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Survey ofvoucher parents put on ice

Among the hordes of pollsters straining every sinew for the next three weeks, one team will be absent. Stirling University has had to suspend its nursery vouchers survey of 1,000 parents because of the election campaign.

The Scottish Office, which commissioned the research led by Sally Brown, deputy principal at Stirling, has brought the survey to a halt. It will be completed after the election but, because of the delay, Professor Brown has asked for an extra month's grant.

The research, of which the parental survey is only part, is evaluating the pilot vouchers scheme operating in four areas of the country. The final report was due in August when the scheme goes nationwide. But the future of vouchers and the purpose to which the research would be put will depend on the outcome of the election. Labour is pledged to scrap the scheme.

Professor Brown said that the survey included "general interest questions" that would be valid even without vouchers. These include an attempt to elicit how much parents would be prepared to spend on pre-school education and how they view the choice among council, voluntary and private providers.

But if Labour wins Professor Brown will ask the Scottish Office: "Do they want us to forget it or to analyse comments on the scheme?" In an earlier part of the research pre-school providers and a number of parents were interviewed. Presenting the conclusions at a seminar in February, Professor Brown said that only a small minority of parents approved of vouchers in principle. The Pounds 1,100 with which a pre-school place was "bought" was welcome, but there was little interest in the mechanics of vouchers or any alternative system.

Similar findings emerged from evaluation of the scheme in North Ayrshire, one of the pilot areas. A report stated: "Parents have some difficulty in separating their dislike of the vouchers and their approval of the provision itself."

There was concern, especially among headteachers, about the bureaucracy involved. Parents had a voucher for each day of the week, and they all had to be signed twice, by the parent and a teacher. In an 80-place nursery, 2, 400 signatures were needed annually.

Aberdeen meanwhile is to consider setting up a helpline to deal with what education leaders believe is public confusion over nursery education, which could be exacerbated if there is a change of government.

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