SOME schools could face a shortage in new pupils and funding unless more children access their nursery services, town hall bosses were told.

A meeting of Oldham’s performance and value for money select committee examined the uptake of free early education entitlements for two, three and four-year-olds in the borough.

They found that of parents who access the 30 hours extended free childcare, the majority of children are in places facilitated by private, voluntary or independent providers.

This is attributed to the greater flexibility in the hours of these services to fit around the working schedules of parents and families.

However, the meeting was told it has had a knock on “detrimental” effect on school nursery numbers, with one school – identified by Councillor Dianne Williamson as Crompton Primary – deciding to close its nursery because its numbers were unsustainable.

But the council has secured a grant from the Department of Education which has gone towards supporting the school and helping it reassess its business model, which has “averted” the threat of closure.

Eleven other schools have also engaged with the programme to help them actively market their nurseries to local communities.

Jenny Dennis, who heads up the early entitlement team, told councillors that element had been ‘challenging’ for parents, local authorities, and nurseries.

She said: “It’s been a particular challenge for a lot of our schools to accommodate working parents. We have started to see that impact on our school nursery numbers and that is a concern for us.”

Cllr Jean Stretton asked: “Is there a financial impact on schools that are seeing a decline in nursery numbers?”

Ms Dennis said: “Schools were saying they tangibly didn’t have enough numbers to make it add up.

“I don’t think the impact to date has been that significant, it’s more what happens with the intake going forward.

“We actively went out and targeted the schools with the lowest numbers and said ‘come and learn about the 30 hours because it could have an impact on your school’.”

Throughout Oldham, 94 per cent of three and four-year-olds were recorded as accessing a funded early education place as of the start of 2018, ahead of the national average.

There are around 280 three-year-olds in Oldham not accessing their free entitlement, with the lowest uptake rates for places in Alexandra, Chadderton Central, Hollinwood and Saddleworth South wards.

Ms Dennis said: “That’s a challenge for us because we don’t want any children not accessing it. We want it to be 100 per cent.”

But she described the amount of uptake for two-year-olds as a “good news story”, with a 10 per cent improvement on last year, peaking at 91 per cent of youngsters.

“We are very pleased that we are above national average,” Ms Dennis added.

“It’s a testament to closer working with Positive Steps Oldham and the Bridgewater Trust and getting out and knocking on doors and encouraging, supporting, hand holding and doing everything we can to encourage children that most need to take up places and get into settings.

“It’s a positive picture, we are really, really proud that we are doing so well in terms of getting children in places.”