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'We should be putting children first';Early years

"IT'S a continual fight to stay open," says Denise Pinney, head of Allsorts Pre-school in Weymouth, Dorset.

The school, based in a rural town which relies mainly on tourism, opened 10 years ago. Most of the families are single parents on low incomes.

Allsorts has 60 children on roll, opens five mornings and two afternoons a week. All seven staff hold an NNEB, NVQ or diploma in pre-school practice, and the pre-school takes work placements from the local comprehensive school.

Allsorts children had fed into nine local primary schools, but their admission policy changed in September 1997, following the introduction of nursery vouchers.

Three of the primary schools have attached nursery units and, says Denise, increasingly put four-year-olds in reception classes in order to make room for three-year-olds in the nursery.

She says: "Ministers deny it, but the schools admit it. You can't blame them. They need the money as much as we do. But we shouldn't be fighting over the same limited budget. We should all be putting parents and children first."

The way in which funding for four-year-olds is distributed means that the pre-school receives virtually no money between September and December. "For three months of the year we are either supposed to close or lower our standards," says Denise.

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