The director of education in Perth and Kinross is urging the Government to make councils responsible for the quality of pre-school education as well as the funding. This would effectively give councils the whip hand over the private and voluntary sectors.
Bob McKay said: "If local authorities are to be the gatekeepers for funding and provision of places, then they should also be the gatekeepers of quality. "
Perth and Kinross is providing nursery places for 78 per cent of children for whom vouchers have been issued this year. "Since quality assurance is gradually being embedded by education authorities and endorsed by HMI," Mr McKay said, "it makes sense to apply these mechanisms to the pre-school sector in its entirety, particularly since most of the provision is based in schools anyway."
His call is likely to receive a chilly response from the private sector which wants more freedom over funding after the voucher scheme is axed at the end of the session. The Scottish Independent Nurseries Association, representing 120 nurseries, fears the extension of pre-school education could be "arbitrarily applied at the discretion of local authorities".
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, announced last month that councils are to take the lead in providing and co-ordinating nursery education, recognising that collaboration with the private sector and playgroups was essential to fill gaps and offer choice.
Mr Wilson gave an assurance that HMI would assure standards in the non-council sectors. But Mr McKay suggests that "the current checks done by HMI are at best basic". He warned that if councils are not allowed to take on the quality role, complaints about standards "should be directed to HMI and not to the local authority".
Perth and Kinross has 83 pupils registered for whom vouchers have not been claimed, leaving a shortfall of Pounds 91,300.