Pumpkin Patch Nursery in Dunbar to close

Wednesday October 30th 2019


The Pumpkin Patch Nursery in Dunbar

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A nursery boss who warned that Scottish Government policies were causing a “death spiral” in the industry is to close one of his centres.

Jonathan Bruneau said that the Dunbar branch of his Pumpkin Patch Nurseries will close permanently in two weeks after 18 years of looking after children in the town.

The nursery was criticised in a recent Care Inspectorate report over changing staff and a lack of management.

However, Mr Bruneau, who also has Pumpkin Patch nurseries in North Berwick and Haddington, said the problems had been created by Scottish Government demands.

He said: “Unfortunately we have had to admit defeat related to our ability to staff and manage our Dunbar setting.

“Recruiting management and senior staff has been impossible over recent years due to Scottish Government policies which have driven the average age and experience of nursery practitioners down to levels which are simply not appropriate to run a nursery.

“Nursery staff work long hours for salaries which are not commensurate with the level of education and expertise they are expected to achieve.

“This, plus the rolling out of 1,140 hours per year of free nursery care (thereby effectively nationalising the pre-school industry), has created a staffing crisis most noticeably felt in rural areas where staff cannot afford to travel from Edinburgh or beyond.

“The final straw came when we lost our most recent manager after three months when she was poached by a nursery closer to home.

“This was inevitable as she had been travelling one hour each way to get to Dunbar and, even though subsidised by us to make the journey, a two-hour commute is simply not sustainable.”

Mr Bruneau warned of the impact of demands on private nurseries in April this year when his nursery in Haddington saw its grades fall in an inspection.

He said: “This is a systematic problem which is causing a death spiral in the quality of nursery provision throughout the industry.”

The inspection report on Dunbar’s Pumpkin Patch rated its quality of care and support, staffing and management and leadership at two (‘weak’) with the environment rated a three (‘adequate’).

The report said that parents had contacted the inspectorate following its unannounced visit in August to discuss concerns.

A high turnover in staff was raised by a number of parents, with one telling inspectors:

“Often when I drop my child off I have to introduce myself and my child to the agency staff.”

The report said: “Parents told us that they often did not know the staff when they dropped off their children in the morning, often resulting in their children being reluctant to attend.”

Mr Bruneau said that the introduction of mandatory SSSC (Scottish Social Services Council) registration was creating recruitment problems throughout the industry.

He said: “Before the advent of SSSC registration, our group of nurseries never used any agency staff as recruitment was simple. It included people of varying ages, experience and circumstance.

“It was a healthy labour market; now new staff are invariably under 25 years old, inexperienced in life, work and certainly the care of children.

“Nursery closures are inevitable as sites struggle to find staff, maintain standards and satisfy increased demand.”

He said his company had decided to rationalise its services, placing more experience in fewer sites, and called on the Scottish Government to reverse policies which he said ruled out more mature staff from working in nurseries.

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council, which used the Dunbar nursery as a partner provider, said: “We have worked with Pumpkin Patch nursery as one of our partner providers, offering funded early learning and childcare for pre-school children for many years.

“Our officers have also provided extensive support to the Dunbar team to help them improve the quality of experiences for children and families following recent Care Inspectorate reports.

“Our assistance has been recognised and appreciated by the owners, who feel that we have done all we can to support them.

“We acknowledge that this will have been a difficult decision for the owners and will have implications for their team at Dunbar.

“We also acknowledge the upset and disruption that the nursery closure will bring for parents using this service.

“Our staff will work with and support parents to find alternative early learning and childcare within the area that meets their needs.”

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