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Don't send playgroup children to school;Letter

MISLEADING figures are being banded about regarding the numbers of playgroups closing. Government quotes 100, but this is for the year to March 1998 and does not reflect the size of the problem as experienced by Playgroup Network.

As indicated in education minister Margaret Hodge's letter (TES, April 23), the Government is sufficiently concerned to be making pound;0.5 million available for playgroups threatened with closure.

While welcoming this initiative, Playgroup Network does not see one-off injections of cash as the solution.

The minimum wage is here to stay and the Working Family Tax Credit will be of minimal benefit to playgroups, the majority of which run sessions of two to three hours only.

Playgroups are short of children as well as money due to the increasing intake of ever-younger children into school nurseries and receptions classes.

Playgroups offer a high ratio of staff to children, flexible part-time provision, a high level of parental involvement and an informal, but structured learning through play approach, all of which best meet the needs of many children.

However, families still feel that they should take up a school place if offered. A radical approach that required children to be of compulsory school age before starting reception class (bringing us more in line with good practice in Europe), would help to reverse this trend.

Additionally, if the "registration, regulation and inspection of early-years education and day care'' offers an opportunity forthe Government to improve adult-child ratios in schools that would also be of benefit to playgroups.

Putting pressure on playgroups to alter the type of education they offer, shows a lack of appreciation of its unique value and ensure that it is unavailable in the future.

Tessa Drury Chair Playgroup Network PO Box 23 Whitley Bay Tyne and Wear

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