Little Owls review

Engagement and decision-making questions

Thank you everyone who has attended sessions, emailed, or provided feedback via nursery managers. The engagement period has now closed, and the Little Owls Review Inbox will no longer be being monitored. This web page will be updated with further information.

Little Owls proposals - responsibility and timescales

Several stages are involved in this process as set out in the table below. The council's Executive Board will take any decision on the potential withdrawal from any settings based upon recommendations from the Director of Children and Families. Subsequent decisions relating to the results of any Market Sounding Exercise may be taken by the Director of Children and Families. The decision making timeline for any initial decisions is set out below:

Engagement period closed
4pm on 23 May 2024
Executive Board meeting takes place to consider outcome of engagement and recommendations:
Agenda item 7, pages 59 to 114
19 June 2024
Implementation of decision (if approved)Not before end of August 2024

This video has been shown in the engagement sessions with parents and covers the background to the review of the Little Owls Nurseries and outlines the proposals that will be going to Executive Board:

Background to the Little Owls proposals

Background documents are available at the following links:     

How is Leeds City Council engaging with parents and carers about these proposals?

Letters have been sent out from Leeds City Council to all parents and carers of children attending Little Owls nurseries. These provided details of the proposals and how to engage in the decision-making process. As a result of early feedback received from those who engaged with us, a decision has been taken to delay the proposed implementation date until the end of August at the earliest. The engagement period is open until 4pm on 23rd May.                                     

Fifteen separate engagement sessions have been arranged for parents and carers to attend and a dedicated email account has been set up for anyone to submit their views on the proposals. All feedback is being collected and will be presented in summary as part of the final report to Executive Board.                                     

When will parents on waiting list be consulted?

Parents on waiting lists will not be directly consulted. However, once we have a final decision on the proposals, the outcome will be shared with Parents who are being offered places to ensure they have the relevant information to support them in making an informed decision prior to accepting a place.

What engagement has taken place with Little Owls staff?

Engagement sessions have been undertaken at each Little Owls site with the entire staff team facilitated by the Service Lead. This was an informal opportunity to thank staff for their hard work, acknowledge the pressures within early years, discuss the financial challenge that the Council is facing and enable them to have a voice and share any queries or worries.                                     

How have elected members been consulted/informed?

Elected Members as part of Executive Board, agreed the proposal move forward and then Full Council agreed the potential budget implications of the proposed review.               

Elected Members in areas where a setting is subject to potential change have then had further direct engagement relative to the individual setting. Briefings have been offered to all Elected Members in wards affected by the proposals, and many have already taken place with several more scheduled before the end of the engagement period.

Using data to inform our understanding around Little Owls

infographic representing the 8 step process outlined in text below around using data to inform the Little Owls proposals

1. In order to understand each Little Owls setting we needed to link data to them so we could build a picture that would tell us more about that setting.

2. Every Little Owls Setting has an associated Children's Centre Reach Area. This is a geographic area around the Little Owls setting that helps to understand the community it serves.

3. Every household has a postcode that can be used to identify the Children's centre reach area it belongs in.

4. Data collected at a postcode level can be linked to the relevant Little Owls setting and aggregated / summed up. This helps us to understand things like the population of children aged 0-4 who live within the reach area for each Little Owls Setting.

5. Data sets can be linked together to help us understand the information better. For example, we know how many children are aged 0-4 living in the reach area, but combined with other data it can help us to understand how many of those 0–4-year-olds are living in the most deprived areas and therefore are more likely to have need for services.

6. For each Little Owls setting we looked at data for that area on how many:

  • 0-4 year olds live in that area
  • 0-4 year olds live in the most deprived areas
  • 0-10 year olds had Children's social care involvement, including how many had come into the care of the local authority
  • 2 year old free early education entitlements (FEEE) were taken up
  • Potential places in the Little Owls setting (with full staffing)

By producing this data for each Little Owls setting we were able to compare all of them against each other and understand the wider needs of each of their areas. This helped us to identify which Little Owls settings were in the areas that had the greatest need.

7. A formula was created, with each data set given a weighting. This is a way of attributing value to each data set in terms of priority/importance.

