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Stricken SPPA forced to axe staff

THE Scottish Pre-school Play Association will be forced to virtually halve its staffing after failing to persuade councils to fund places for three and four-year-olds. Redundancy notices have been issued to 32 part-time workers.

Martha Simpson, the association's chief executive, who has raised the issue with the Prime Minister, said 30 years' experience was at risk, despite Government assurances about partnership. "The richness of this tapestry is in danger of being lost and once so will not be re-created. We must not allow choices that are available to parents to be diminished," Mrs Simpson said.

She has written to Tony Blair reminding him of his commitment to look into the working of partnerships. He has not yet replied.

The SPPA argues there is considerable research to back its view that children do better if formal education starts later.

"There seems to be a healthy progression from toddler group where the parent is there, to playgroup where the parent is there sometimes, to nursery where the parent is rarely if ever there and into primary 1. This is not to deny choice to parents who want some other pattern, but the baby should not be thrown out with the bath water," Mrs Simpson said.

The SPPA argues that the advice and support its staff can offer is needed more than ever. However, the Scottish Office has not allocated extra funds for national umbrella agencies. "This is financially very short-sighted," Mrs Simpson said.

Mary Wales, development officer, said a number of effective partnerships had been established in rural areas, particularly Dumfries and Galloway and Argyll and Bute.

She also praised Stirling for commissioning places chosen by parents. It was a "useful attempt" to ensure funding follows the child and not the place.

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