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THIS WEEK ** BREAKING: Eastbourne Herald put up for sale


COMMUNITY The One and Only Tom Fitzpatrick is Back: Ocean View, Pevensey Bay


LETTERS Christine Fenner and Jo Belcher: Support us and the pond and the village of Westham

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Confusion over what has happened at Pevensey and Westham Playgrou grew today (3 January) as parents contacted Bay Life to ask what could be done—Bay Life, 3 January 2018

A sign pinned to a door this morning is what faced parents as they waited for news about what is to happen with the Pevensey and Westham Playgroup

The signs aays “It is with deep regret that you need to be informed that Pevensey and Westham Playgroup will no loner be open for business.

“Please accept our sincere apologies, we are devastated

“If you need assistance with finding an alternative setting please contact Customer Relations Team on 0345 60 80 192 or follow the link https://escis.org.

The note is signed “Sincerely Playgroup”.

ESCIS stands for East Sussex Community Information Service. and is described as a computer database of local and community information developed and managed by the Library and Information Services of East Sussex County Council in association with Brighton and Hove Library Service.

ESCIS is a broad directory, encompassing all community information & events in East Sussex.

How parents are expected to contact the directory to find our more about what has happened is not made clear.

What is demonstrably clear is that something has gone very seriously wrong with the Pevensey and Westham Playgroup

We were first contacted about potential serious problems with the playgroup on 29 December 2017, with a suggestion that “Pevensey and Westham Playgroup is facing massive debt”.

Similar claims were made by a number of parents.

We were invited to see an exchange of information between parents. We were also invited to look at a number of documents about financial aspects and discussions within the organisation and other aspects of the organisation.

These documents, redacted to protect our sources,  will be made available to the necessary statutory authorities in the next few days

The number of parents that have contacted us has now increased again today.

The possibility that East Sussex County Council may be facing some kind of class action by parents, has also emerged today as a discussion point.

Attempts to find answers to questions have proved to date impossible, with a number of messages unanswered by the management of the Playgroup.

At present a total of eight parents with children at Peveney and Westham Playgroup have come forward with statements and information to Bay Life.

We are assessing this information with a view to publication of a series of articles in an effort to bring in to the public domain questions that are clearly important for the community.

This afternoon (3 January ) attempts have been made to contact the organisation at a number of management levels to which we have received a variety of response.

When it is clear that what is being said is intended for a public audience, we will publish what is being said.

Our initial approach today (3 January 2018) is to establish why the only contact with parents at the playgroup has been a single paragraph letter to all parents from East Sussex County Council that explains that the playgroup is now closed. This letter has been seen by Bay Life.

The letter says, without further explanation,”I am writing to inform you that due to changes within the organisation Pevensey and Westham Playgroup, East Sussex County Council are unable to to continue to provide EYEE funding for three and four year olds at this setting from 1 January 2018″.

Our question to East Sussex County Council is why such a perfunctory letter has been sent to parents without further explanation.

We are seeking to establish from East Sussex County Council why such a letter has been sent to parents, with only a few days to go before the term start in January 2018, which has clearly caused great (and understandable) distress amongst parents.

At this stage we have seen the last Ofsted report and also an independent auditor’s report about the playgroup, both of these reports project an element of concern and alarm. The independent auditors report, in particular, raises a significant alarm bell in our view.

Since we are looking at financial questions over a significant period of time, it seems reasonable to ask at this stage, why the necessary checks and balances amongst the management, trusteeship and committee levels of the organisation appear not to have been in place with regard to the Pevensey and Westham Playgroup.

It will be for the statutory body concerned to establish what has happened. We are talking about significant sums to the organisation in the region of £100,000 yearly.

It seems reasonable to ask four questions and place these questions in the public domain.

  • Why has the Pevensey and  Westham Playgroup closed so suddenly, causing such devastation today amongst staff, parents and people associated with the playgroup?
  • Who is responsible for the significant breakdown of trust?
  • What exactly, in the view of East Sussex County Council are the parents with their children expected to do now?
  • How can this have happened, what can be learned from the experience to ensure that it never happens again?

