Nursery tales

18th April 1997 at 01:00
Michael Stoten wrote about the "real advantage of the (voucher) scheme" in The TES (March 12). It is regrettable that he refrained from outlining any one positive consequence he believes has arisen from the scheme within Kensington and Chelsea in the past year.

As a primary teacher in the borough, I have experienced only negative results of this scheme. In this I am not alone. The new director of education admitted recently that the scheme was a waste of time and money and had failed to produce any new nursery places.

The bureaucracy of the scheme baffled many parents who speak English as an additional language. The education department failed to produce adequate material in the appropriate community languages. This problem was compounded by the fact that some parents are not literate in their first language. Schools where there was a high percentage of parents for whom English is an additional language were among the schools with a low pick-up rate for vouchers.

Many parents are suspicious of official forms and expressed reservations about becoming involved in the scheme.

As teachers we were assured by the education authority that this scheme would involve no additional workload. This was not our experience. Teachers and administrators found they had to take time away from already busy schedules meeting the needs of their pupils to administer this scheme. Schools which had been unable to secure full return of the vouchers were asked by the authority to detail every conversation held, every letter sent and every meeting arranged in their efforts to redeem the vouchers. In one school in the borough this was followed up with a second letter which pointed out that "a low redemption rate . . . could lead to the LEA suffering a loss of income" and if this happened "resultant losses to the LEA (could) be recovered from an individual school's budget". After having received this letter, one nursery teacher was told that the nurser provision within the school could suffer if she was unsuccessful in redeeming enough vouchers.

Finally, a worrying trend has emerged within the borough concerning the admissions policy of some church and grant-maintained schools. They have been opening up reception classes to younger voucher-bearing nursery children in order to benefit from the money they bring with them. The authority has accepted that this actually threatens existing nursery provision within the borough, nursery provision which is specialised in meeting the needs of these younger children. I am left wondering how many new nursery places could have been created with the money which has been pumped into this ineffective and bureaucratic scheme.

JESS ANDERSON President Kensington and Chelsea Association of the NUT

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