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Rush to take up vouchers

The vast majority of parents of four-year-olds in North Ayrshire have applied for nursery vouchers. The education committee of the only Labour-controlled council taking part in the Scottish Office's pilot scheme was told on Tuesday that 1,559 applications have been received. There are an estimated 1,734 children in their pre-school year.

The pilot scheme, one of only four in Scotland, is being operated by Capita Managed Services, and all 28 local authority nursery schools and classes are registered. Some 1,200 places are available and by the end of last session 980 children had been registered Councillors were told that 33 voluntary and private pre-five groups have been approved as providers under the scheme and will provide 600 places. Some decided not to seek registration.

The island of Arran gives an example of how local authority and voluntary facilities are being provided. North Ayrshire is offering nursery education in Corrie, Kilmory, Shiskine and Pirnmill, while voluntary groups have registered in the larger centres: Brodick, Lamlash and Whiting Bay.

Twenty nursery nurses have been appointed from an application list of more than 250. Twelve nursery teachers have been identified from existing staff, with supply teachers covering their secondment. Tom Morris, who chairs the committee, said: "We are now seeing the fruits of all the hard work which has gone into this initiative in the last few months. We have moved North Ayrshire to the top of the league for nursery education."

Lesley Rowson, head of nursery education for the council, said headteachers had shown "great enthusiasm and hard work" in persuading parents to take up places.

The council has its own evaluation group, which has been joined by Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. North Ayrshire will also be studied by researchers from Stirling University, as part of the Scottish Office's national evaluation of the four pilots.

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