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Dismay over nursery closures

On behalf of the Child's Curriculum group, I write to express my shock and dismay at Edinburgh City Council's decision to close High School Yards and Princess Elizabeth nurseries.

Against advice from parents and experts in child development and early education, the council has argued that "these schools are not providing enough places" and that they need to get "value for every penny we spend".

We believe that if allocation of places had been handled differently, by allowing parents to top up their child's place from part-time to full-time and in some cases to buy in to wrap-around care, for example, schools could have been full to capacity. This appears not to have happened in recent years, even though schools had the space and staff to make this offer. In its consultation report, the council claimed insufficient demand.

Edinburgh City Council has ignored powerful research evidence that small standalone services, working closely with the local families and community, give the best start for under-fives and yield success in later schooling.

Professor Susan Deacon's recent report to the Scottish Government, "Joining the Dots", found that the practice and experience of nursery schools such as Princess Elizabeth and High School Yards are now more valuable than ever to our local communities, our city and to Scotland.

The council's decision suggests it knows the price of early education, but not its value. On the same day that education leader Marilyne Maclaren described the two nurseries as "a luxury we cannot afford", an Edinburgh advert appeared, seeking a head of support to children and young people - with a salary of pound;97,782.

We appeal to the wider early education constituency across Scotland to fight any further threat to the sector in Edinburgh and beyond.

Aline-Wendy Dunlop, Emeritus Professor, Strathclyde University, on behalf of the Child's Curriculum group on the lack of evidence in r.e.

"R.E. is the subject which takes human thinking as far as it goes. That's why the brain nips when you wonder what went on at the start of the universe - no subject makes that demand." So says a principal teacher of R.E. following the publication of the recent paper "Does Religious Education Work?"

Science teachers must be wondering what they have been doing with their time. One of their hardest tasks is to help pupils understand that no issue should be accepted as fact, unless it is supported by evidence, that it is OK to think for themselves.

So inured are they by years of R.E. - "Never mind why; it just is" is what I was told when I queried the idea that all the old gods of Greek and Roman legend were false but the Christian one was real - that this is hard for pupils to master. Curriculum for Excellence has moved the emphasis from rote learning to thinking for oneself, as the Scottish philosopher David Hume encouraged us to do. Let us by all means teach children about the religions of the world and their effect on our culture and heritage, but let us also be truthful and explain that the evidence to support one tenet of any of them is non-existent.

Clare Marsh, Education Officer, Humanist Society Scotland.

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