The following weighting was used:

  • 50% for 0–4-year-olds, split down further based on the level of deprivation where they live:
    1. For the below Areas at 0-1 are the most deprived and areas at 100 the least deprived
    2. 15% for the 0-1 areas
    3. 15% for the 1-3 areas
    4. 12.5% for the 3-10 areas
    5. 5.0% for the 10-20 areas
    6. 2.5% for the remaining 20-100 areas
  • 20% on capacity of the little owls setting
  • 10% on 2-year-old FEEE places that had not been taken up
  • 10% for children who had entered care
  • 10% for children who were on a child protection or child in need plan

This enabled us to 'score' each of the Little Owls and understand how funding could be distributed using data to inform the level of need in each area.

8. Using the formula to understand each Little Owls setting and their local area, this information was then cross referenced with the latest sufficiency data. Sufficiency data looks at the childcare, nursery and other settings within a Childcare Planning Area to understand if there are enough potential places for the level of need. It also considers if any settings are looking to expand or organisations are looking to set up a childcare setting in that area. With the formula and the sufficiency data, a clearer picture could be drawn to understand the level of need in an area for childcare places as well as support services. This enabled evidence-based decisions to be made on each Little Owls Setting.

Closure proposals

Questions about the proposal to close Little Owls Gipton North, Little Owls Chapel Allerton and Little Owls Kentmere:

When are the nurseries proposed to close?

Should the proposal to close Little Owls Gipton North, Little Owls Chapel Allerton and Little Owls Kentmere go ahead, these nurseries would not close any earlier than the end of August 2024.                                     

How will my child be affected if they are currently at a nursery proposed to close?

If the proposed closures go ahead, your child will be guaranteed alternative childcare at another Little Owls nearby. If this is not suitable, parents and carers will be signposted to Family Information Service to explore private, third sector or school nursery provision.                                     

If your child transfers to another Little Owls, transition visits will be arranged with their keyperson.                                  

A pause had been placed on offering new places at the three nurseries proposed for closure to enable them to prioritise places for those children who would be impacted. The nurseries will once again be able to admit new children, subject to staffing, once this process has been completed.                                   

My child has special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Little Owls provides for those, and I’m concerned about losing this.

We are guaranteeing places at nearby Little Owls and will make every effort to make sure children transfer with staff they already know and feel safe with.                                  

How will staff in the nurseries that are proposed to close be affected and supported?

Between September and February, informal sessions have been undertaken at each Little Owls nursery with the entire staff team. These provided an opportunity to thank staff for their hard work, acknowledge the pressures within early years, discuss the financial challenge that the council is facing and enable them to have a voice and share any queries or worries.                                     

The service will seek to do all that is possible to reduce, minimise and mitigate any compulsory redundancies.                                  

It is anticipated that staff displaced because of closures could be flexibly deployed within the service and we will aim to transition staff with children where possible.                                  

Regarding the recruitment issues affecting Little Owls, is there not a better solution to retaining staff e.g., better pay and council benefits?

Compared to the wider Early Years sector, Leeds City Council employee terms and conditions are favourable in comparison with the private sector. The recruitment issue is compounded by a national recruitment crisis in the early years sector.      

We actively advertise vacancies within the service both internally and externally through our jobs website.      

Will there be further closures proposed?

There are no further proposed closures planned as part of this review and decision.                                     

Will Children’s Centre family services continue, i.e., Baby Groups, if the proposed closures go ahead?

Yes, Children’s Centre family services groups such as the baby group are continuing.                                     

Will my fees be affected by the decision to close the nursery?

As your child will be supported to transfer to another Little Owls nursery, your fees will remain the same. However, all Little Owls are subject to an annual fee increase which usually takes place in September.                                     

Families whose children take up a place at an alternative provider will be subject to those providers own fees.                                  

Could the local authority use its financial reserves, income from central government and/or savings achieved elsewhere to prevent the potential closure of these Little Owls nurseries?

The Council is expected to end the financial year of 2023-24 with an overspend of £39.5m. The Council cannot sustain overspends of this magnitude without risking intervention by Government, which we have seen in other Local Authorities.              

In addition to our proposals regarding Little Owls, we are reducing some of our management and staffing, closing some of our own services and reducing expenditure.              

