Dangers in voucher scheme

10th January 1997 at 00:00
After the pilot that never was, the nursery voucher scheme will operate countrywide from April. The scheme has always been sold on slogans like "money will follow the child" and "a free parental choice to purchase education". What was offered was a voucher for Pounds 1,100 to enable a parent to buy into local authority nursery provision or into a locally-provided private sector nursery class. In view of the fact that the voucher probably does not cover the full cost of a nursery place, the scheme's main advantage seemed to be the subsidy it represented to those able to use private provision.

In circumstances where separate nursery provision is not possible, mainly in sparsely-populated rural areas, some primary schools are organising early admission into reception classes. While not ideal this may be the only possibility.

It now appears that it is permissible for local authorities accepting vouchers for such admissions to top slice the value of the voucher by more than 90 per cent. The school is thus likely to receive only Pounds 50 to Pounds 100 in these circumstances as a contribution to the marginal cost involved in accepting and educating the pupil.

As well as being contrary to the publicly stated intention of the voucher scheme this practice will set a dangerous precedent for the general funding of schools and colleges. They may well find in the future that some of their pupils who are above some magic number on roll or number in class are funded on a marginal cost basis.

JOHN JENNINGS Brougham Penrith Cumbria.

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