Aberdeenshire UNISON

Early years review 2010/11 - implications for playgroups

July 2011
Support for members facing redeployment and redundancy

The branch has sent out a comprehensive Briefing to keep you fully up to date with the closures of Playgroups and the implications for members. Below is a brief update of the situation.

Phase 1 Playgroups
Members who are in Phase 1 Playgroups which closed at the end of the school term should have received a formal letter from the council asking you to come to a meeting in the first week of the new term so that arrangements can be made to begin the redundancy consultation process, discuss redeployment options and also what each of you want to do during the consultation period.

The branch has identified a number of stewards to support members through this process and they will make contact with you very soon. They will be available to answer any queries and to support members at meetings and ensure the redeployment and redundancy process is properly followed.

Phase 2 Playgroups
It has now been clarified that the Head Teacher of the local primary schools will take on the line management of the Phase 2 Playgroups from August.

The council has emphasised that the transition from Playgroup to nursery provision, planned for August 2012 was being carefully considered - this is not a case of nurseries taking over playgroups, rather they want to create a new collective model of pre-school provision.

There will be more official consultation on the proposals early 2012 (Feb) and it has been agreed that staff will be given the proposals in advance of the wider public consultation, probably in January 2012.

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair said, "We are aware that this is a very worrying time, especially for members in the Phase 1 playgroups. A number of you have sent back the reply sheet to indicate that you would like UNISON support and a steward will be in contact with you over the next few weeks, to meet you and to support you through the redeployment process. If any of you has not sent back a sheet but needs support, please get in touch and we can arrange for a steward to contact you."


June 2011
Branch responds to consultation

Click here for branch response to consultation.

May 2011
Consultation to begin on Friday 20th May

Letters went out to trade unions and CLD playgroup staff on Friday 20th May to begin the formal consultation on the proposed closure of CLD Playgroups. This will end on Monday 13th June. Letters offering playgroup staff (though not relief staff) the opportunity to apply for voluntary severance were issued at the same time.

This was agreed at a meeting on 17th May between the council and trade unions.

The branch is encouraging all members to respond to the consultation with all your concerns about the impact which the closure of the Playgroups will have on staff and on the service to children, parents and communities. Please copy the Branch into your responses by emailing Kate Ramsden.

The Multi-Equality Impact Assessment has now been completed and was received by the trade unions last week. UNISON made some comments on this and the council have agreed to amend it to include the action they will be taking to minimise the impact of the Playgroup closures on 2 year olds and children from poorer families who need local provision.

Following the consultation period, letters will be sent out to staff affected by closures in 2011 regarding redeployment and redundancy. The council have assured the trade unions that all staff will be supported through this process by their management in CLD and by HR. Those of you who are UNISON members will also have the support of a UNISON steward.

The redundancy and redeployment period will now extend beyond the Summer holidays. The holiday period will not counct towards it. It is not yet clear what staff will be expected to do after the Summer break when Playgroups will have closed and this will be considered again nearer the time.

A reminder that UNISON is here to support all our members at this time, and we would advise you to contact us as soon as possible, especially if you are likely to be facing redundancy this year. A reply sheet is attached to the April briefing and we are asking members to complete it and return it as soon as possible. We can then arrange to provide you with a branch contact who will give you information and support.

Thanks to those members who have already returned the reply sheet. We will be in contact with you individually at the end of the consultation period to let you know who your steward will be.


May 2011
Consultation on playgroup closures delayed

The consultation period on the closure of playgroups was delayed because the trade unions had not had sight of the Multi Equality Impact Assessment on the impact of closing playgroups.

This decison was made by the council following a meeting with the trade unions on 6th May 2011. Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair and Debbie Stevenson, Westhill Playgroup attended on behalf of UNISON.

A briefing has been sent out to playgroup members.

"The trade unions were unwilling to move to consultation without seeing the equality impact assessment as we are clear that the closures will have an impact on women, as both staff and parents; and on children.The Impact assessment should demonstrate the steps that Aberdeenshire Council will be taking to minimise the effect on these groups," said Kate Ramsden.

A further meeting will be held on 17th May and it is likely that the consultation letters will not now be sent out until 20th May at the earliest.

This will delay the whole process but members should not worry - those of you who face redundancy in 2011 will still get your full redeployment period. The school holidays will not count towards it and you will be paid until it is completed.

Voluntary severance
It was also agreed that voluntary severance will be offered to all playgroup staff, whether they are facing redundancy in 2011 or 2012.

Kate said, "This will enable those staff who wish to take redundancy to do so without going through a redeployment process first. The package will be the same as any redundancy package so members will not lose out if they want to go down this route."

If any member is interested in taking voluntary severance, please feel able to contact UNISON for advice.

Management of playgroups into the future
Kate added, "The council recognises that there is a great deal of anxiety amongst playgroup staff about how the playgroups which are to remain open till 2012 will be managed, as they move into the Education, Learning and Leisure Service. The council have said that they will try to give as much information as possible about this in the consultation letter.

