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Mood is against children centres

Education chiefs last week set their face against extending stand-alone children's centres to Scotland, as one expert called for an end to "apartheid" in the service.

Neil McKechnie, a senior education officer in West Dunbartonshire, said the Scottish approach of integrated community schools offered a better way of developing children's services than the centres being introduced in England. Mr McKechnie was supported by Richard Barron, deputy director of education in Glasgow.

They were speaking at a Glasgow conference organised by Children in Scotland whose chief executive, Bronwen Cohen, spoke of the "apartheid and stigmatisation" from having different services used by children of working parents and by those in need.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, announced in his spending review in July that he was earmarking pound;100 million to build new children's centres "in every constituency" which would bring the total to 2,500 by 2008.

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has distanced himself from the plan and said the Scottish Executive, whose spending review is due to be unveiled next month, would look at other options (TESS, last week).

Mr McConnell's scepticism now appears to be echoed in the education community. Mr McKechnie said: "In Scotland, because of the substantial development of integrated community schools, a better move would be to resource these services and base them in school catchment areas and clusters and integrate services more. This would be a better step towards universality than the provision of discrete centres."

Mr Barron told the conference that the city's learning communities approach represented another mechanism to link early learning centres with schools.

Dr Cohen said that community schools also provide an opportunity to end the "apartheid" she referred to, creating universal provision. "We need to see that the 0-5 period of children's lives is the first stage of education in the same way that it is seen in Sweden, Spain and other countries and fund it as well as they fund it."

The conference heard a plea for a "yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum on the proposed changes to the European Union constitution because it would provide a more systematic and coherent approach to children's issues.

David Martin, Scotland's most senior member of the European Parliament, said the draft treaty has the potential to provide a basis for legislation specifically directed at children, as opposed to the present situation where issues dealing with children have to be linked to topics such as employment or maternity and paternity rights.

Dr Cohen described the draft treaty as a way of bringing children into the EU by "the front door" as opposed to the back door approach of addressing children's issues indirectly.

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