Over 14 years of austerity, Leeds has protected both adults and children’s social care. They now represent 63% of our budget, compared to 40% in 2010. However, we are now in a position of being forced to reduce services we have protected to date.              

Whilst financial impact is not the sole driver, we cannot avoid the fact that the City Council is currently facing significant financial pressures.

Have the council considered other options e.g., increasing fees, improving marketing to increase intake?

Little Owls fees are reviewed and increased on an annual basis whilst trying to retain affordability. We do have a marketing strategy; the challenge currently is that we do not have sufficient staff to increase occupancy/ intake.                                     

Some parents have discovered that, due to previous technical issues with IT systems, they have received letters advising that they owe money to Little Owls for childcare provided.

This issue is due to the exchequer placing tax free childcare monies into a suspense account. We are aware of the issues and are addressing this; even when all tax-free childcare money is credited to our accounts it will not address the savings that we need to achieve. The introduction of the new FAMLY business system is intended to prevent these issues from occurring; managers are working hard to embed this new system, please alert us to any anomalies and bear with us as we work to address any anomalies with invoicing.                                     

If the population of Leeds is increasing, why are you shutting nurseries? Won't this create a sufficiency problem?

Whilst Leeds' population has indeed increased over the last decade, that is not necessarily due to a rise in birth rates, which have been factored in by our sufficiency team when working up these proposals. Population increases have largely been driven by people living longer, immigration and urbanisation trends.                                     

Why propose this now? Could you not wait to see the outcome of the General Election first?

The challenges Leeds City Council are facing are within the financial year 2024-25, and there is no way to predict any outcome, nor would it be responsible to make decisions based on an uncertain outcome.                                     

What about the expansion of free early education entitlement (FEEE) places by the government?

Whilst the government is increasing FEEE places from September, these will not change the financial picture significantly for Little Owls.                                  

Leeds is not expected to have a sufficiency issue due to the expansion of FEEE places as the city has experienced a falling birth rate for the last 5 years.                                  

The Council’s Sufficiency and Participation team have been working closely with providers about their capacity and conducted assessments of the provision available across the city ahead of the roll out. No issues are currently being reported but will be regularly monitored.                                  

What is the Council doing to highlight the financial difficulty we are facing to central government?

There is regular lobbying going on at a high level between the Council and the government.                                     

The letters sent out to parents and carers stated that there are sufficient alternative nursery places available in the local area. However, some families have not found this to be the case. How has sufficiency been measured and determined in each area?

All children currently attending at any of the three Little Owls nurseries proposed for closure have been guaranteed a place at another Little Owls nursery nearby. To enable this, a pause had been placed on offering new places at the three nurseries proposed for closure to enable them to prioritise places for those children who would be impacted.                                     

Our sufficiency team has done a thorough analysis of the local areas around each Nursery. For the proposed closure nurseries, we are guaranteeing spaces at nearby Little Owls nurseries. We are also aware through conversations with several childcare settings, of vacancies across the 0-4 age group at alternative childcare providers local to the three proposed closing Little Owls. Understanding the local childcare market is key to planning childcare places and as birth rates have now fallen for 5 years, vacancies.                                  

For the purposes of assessing sufficiency, the city is divided into 42 Childcare Planning Areas (CPA). This allows for demographic analysis at a local level, where the Sufficiency Team can monitor birth trends and population changes alongside the demand and take-up of childcare places, to ensure sufficiency of provision in each CPA.                                  

As families move in and out of an area, the use of NHS data for all children aged 0-4 supports the planning of places across the city, as well as monitoring where children attend childcare in comparison to where they live. The council’s annual Childcare Sufficiency Assessment provides further information on birth trends and take-up in each CPA and can be accessed here.

As childcare provision is not statutory, there is no specific distance measure and childcare take up is down to parental choice. Although planning childcare is done at a local level, there are areas of the city where families do travel out of their local area to obtain childcare for various reasons such as work. An example of this is the Little Owls Chapel Allerton, where only 55% of families attending the setting live within a one-mile radius.                                  

Market sounding exercise and potential amalgamation

Proposal to explore the potential amalgamation of some Little Owls nurseries and to explore potential and viable interest from other providers, and to agree a ‘market sounding exercise’ to deliver additional nursery places to replace specific council-run nurseries.

