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Private sector may hold key to success

Many councils will struggle to provide places for all four-year-olds by next August and may be tempted to work with the private sector to meet the Government's guarantee, the Educational Institute of Scotland has warned.

Fred Forrester, deputy general secretary, predicted the Government's consultation paper would be "fairly contentious" as it was laced with the philosophy of Helen Penn, Strathclyde's former head of pre-fives, who favoured an integrated service. She ran into EIS opposition.

Mr Forrester said the paper had "kind words" about the quality in the private sector and expressed concern that councils may not have the accommodation or ability to deliver the nursery guarantee without outside help.

"The whole thing has to be carefully monitored. Education is different from childcare, although we are not saying there is no overlap. There is an SCCC curriculum and teachers are the best people to deliver it. There is also the continuum between nursery education and the early years in primary," Mr Forrester said.

Sheila Cronin, head of community and special services in Renfrewshire, accepted it was a "tight timescale to get 100 per cent provision by August" but welcomed the general thrust. There was nothing unexpected.

In Dundee, which already meets the guarantee for four-year-olds, Barbara Hughes, education services manager, was equally positive about the document. "It raises the issues we've been concerned about. We have enough places, so partnership is likely to be about links between childcare and education and with the voluntary sector over places for three-year-olds," she said.

Ms Hughes noted the document touched on the qualifications of staff and plans to integrate services. The city was already piloting extended hours at three nurseries.

Linda Kinney, head of children's services in Stirling, described the plans as "quite forward looking".

They recognised the complex issues in the early years, involving different agencies, provision and ways of working. The extended role for the HMI was "challenging".

Liz Gallacher, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Independent Nurseries Association, welcomed the acknowledgement of the private sector's contribution but feared parents who currently benefit from the Pounds 1,100 vouchers may lose out in areas of high provision. In some places, working parents had no option apart from the private sector.

"We believe all parents should be able to access pre-school education without charge and regardless which provider they use and where they live," Mrs Gallacher stated.

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