We have also been informed that monies to be paid to the Memorial Hall in Peveney in relation to the group have not been paid for a number of months. We are seeking to establish if this is the case,

We appear to be looking at a number of public concerns here that involve not just the management of the playgroup, but the trusteeship and a course of events worthy of investigation.

Some local parents will know from previous contact that I am a teacher with 41 years experience.

I deployed that experience and the weight of our online platform and our newspaper, the Journal, behind the local parents SATS campaign in the summer of 2016.

At the time I received a number of messages from people in the community suggesting that I presented a bias view of the campaign.

As I explained at the time if, in my 41 years teaching experience, I was presenting bias of some description towards the notion of education in our community, the work of teachers and the voices of parents, than I pleaded guilty.

I have no experience of working within playgroups as all my experience is at a secondary, university and adult education level, but what I can see from reading the Ofsted report and from reading the independent financial report about the Pevensey and Westham playgroup is that we are looking at a series of significant community questions here.

All the parties concerned should be given the opportunity to have their say. Equally, people should be made responsible both for their actions and decision making.

This process appears now to have been put into operation by a number of parents.

There is a major question of accountability here in my view.

We regard what is being said to us by parents as being deserving of public note.

The question is not just about what has happened, but what is to happen next.

Sums of money of up to £100,000 a year are involved. There appears to be no public path to establish what has happened leading to the perfunctory letter sent by East Sussex County Council.

It seems reasonable in the circumstances to ask a series of  public questions about what on earth is happening here. These are large sums of money. How can things have just suddenly stopped?

A scandal, and a scandal of some public description, seems to me a legitimate starting point to consider these questions.

We will now give East Sussex County Council, the management of the Pevensey and Westham Playgroup, the trustees and the parents, a full opportunity to say in public what they want to say.

What matters here is the fundamental sense of the value of local education in a setting that has attracted significant sums of money.

At this stage, given the letter by East Sussex County, further explanation is required, both to the parents and their children at the Play Centre and to the community.

I say that these matters are of concern not just to all the parents, but to the legacy of the Playgroup and the continuation of support for early years learning here in the heart of the community.

Last word is given over to a number of parents and what has been said to Bay Life.

“We went to the school this morning was very sad seeing all the parents and staff just standing outside everyone was very emotional. Staff members found out they don’t have a job by seeing a sign on the door. No letter no phone call nothing”.

“Alot of the staff that work there are mums themselves who now have no job and no income for their family it’s absolutely disgraceful. It takes alot for parents to leave their children with nursery or playgroup and we put alot of trust into those that give our children their first bit of education and we have always had the utmost respect for Christina for her to completely show us none in return not even a sorry not even an explanation as to why our children now have no where to go all those years it’s been open all the children it’s helped build confidence and friends for it all to just be taken away and them to have to start all over again”.

“I think what you have written is spot on. I also think it’s terrible that we have had no contact from the playgroup at all none of us parents know what is going on or where we stand with our children having an education. Especially the pre schoolers as most of the nursery we have contacted are full up or the once that are not require a £20 admin and a £80 deposit to secure the spot which most of us don’t have just after Christmas so it’s a case of either keeping our children out of education wile we save for this money or go without basic needs in order to put our children into a new nursery which is going to cause so much disruption to the children who will lose their friends that they have made not to mention the bonds they have made with the key workers at pevensey and westham playgroup.

“Most nursery require a settling in period where parents stay with the children for 3-4 session which again is going to cause working parents to have to take time off work. My family have been going to this playgroup for over 14 years and I hoped that my future children would gone there too which now looks like it won’t happen. It’s so so sad for everyone involved . Someone is to blame here and someone needs to stand up and take the blame and to apologise to all the children and staff that are now losing out. Would be lovely if someone with the right experience and qualifications could come forward and take it over but with all the debt it’s in I’m sure that’s highly doubtful. I really am completely heartbroken”

What matters here, in the view of Bay Life, is the truth and accountability.

We will be following the story of the sudden closure of the Pevensey and Westham Playgroup today (3 January) in the coming weeks.

Simon Montgomery
editor, Bay Life