What is the proposed market-sounding exercise? How long would the process take?

The Market Sounding Exercise (MSE) is a way for the Council to assess interest in potentially selling or transferring ownership of some Little Owls nurseries to experienced childcare providers. It's not a formal invitation to bid or express interest. The aim is to understand the market's level of interest and gather information to make any future procurement process more focused and efficient.                                     

This exercise is expected to last a minimum of 4 weeks.                                  

Does this mean that Little Owls is being privatised?

Not necessarily. If the MSE demonstrates that there is a sufficient level of suitable market interest, the council may make a recommendation to formally invite the market to submit proposals in order to identify the most suitable childcare providers that could take on the running of the nurseries (on a case by case basis) via a TUPE transfer of existing staff and through a lease/purchase of the premises.             

Whilst this could mean a private provider taking on provision, there are many schools and non-profit organisations in the sector, including in Leeds.                                  

Additionally, should there be no interest, or no suitable providers interested from the market there are further options that could be explored. These include the council merging little Owls nurseries or outright keeping them.                                  

What happens after the market-sounding exercise?

The MSE will help inform the council’s next stage of decision making on potential future arrangements for the nurseries. Following the MSE, the council will use the insights gathered to recommend how to move forward with managing the nurseries.                                     

How will my child be affected if they are currently at a nursery that has been identified for the market-sounding exercise?

If the Little Owls nursery your child is currently at is part of this proposal, the outcome of the MSE will determine how your child’s place may be affected. However, it is not possible to know the outcome of the MSE and what might be proposed following this just yet.                                     

Will fees, opening times and other arrangements be kept the same if a nursery is taken on by another provider after the MSE?

All arrangements would be subject to the providers terms and conditions, and they will advise you on this.                                     

Why have waiting lists been closed?

They were suspended temporarily to prioritise places for children from the proposed closures sites. Parents have now confirmed their preferences so we will resume admitting new children, subject to staffing.                                  

Why would an alternative provider be better positioned to run the Little Owls nurseries affected by this proposal than Leeds City Council?

Other providers may be better able to attract staff. Currently our nurseries are not running at full occupancy due to the recruitment challenges. We rely heavily on agency staff which brings an increased cost.                                     

By reducing the size of the Little Owls estate and flexibly deploying staff in the remaining Little Owls nurseries we hope to increase occupancy and income.                                     

Is there a list of providers lined up for the MSE?

No, this will be open to all                                     

How will staff who work in the nurseries that have being identified for market sounding be affected and supported?

Between September and February, informal sessions have been undertaken at each Little Owls site with the entire staff team. These provided an opportunity to thank staff for their hard work, acknowledge the pressures within early years, discuss the financial challenge that the Council is facing and enable them to have a voice and share any queries or worries.                                     

The Market sounding is just an exploration of other options and providers. Staff are being supported through regular communication via their managers.                                  

If the market sounding exercise doesn’t find anyone to take on my Little Owls nursery, will it be closed?

No, the Council still has a sufficiency duty to ensure that there is enough provision in each area. However, depending on recruitment and retention of staff we may need to explore merging the nursery with another Little Owls nursery.                                     

What is the timescale for MSE? Will Parents be able to join the MSE engagement process?

The 4 week MSE process is to explore if there is a market interest out there, as it is commercially sensitive and providers will not formally be submitting their interest at that point, it would not be appropriate to invite parents. However, we are keen to involve parents as we assess provider suitability.

What might happen to the nursery buildings?

The buildings are being considered as part of the MSE in the first instance. This could involve a lease arrangement or a sale if appropriate. However, if a provider were to be found that could meet the sufficiency need for the area within their own existing nurseries, then there would not be an obligation for them to take on the building.                                     

Proposed retained Little Owls nurseries

Questions about those Little Owls nurseries that it is proposed the council would continue to directly deliver day care at

How will my child be affected if they are currently at a nursery that is being proposed should be retained?

If the Little Owls nursery your child is currently at has been identified as one for Leeds City Council to ‘retain’, then your child's place would not be affected.                                     

How will staff in the nurseries to be retained be affected?

There won't be any significant changes to staff in the nurseries that remain open.                                     


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Full Council

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