So few fanfares after so many forms

19th April 1996 at 01:00
At 9am on Tuesday headteacher Tess Robson was still waiting for the last six vouchers for the 24 four-year-olds who attend the Tachbrook state nursery school in the London borough of Westminster.

It was the first day of term and the first day of the Government's nursery voucher pilot.

Three Tachbrook parents have still not received voucher application forms. One has received a duplicate even though she has not asked for one. One four-year-old has no voucher because he comes from a borough outside Westminster which is not in the pilot.

However, no Tachbrook parents had chosen to spend their vouchers at competing private nurseries, and no new parents had arrived clutching their piece of paper looking for a nursery place. It was, more or less, business as usual.

Tess Robson, who is vehemently against the scheme, said there were an estimated 1,500 four-year-olds without places in Westminster. She fears that the borough's three-year-olds, who are not eligible for vouchers under the Government scheme, may be sacrificed in the scrabble to find places for cash-bearing four-year-olds.

"As soon as I get someone saying: 'I've got a voucher, where's my place?' I'm going to send them to the Department for Education and Employment," she said.

None of the four authorities in the pilot - Norfolk, and the London boroughs of Westminster, Wandsworth, and Kensington and Chelsea - knew how successful the first week of the voucher scheme had been. They hope to collate facts and figures from schools soon.

One hundred miles away in Castle Acre, rural Norfolk, pre-school leader Jackie Steel said: "I have filled in so many forms, received so many leaflets, brochures, revised brochures and attended so many meetings about the vouchers that, quite frankly, I was disappointed when the first mum plus voucher crossed the threshold saying: 'Here you are, you might as well have these now.' "What a let down! Where were the fanfares? Nothing has changed. This mum has no more choice - she has no transport to take her to any other pre-school."

Even at Wandle nursery in Wandsworth, visited this week by schools minister Robin Squire, headteacher Sue Alton said: "A lot of parents wonder why they need vouchers. Some of them threw their voucher application forms away with the rubbish. There was not enough information which was user-friendly and schools did not get enough information early enough."

However Sue Alton stressed: "September will be different. We will have learned from the pilot. This is something we have got to do; therefore let's give it a try and make it work and if we can't, we have to say professionally what is wrong and what is right with it and try to make it manageable."

Wandle was still waiting for five vouchers on Monday. Two are expected to arrive shortly and three belong to parents who will need help and support from the school.

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