, brought together over a great esteem for Bute Cottage Nursery, which provides an inspirational learning setting for its pupils.
“With uncertainty over how the future looks, every party must now work hard to ensure that the exemplary ethos which has been built up at Bute Cottage over nearly 50 years is preserved for future generations.”