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Choice comes expensive in P1

THE standards are high in pre-school centres, and rising. Whether that conclusion from HMI's registration inspections (page three) has led to the belief that some children are better off staying in nursery than rushing ahead to primary 1 is debatable. The number of nursery places now available, the state support for one or two years' education and a trend that becomes a fashion are more likely reasons.

The HMI findings are to be expected. Nurseries learn from experience and one another how to present themselves for inspection. Competition drives up standards. While it is no doubt true, as the report concludes, that local authority centres in general had higher standards than those in the voluntary and private sectors, the need to attract and retain parent custom is bound to be a spur to all.

Many parents voe with their feet, or rather they shuffle their feet in reluctance to send children to primary school too early. But the funding of pre-school years then becomes a challenge, and that is why an Executive committee is wrestling with it. A child who enters P1 automatically receives free education. A child who remains in nursery may have used up their allocation of state subsidy, and further help is at the discretion of the local authority. So deferred entry has become a tricky problem for both parents and providers.

Scotland appears determined not to follow the English pattern of having more than one entry date, and so a scheme ought to be feasible by which parents of children born in the first months of the year would have discretion, without financial penalty, about when to send them to "big" school.

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