Primaries could lose 30 per cent of funding

Linda Blackburne

Fifteen primary schools in Buckinghamshire have been warned they could lose at least 30 per cent of their money under the Government's pilot nursery voucher scheme, writes Linda Blackburne.

The county is one of only five authorities poised to take part in the pilot. But two High Wycombe primaries, Green Street and Marsh, would lose more than 50 per cent of their budgets, according to figures prepared by council officers. The budgets of the county's six nursery schools are also at risk.

Although no one knows how many parents would spend their Pounds 1,100 vouchers at these schools and nurseries, headteachers fear they would not recoup all the money that the Government will have clawed back from the LEA to fund the scheme. Many parents would simply spend their vouchers at the nearest school even if it meant their four-year-old would be in a primary reception class instead of a nursery class, they fear.

Buckinghamshire's chief education officer, Stephen Sharp, has called for further Government guidance and is seeking an assurance that reception classes would be told to use voucher income to bring their teacher:child ratios to the same level as nursery classes.

Mr Sharp, who would have preferred any Government nursery scheme to involve a development plan drawn up by LEAs, social services, playgroups and the private sector, said: "I am very concerned that schools with nursery classes and nursery schools could be exposed in the voucher scheme and we have pointed that out to the Government. I think it would be tragic if Government expansion led to an undermining of the existing good quality nursery education. I am sure they don't want that to happen. The question is can we avoid that or minimise that?"

As The TES went to press, Conservative-controlled Buckinghamshire's education committee was expected to accept a recommendation that the advantages of the county taking part in the voucher pilot outweighed the disadvantages. But the authority is still negotiating with the Government and has yet to consult governing bodies about vouchers.

It has calculated that if more than 60 per cent of the parents of four-year-olds spend their vouchers in Buckinghamshire schools, it would break even.

At one meeting the authority organised to explain the implications of the voucher scheme to primary heads, a straw poll showed that most teachers did not want the scheme to go ahead this year.

Richard Pickard, head of Langland combined school and nursery in Milton Keynes, spoke of "stunned silence" at the meeting he attended. Heads were amazed, he said, because the scheme would mean the end of nursery education as they knew it. His school is set to lose Pounds 101,475 (22 per cent) of its Pounds 452,974 budget.

Catherine Mostyn Scott, head of Newlyn Place county first school in Milton Keynes, said she had been "shocked" to hear that she would lose 45 per cent of her budget.

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