"They made it clear, however, that after 2012, council run playgroups will cease to exist in their current form and the additional provision needed to meet demand will be provided through pre-school nurseries.

"They indicated that in some areas, nursery provision will need to be extended, with some redeployment of staff from playgroup to nursery. In other areas there may be a need for "outreach" nursery provision."

The council is at the very early stages of planning for this but has pledged to keep staff and unions informed.

The council is also looking at the sustainability of two of the Playgroups which are to be kept open till 2012 but where numbers are low.

"They told us that there is no change at present to the commitment to keep these open and to maintain staff at the current level and this will be discussed again at our next meeting," said Debbie Stevenson.

UNISON is here to support all our members at this time, and we would advise you to contact us as soon as possible, especially if you are likely to be facing redundancy. A reply sheet is attached to the April briefing and we are asking members to complete it and return it as soon as possible. We can then arrange to provide you with a branch contact who will give you information and support.


April 2011
Council to consult on closure of 9 playgroups

At a meeting with trade unions on 30th March 2011, the council confirmed that 9 playgroups will be recommended for closure as of August 2011. Letters will be sent out to affected staff w/b 18th April and there will then be a 21 day consultation period.

Please note, the council has advised that there has been a delay in sending out these letters and they have not yet been issued. A further meeting with the trade unions will be held on 5th May when further details will be given.

The branch has sent a briefing out to all members updating them on the situation and urging members to respond to the consultation.

"The council appears to have taken on board many of the concerns already expressed by UNISON members and included in UNISON's briefing to councillors," said Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair, who attended the meeting.

Kate Ramsden
Kate Ramsden

"They tell us they have undertaken both an Equality Impact Assessment and a Child Impact Assessment and will be making both of them available to the trade unions in the next few days."

Please note, the trade unions have not yet had sight of the Multi Equality Impact Assessment (MEqIA) despite several follow up requests and this is still awaited.

It is likely that members working in the playgroups recommended for closure in 2011 will face redundancy. Most will be entitled to be considered for redeployment and the council has not been filling vacancies on a permanent basis where posts may be suitable for redeployment.

UNISON is here to support all our members facing redundancy at this time, and we would advise you to contact us as soon as possible if you are likely to be one of them. A reply sheet is attached to the briefing and we are asking members to complete it and return it as soon as possible. We can then arrange to provide you with a branch contact who will give you information and support.

The remaining 8 CLD playgroups will continue to operate as they do now between Aug 2011 and Summer 2012.

However interim management and funding of all 8 of these playgroups will transfer to EL&L as of August 2011. As yet there is no information about how this will be managed or organised for individual playgroups.

UNISON has emphasised that this is creating a great deal of anxiety for members and the council have agreed to bring forward proposals as soon as possible.


March 2011
Branch warns that quality and choice will be lost when playgroups close

Aberdeenshire UNISON has sent out a Briefing to councillors warning that plans to close all council playgroups by 2012 will lead to a loss of quality provision and choice for parents.

We also issued a press release on 17th March 2011.

Click here to see article in Press and Journal.

UNISON has attended a number of the informal meetings held with staff from each playgroup in Aberdeenshire. From these meetings, and in discussion with our members, the branch has identified a number of concerns as we move towards the closure of council playgroups in Aberdeenshire by 2012.

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair said, "We recognise that there is over-provision for 3-5 year olds in some areas. However, the loss of all playgroups will mean that parents will have no choice about where they place their children in their pre-school year.

"At present, parents tend to put their 3 year olds into playgroup and move them to nursery school when they are 4. This allows their children to have a year in the more nurturing and less formal environment of the playgroup before moving them to nursery school in their pre-school year. Parents are now faced with the prospect of placing their 3 year olds straight into larger classes in nursery schools.

"We are also concerned that closing playgroups in areas where there is no nursery school provision will make it much harder for parents to access pre-school provision for their children. For example, in Potterton there is no public transport to the nearest nursery school at Balmedie.

"This could disadvantage many families, especially those without their own transport, and is likely to particularly affect children from poorer families, the very children that the original Early Years' Review report wanted to prioritise."

UNISON has also identified the potential to lose very well qualified staff from Early Years provision if not all can be redeployed.

The branch has warned, however, that a move to independent status for a playgroup could seriously disadvantage our members. "We believe that it is extremely unlikely that most playgroups would be financially sustainable, especially since the council has been clear that it is unlikely to commission places from them," said Kate.

UNISON has asked the council to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment as we believe that the closures will impact more on women both as workers and as parents. However, we have not yet had sight of this. We have also called for the council to do a Child Impact Assessment on the effect of the closures. Click here for more information on Child Impact Assessments/Children's Rights Impact Assessments (Note:this will take you to the website of Scotland's Children's Commissioner.)

