Leading article: Don't sacrifice our four-year-olds to an election pledge

DISTURBING NEWS from the Allsorts playgroup in Weymouth, Dorset. The supervisor, Denise Pinney, says that her playgroup is losing its four- year-olds to the local schools, which are introducing "pre-school" classes to capitalise on the Government's commitment to education for the under- fives, and the funding that goes with it. Nor is the Allsorts playgroup alone. The Pre-School Learning Alliance claims that as many as 1,700 playgroups are in jeopardy this year, and that a total of 6,000 could close by 2002 if ministers fail to take action. This represents a loss of about a third of the total number of such groups. It should not be dismissed as special pleading by nursery campaigners. It goes to the very heart of the whole issue of educational standards. The standard - and suitability - of pre- school education is one of the main determinants of a child's later educational achievement and thus its prospects in later life. It is crucial.

The minister responsible, Margaret Hodge, disputes the nursery lobby's figures but agrees that the situation is "worrying". So it is. Common sense suggests that not all four-year-olds are equally suited to going to school rather than to a playgroup. There is at least as wide a variety of social skills and abilities at that age as at any other. Curriculum- based learning does not suit all. The Government is keen to promote diversity in other stages of education, but there is a clear danger that there will be less choice available to parents of the very young. There are unwelcome signs that parents are being coerced into accepting a school's offer of a place at four years for their children as the surest way of securing entry to the primary school.

The introduction of the minimum wage is also a complicating factor. Playgroups are largely voluntary, but some do employ staff. It is right that those employees should receive a fair wage. But the price of that will be higher fees passed on to parents and the risk that playgroups will be restricted to the offspring of those on comfortable incomes. The notion of educational apartheid being implemented at such a young age is profoundly disturbing.

The Government's guarantee of places in education for all four-year-olds and for a doubling of places for three-year-olds (to 190,000 by 2002) is, of course, welcome and long overdue. But excessive concentration on a narrow performance target again jeopardises the real point of the Government's policy - to increase choice, encourage diversity and raise standards.

Mrs Hodge has pledged pounds 500,000 to "tide over" playgroups until the working families tax credit gives parents more money to spend on playgroup fees. There will be an independent inquiry. All welcome, but the Government should not mistake such moves for an effective policy. The playgroups deserve to be treated seriously.

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade