Gloucestershire local education authority has little statutory nursery provision, but a long-standing policy of taking children into reception classes the September before their fifth birthday, so the post-voucher movement of four-year-olds experienced elsewhere has not been an issue.
Playgroups take children from the ages of two years and nine months to four, but they may have four-year-olds for just one term. There are 240 community playgroups in the county, attended by 68 per cent of the age group. They are all registered charities.
The Gloucestershire Playgroup and Toddler Association (PATA), to which all playgroups belong, was originally part of the Preschool Playgroups Association. PATA seceded from the parent body, before it altered its name to the Preschool Learning Alliance, to retain its autonomy.
Now PATA is funded by the local authority and social services under a joint agreement, which pays for part-time field-workers, who work closely with the authority's pre-school officers to link, train and advise.
Most playgroup leaders earn Pounds 12 a session, their assistants Pounds 8. They must as a minimum pass the PATA foundation course, which means one day a week at a local college for a year, with course fees probably paid by the playgroup. The next step is accreditation from the Open College network for a course underpinning NVQs.
Social services, under the Children Act, require a staff-child ratio not exceeding one adult to eight children in playgroups.
Playgroups are inspected annually under the Children Act, again by the local authority before grants are approved, and now by OFSTED.