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Nursery partnership row spills over into Falkirk

THE rumbles of discontent over local authority attitudes to pre-school partnerships rolled into Falkirk this week.

The council is proposing to buy in only 60 pre-school places for three-year-olds and four-year-olds next session from independent nurseries and playgroups, and has riled the nurseries by demanding detailed documentation they say it is unwilling to provide for local authority schools.

Mairi Maciver-Clark, central Scotland convener of the Scottish Independent Nurseries' Association, complained of an "unworkable fait accompli". The target of 60 places had been imposed without negotiation, Mrs Maciver-Clark said.

Nigel Fletcher, head of policy planning and quality assurance with Falkirk's education department, counters that the numbers were based on a survey of parental demand and an analysis of where available places were.

But SINA, which represents half of the 10 non-council nurseries in Falkirk, said opinions were sampled at times when many parents were out working.

Mr Fletcher also disputes Mrs Maciver-Clark's right to comment on arrangements in Falkirk, saying her own nursery is in the Stirling area and that she does not sit on the Falkirk pre-school partnership forum.

He says some of the concerns were addressed at the last partnership meeting. "The amount of detail which they were asked to supply in policy papers, for example, would already have had to be provided for HMI when the centres were registering for the former nursery voucher scheme," Mr Fletcher said.

Joyce Waddell, manager of the Scottish Pre-school Play Association in the Forth and Clyde Valley, says the association is happy with the council's position.

There has been repeated criticism of what the private sector and playgroups claim is the lip-service paid by local authorities to full-hearted partnership. The Scottish Office named six backsliding authorities in January, but the most serious consequence came last month when the SPPA announced that nearly half of its core staff faced redundancy.

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