Yes to integration

Bridgwater College in Somerset boasts one of seven national early years excellence centres launched by theGovernment two years ago.

The Bridgwater centre, which has a total of 60 places, caters for children of students, staff and the wider community. The youngsters range from four months to four and a half years old.

The shared nature of the centre means there are places for children of 17 staff and 24 students, but the nursery manager, Alison Oaten, is strongly in favour of integration. "The quality and diversity makes it very interesting. It's good for the families as well."

The centre receives pound;126,000 from the Department for Education and Employment over three years. Although places are subsidised, most parents are asked to make a reasonable contribution. Students pay pound;30 a week or pound;6 a day, whil employees are charged pound;60 or pound;70 a week (pound;13 or pound;15 a day) depending on their child's age.

"Free places get abused," says Ms Oaten. "Our fees are highly subsidised and the majority of students can afford to pay them."

To dissuade parents from using the centre solely as a cr che, children must attend at least two half-day sessions a week. Availability depends on the age of the child, as well as on whether they have an older brother or sister at the centre, or are referred by other agencies such as social services.

A third of places are reserved for children placed by Somerset county council.

"If a student has a child aged three or over, it's highly probable they will get a place," says Ms Oaten. "If they have a baby (aged under three), it could mean joining an 18-month waiting list."

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