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Pilot play leaders working for free

Funding problems dog foundation stage trials. Glyn Bellis reports.

Playgroup supervisors running pilots of the new foundation stage for under-eights are not paying themselves because of funding problems in the pre-school sector.

Pay for playgroup carers was described as "appalling" by children's commissioner Peter Clarke at the Wales Pre-School Playgroups Association's (PPA) conference in Mold.

And Thomas Memery, the PPA's director, told delegates: "At least three supervisors attached to the foundation phase pilot stage groups can't afford to pay themselves a salary.

"We are talking about groups selected on the basis of the quality of the service provided. If we consider the exceptionally low level of pay within the childcare sector, this is outrageous."

He added: "Is it sensible that highly successful, voluntary-sector community groups, delivering quality provision, have to devote so much time to fundraising?"

The Wales PPA is worried that schools are receiving up to four times more cash than voluntary and community playgroups for the pilot programme to introduce a new play-based curriculum for three to seven-year-olds. The Welsh Assembly government's foundation phase is being tested by 41 schools and playgroups. Twelve of the 19 pre-school groups involved in the pilot project belong to the PPA.

The Assembly government has said schools are receiving more cash in order to increase staffing levels to the ratio of one adult to eight children already required in playgroups.

But Mr Clarke told the PPA conference he had concerns about how services for young children were being funded. He told the conference the Welsh Assembly had many policies for children that were exemplary and the best in Britain.

"But I do have great concerns about some of the funding streams for some of these most important services," he said.

"It isn't just in pre-school work, but in a number of areas where we have funding streams that last for one, two or three years.

"Children have just got to know the staff when suddenly they are off again and the project closes down. We have got to put this at the centre of the political agenda."

He added: "Every bit of research we know tells us it's so important what happens to children in the first few years of their life. Yet as a society, and not just in this country but across Europe, we pay people who work with children in those early years very low salaries indeed."

Mr Clarke also urged that "play stays as play". He said: "We mustn't extend education backwards and outwards so that we think two and three-year-olds need educating in the old formal sense of the word.

"I think there's something magical about play. I believe that what we should do is try and get more play into adult life rather than to try and get less play into children's lives. I really believe this very strongly.

"We also need to accept reasonable risk for children when they are playing.

I learned a lot of my hard lessons in life by grazing my knees occasionally.

I'm not suggesting we should be foolhardy, but we need to be real and give children and young people the chance to make mistakes they need to make in order to learn and survive in the adult world."

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