Linda Blackburne talks to the woman who threw the pre-prep school movement into chaos.
Paddy Holmes, the headteacher who said two-year-olds left in nurseries all day were being treated no better than animals, was standing by her words this week despite resigning as chairman of the Independent Schools Association Incorporated.
Mrs Holmes, head of Ditcham Park independent school in Hampshire and a former teacher trainer, caused a national furore last week when she criticised the many parents who left their two-year-olds in the association's nurseries from 8am to 6pm 45 to 48 weeks a year.
Her comments have angered colleagues within the prep-school movement who are believed to have forced her resignation.
While recognising that many parents either have to or wish to work full-time, she believes the political parties, in collaboration with industry, should prepare legislation for a national policy on the care and education of the very young. This is essential, she says, if the country is to avoid producing a generation of "maladjusted" children.
She also believes that many children who spend so long in the nursery are out of touch with reality because they no longer do errands with their parents.
"We have many children who never, never, never handle money," says Mrs Holmes. "This is partly the business of plastic cards but it is also because many parents find it easier not to take the children into the local shop with them."
However, Mrs Holmes, who received 40 messages of support including eight from heads, thinks she was right to resign as ISAI chairman. She denied she was "pushed" but did say she was "helped" to make the decision.
Her original comments were made at a press conference to launch the Independent Schools Information Service's annual census, which shows that 4,584 two-year-olds were in school this year, a 27 per cent rise on last year.
Mrs Holmes, 56, who chose not to have children of her own but has stepchildren and grandchildren, says: "I have not got into trouble with the general public. I have had no animosity from them at all. This is alarming. Unless the Government takes action, they will not reflect what most people want."
But she says: "It has to be right for the association, and for me to resign. A number of our schools offer education to two-year-olds from 8am to 6pm. I used an opportunity when I was representing the association to make what was not an association policy statement.
Her successor as chairman is Bryan Maybee, headteacher of The Mount School, Bromsgrove, who said of Mrs Holmes's decision: "She has acted honourably and promptly and, as far as I personally am concerned, my high regard for her has not been at all diminished."