EAST Lothian Council has explained the reasons why it is withdrawing funding for 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare from four nurseries in East Lothian.

Bright Stars Nursery Group Ltd said it was "stunned and dismayed" by the decision when it was announced on Tuesday, which affects Pear Tree West Road, Church Street and Meadowpark in Haddington, and Pumpkin Patch Nursery in North Berwick.

The four nurseries will lose the funding from October 7, affecting 151 children aged three and four across the four settings.

READ MOREOwners 'stunned and dismayed' as four nurseries to lose funding for 1,140 hours

Now, the council's head of education, Nicola McDowell, has sent a lengthy message to parents explaining why it has taken the decision. And decided to make the letter public.

It says:


Dear parents and carers,

Bright Stars Nursery Group Ltd

I wrote to you on September 13, 2022, advising that East Lothian Council will not be entering into a new contract with the Bright Stars Nursery Group Ltd for them to offer 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare after October 7, 2022.

We would like to assure you again that this decision was not taken lightly and we know that it is a worrying and challenging time for many families.

Our priority is to put the interests of children first.

We have kept the Scottish Government and the Care Inspectorate informed of our decision to withdraw these funded early learning and childcare places.

Many parents and carers have been contacting us to find out more information and to seek advice on their options regarding nursery places.

We therefore wanted to provide you with an updated communication that we hope will address many of the questions that you have.

East Lothian Council is legally required to ensure that the National Standards of Early Learning and Childcare, set by the Scottish Government and required of all nurseries, are met. These National Standards cover 10 key criteria.

In relation to the four settings owned by Bright Stars Nursery Group in East Lothian, we have particular concerns about Criteria 1 – Staffing, Leadership and Management, and in particular related to the overall leadership of the Bright Stars Nursery Group; Criteria 3– Physical Environment; Criteria 4 – Self-evaluation and Improvement; and Criteria 6 – Inclusion.

Bright Stars Nursery Group were aware of these concerns prior to the previous contract expiring and discussions between East Lothian Council and Bright Stars Nursery Group began shortly after they took over the Pear Tree Group and Pumpkin Patch in June of this year.

While these discussions were initially focused on concerns at one setting, further issues subsequently came to light.

Despite engaging with Bright Stars Nursery Group and making substantial efforts to resolve the matter for several months, unfortunately, we were unable to find a resolution enabling us to enter into a new contract.

Bright Stars Nursery Group were awaiting our final decision and were informed of it on September 2.

Following further dialogue with Bright Stars Nursery Group, there was nothing forthcoming that would allow us to reconsider the position before the formal communications sent on Tuesday.

Following concerns raised about Bright Stars Nursery group’s overall approach to Inclusion, East Lothian Council sought further information on documentation that guides how all children in its care are supported, including its approach to Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC).

Despite several attempts, the council was unable to gather sufficient information that gave assurance on the approaches taken to support all children.

Furthermore, partnership working between a local authority and nursery setting is an essential principle in the National Standard and also in East Lothian Council’s contracts, and Bright Stars Nursery Group’s communication has been a consideration.

Communications issued by Bright Stars Nursery Group have, in some instances, been incorrect or misleading.

For example, we are aware it has been suggested that our decision came as a surprise – despite several months of engagement with the company with a view to securing an outcome.

Unfortunately, Bright Stars Nursery Group have been unable to provide sufficient assurance that the necessary improvements could be made and as a result were unable to allay concerns regarding leadership, management and governance.

Taking all of this into consideration, we reached the conclusion that the National Standards are not being met and therefore East Lothian Council cannot enter into a new contract with Bright Stars Nursery Group at this stage.

We have informed Bright Stars Nursery Group that the Council is open to reviewing this position on application after a period of 12 months, subject to evidence of improvement of the aforementioned concerns.

While the E. coli outbreak affecting the Pear Tree settings in Haddington has happened alongside the discussions that have been taking place with Bright Stars Nursery Group, it is not a direct reason for East Lothian Council’s decision not to enter into a new contract.

Everyone’s priority in this situation is to ensure the highest-quality care and learning for the children affected. We want to support you in being able to determine the appropriate next step for your child.

While the Bright Stars Nursery Group settings remain open, 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare for your child will need to be provided elsewhere.

You can choose to move to a different setting, either with another funded partner provider or an East Lothian Council nursery.

There are sufficient places available across East Lothian to accommodate all children affected.

A list of other East Lothian funded providers who provide 1,140 hours Early Learning and Childcare is available on our website – www.eastlothian.gov.uk/1140hours

If this is your preferred option, please contact the funded provider directly to enquire about availability.

A list of East Lothian Council nurseries showing where spaces are available for 1,140 hours funding (www.eastlothian.gov.uk/1140hours). If you wish to apply for a local authority nursery, there is an application form with guidance completion notes. Please send your application directly to childcareinfo@eastlothian.gov.uk

In order for us to prioritise your application, please return it by September 23, 2022. We will aim to get back to you with your child’s allocated 1,140 funded place by Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

Please note that we are unable to provide additional hours above your 1,140 hours entitlement in our local authority settings.

A dedicated email address has been set up where you can send any further queries directly to our Early Years Team: childcareinfo@eastlothian.gov.uk

Dedicated phone numbers are in place to speak to a member of our Early Years Team about any further questions from Monday to Friday between the hours of 9.30am and 4pm.

Please note that our offices will be closed on Friday, September 16, and Monday, September 19, 2022: 07967 776 979 / 07580 302 963 / 07703 191 174.

We recognise that this is a challenging situation for you. We will do everything we can to minimise the disruption to 1,140 hours provision, whilst supporting you and your child as we move forward.

Yours sincerely

Nicola McDowell

Head of Education