The trade unions are continuing to meet with the council about the proposals. The next step is likely to be a formal consultation with staff and stakeholders about the closures. The branch will brief members once we are clearer about timescales and will be encouraging members to respond to the consultation.


Dec 2010
Playgroups will close as Council approves Early Years Review Report

A number of Playgroups face closure or a move to independent status as Councillors approved the proposals in the Early Years Review Report at their meeting on 9th Dec 2010.

Click here to see a copy of the Report to the Education, Learning and Leisure Committee

UNISON along with other unions, met with representatives from Aberdeenshire Council on 8th December, following a series of Briefing Meetings for parents and staff held in November.

UNISON had received a copy of the Early Years Review report which shows over-provision in places for 3-5 year olds in Nurseries and Playgroups. The Council will fill the Nursery places first.

This means that there will be less or perhaps no need for the Council to commission places from Playgroups in some areas and the Report proposes that some playgroups will need to move to independent status or close.

This is in line with the indications given by the Council last December (see here).The Branch has sent out a Briefing to all our Playgroup members to advise them of the situation and what will happen next.

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair, said, "We appreciate that this is a worrying time for members and we are here to support you and to give advice. As you would expect, we will be working with the council to make sure that all your rights are respected and the proper procedures are followed.

"We would emphasise however, that even if you are one of the employees affected, there will be no change to your employment until the end of the school year in June."

Sarah Duncan, Regional Organiser added, "UNISON does have concerns about the proposals for some Playgroups to move to independent status, as the financial support for that is limited and it is likely that Playgroups will need additional sources of income.

"We would advise members to think very carefully and seek advice before agreeing to transfer their employment to independent organisations."

UNISON will be meeting again with Council representatives once a series of council meetings with playgroup staff has been completed, and we will keep members updated with any developments.

If you have any comments or queries, please email Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair or telephone 01224 620624 and leave a message.


Dec 2009
UNISON secures council pledge to consult staff and unions in Playgroups review

UNISON along with GMB and Unite met with Rod Stone, Head of Service for Lifelong Learning and Leisure, and Anne Simpson, CLD manager on 20th Nov 2009, to discuss the implications of the forthcoming review for playgroup staff.

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair, who attended the meeting said, "This meeting came about as a result of the concerns of UNISON members who are playgroup staff, that changes were being proposed for playgroups without proper consultation. UNISON took these concerns up with the council and as a result, a meeting was convened to explain the position. The council assured the trade unions that the review will follow proper procedures and there will be full consultation. They pledged that no decisions or action will be taken on the future of playgroups until the review has been completed."


Reasons for review
In a letter to all playgroup staff, Anne Simpson, CLD manager has explained that the review has come about because there have been significant changes agreed by the government in recent years to the provision that local authorities must make for pre-school education. The Education, Learning & Leisure Committee agreed that a review of Early Years Provision in Aberdeenshire should be undertaken in order to ensure that the council provides both the number of places required and that provision meets the necessary standards.

One of the aims of the review is to adopt a more integrated approach to Early Years provision within the Education Learning and Leisure Service which will involve transferring the responsibility for playgroups currently managed through Community Learning and Development to an integrated Early Years Service. The council expects the review to be completed by the summer of 2010. Until the review reports, there will be no changes to the current playgroup provision.

The first part of the review will examine the number of early years places that need to be provided in each Community School Network and the level of provision that is required to offer a place to all those parents who wish one. Work on this is underway. This will allow the Education, Learning & Leisure Service to plan more effectively and efficiently to meet the requirement by Scottish Government to provide quality early years places for all 3-5 year olds.

The letter makes clear that through the review the council will ensure that pre-school education is provided for all three to five year olds and for younger children with special needs. Financial support will be provided by the Aberdeenshire Childcare Partnership with supplementary funding coming from Surestart for those with special needs.


Implications for staff - UNISON will support members
It warns, however, that this funding is finite so the council will not be able to fund places which exceed the required provision. This is likely to have implications for a number of playgroups that currently operate under the auspices of Community Learning and Development but, until the review is at a more advanced stage, it is not possible to say which playgroups will be affected, and no changes will be implemented until the review is completed.

However, it is likely that the review will have implications for some playgroups and some staff. The service has pledged to follow Council procedures in relation to any staff who might be affected by the outcome of this review and UNISON will continue to support any members affected.

UNISON will continue to meet with the other trade unions and management as the review progresses to discuss the implications for staff in each network and will ennsure members are kept informed and consulted as appropriate.

Anne Simpson and Glenda Gray from Human Resources will be arranging to meet with each Playgroup and its staff in the New Year to discuss the situation. Parents will also be given information about this review and why it is being undertaken and given an assurance that places will be provided to all who are entitled to them.

In concluding her letter to playgroup staff, Anne Simpson says "I am sure you will appreciate the necessity of carrying out the review but I understand that you may have concerns about how you will be affected by it. Please be assured that no decisions or action will be taken on the future of the Playgroups or the staff until the review has been completed."