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Pilot council says vouchers will fail

Labour-controlled North Ayrshire Council has defended its decision to join three other Scottish authorities in piloting the Government's controversial nursery vouchers.

John Travers, the council's education director, claims the pilot will double the number of nursery places and spotlight the wasteful bureaucracy of the scheme.

Mr Travers spoke out after the council's education committee approved plans to provide an extra 600 nursery places by August at a cost of Pounds 670,000, giving half of North Ayrshire's under-fives a part-time place. "The question is not, do people like having nursery places. The question is do they really want to go through the bureaucracy of nursery vouchers in order to get them, " he said.

Mr Travers also hopes the pilot will demonstrate that providing a place for every three and four-year-old is not possible unless the Government provides funding to cover set-up costs. North Ayrshire has been able to expand provision by using surplus primary classrooms.

The current scheme, which will give communities like Largs, Fairlie, Skelmorlie and the island of Cumbrae provision for the first time, will lead to an extra 38 jobs for teachers and nursery nurses.

The committee, which met on Tuesday, also agreed to alter nursery admission criteria inherited from Strathclyde Region.

Councillors agreed to change the former system of "banding" children in order of need in an effort to broaden opportunities for all pre-fives. Parents had complained that the bands were "actively disadvantageous" to children who are not in a priority category.

Decisions on admissions for children regarded as suffering "family stress" will now be made by doctors and social workers, relieving pressure on headteachers from parents.

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