Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A grand ambition...

Met yesterday with Reverend Jim Stewart of St James'.  Rev Stewart runs a pre-school nursery in his church hall. It's very popular and has no spare places. But it may well have to close sometime next year.

The Government has pledged that every child will be entitled to pre-school education. It's good for the child and good for single parents too, as it gives the freedom to work and, for some, escape the benefits cycle.

Pre- schools were originally paid by Government to provide twelve and a half hours a week. This was passed on to parents without charge, and most parents took this quota as five days of two and a half hours.  Great idea, but often the basic fee paid by Government often isn't enough to cover the costs.

Government - quite rightly - wouldn't allow providers to charge parents for this 'free' provision. However since parents often wanted more than just two and a half hours a day, many providers simply charged a higher fee for the extra hours to 'balance' the unrealistic fees they got from the state. And everyone was happy.

But because "rules is rules", providers were told they shouldn't do this.  What's more, local government have to enforce this legislation.  Providers either have to go totally private and charge their normal fees, or else cut their costs to make this "free provision" affordable - which most pre-schools, including Reverend Stewart's, can't do.

So St James' Pre-school will, for the time being, keep its costs artificially low by ploughing in savings. If the rules haven't changed by the time the savings run out, it will close its doors.

Government, meanwhile - although aware of the anomaly - remain unwilling to change the law. What's more, they're increasing the number of 'free' hours to fifteen in the new year, even suggesting that pre-schools might want to employ qualified teachers rather than qualified nannies.

Perhaps someone should start a school specialising in common sense for Government ministers...

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