Votes for vouchers row

7th February 1997 at 00:00
The Government does "not bind itself to the dogma of whether someone is qualified as a teacher", Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, insisted on Monday as he defended standards in the nursery voucher pilot schemes.

"What matters is the quality of children's learning, first, last and always, " the minister stated as he came under attack from Opposition MPs at the Scottish Grand Committee for launching a publicity blitz on nursery vouchers costing Pounds 860,000. George Robertson, Labour's Scottish leader, said it was little more than "a crude election bribe" and promised to abolish vouchers.

Parents of all four-year-olds are being advised to apply for vouchers as part of a national scheme planned to start in August, although ministers admit it will only be "over time" that parents are offered a place. The Education Minister has, however, claimed that 90 per cent of parents will benefit if the Conservatives win the election.

Mr Robertson described the vouchers as "a triumph" and the system as "well planned, well structured and soundly based". Some 97 per cent of eligible parents in the four pilot areas had taken up vouchers and had shown they were not "gormless" as Labour had suggested. Administrative costs were less than Pounds 10 a child. But Mr Robertson said around Pounds 30 million was being injected into nursery education through vouchers.

A woman in the gallery, however, chided the minister before being removed. "You are a sick man from a sick party. I know the name of a good psychiatrist, " she shouted.

At a press conference later to launch the publicity drive, Mr Robertson rejected criticism by John Travers, director of education in North Ayrshire, who has described the voucher system his council is piloting as "confusing, bureaucratic and unnecessary". Mr Travers said it took no account of capital start-up costs and the problems of rural areas.

Mr Robertson preferred to quote Val MacIver, education convener in Highland, who said the pilot scheme there was "simple" to operate. Mrs MacIver, quoted in The TES Scotland last November, also stated it had cost Highland Pounds 80,000 for which no Scottish Office funding had been received. Administrative costs could be prohibitive for rural areas, she warned. Mr Robertson made no mention of this.

Mrs MacIver's comments, not quoted in full, were: "The administration of the vouchers is simple but the uncertainty of the market and costs of administration would lead us to favour direct funding of nursery provision. "

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today