Dick Staite, headteacher at Beeslack High in Penicuik, Midlothian, said that I should tell you about Twinkles. All of my secondary headteacher colleagues will confirm that I usually do exactly what they advise. So Twinkles it is this week.
About three years ago it came to my notice that there was more than a little money around to support childcare projects. Queensferry Primary had lost two good teachers as they set off to find posts nearer to home and to grandparents. Each had had a second child and childcare had become more difficult for them. When the school's very good depute headteacher was expecting her first child, the idea of a work-place creche, on site, took on an immediacy and so this innovative project began.
We wanted to be inclusive in the broadest sense. We were aware of a few families of children in school who could have benefited from such a facility were it available to them.
With the help of our local newspaper, we tested the market to gauge interest from the community and discovered that there was a great need for an under-threes centre which could offer affordable, high quality childcare. Various agencies were also interested in the possibility of referring families to such a centre when need arose.
This enterprise had to be self-financing by the end of its first year. Initially support came from the council's childcare budget to the tune of a pound;17,000 start-up fund. An additional pound;15,000 was put aside as a safety net in case salaries for the creche's staff could not be met.
This was like a fairy tale Christmas present. We found ourselves researching the best provision we could find for pound;17,000. Staffing under-threes provision is expensive, with ratios of 1:3 for the youngest children and 1:5 for two and three-year-olds. However, staff were employed, resources were purchased, two rooms in the school were redecorated as never before and soon Baby Mozart (the CD, video and DVD are a gentle introduction to the maestro) was soothing our troubled minds.
In spite of opening the creche, named Twinkles, with more staff than children and the need to build up numbers - at the start a few older children took advantage of the 8am-9am and 3pm-5.45pm sessions to give higher attendance - we finished the year solvent and moved confidently into a second year, celebrating with a party for the children and their parents.
Next we look forward to inspection by the Care Commission and are busy with policy writing to underpin our activities with a quality assurance framework.
From a 50-week provision for babies to three-year-olds, families can move their children to the nursery for three to five-year-old provision.
Wraparound care, a free half-day place and the chance to purchase extra childcare hours gives the possibility of 8am-5.45pm provision. I am pleased to say that no one takes up all that but many take up hours to suit their needs.
This combination of education and care in a one-stop shop is the way our educational system has moved over recent years. I had the privilege of visiting Montoir, near Nantes, in France, a couple of years ago. The nursery and primary schools there are partners of ours through the European Comenius project, and I saw quite a different picture of education and care on that visit.
The headteacher rolled up metal shutters in the classrooms and walked to unlock the gates just as school was due to start. At lunchtime there was no lunch duty for headteachers or school staff. The pupils walked to a lunchroom in the grounds where a separate staff served lunches and supervised the children. The school staff also ate there, as did any other town employees who wished to. The youngest, the older pupils and the adults had separate and very attractive dining rooms. (the food was out of this world, but that will be the topic of a future article.) Another team of staff covered playground duty.
On a grim day my mind occasionally drifts to that very calm scene. Perhaps I should try playing the Baby Mozart CD in the school dining room during the next wet lunchtime.
Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary, EdinburghIf you would like to comment, e-mail email@example.comNext week: John Mitchell, head of Kilsyth Academy, North Lanarkshire