Half private nurseries failing to make the grade, say inspectors

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The Independent Online
Nearly half private and voluntary nurseries fail to reach government standards in some way, says an inspectors' report published yesterday.

The findings of the first official audit of private nurseries provoked a political row, with Labour asking why only two private nurseries had been refused money under the Government's nursery voucher scheme when weaknesses had been found in so many.

But Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, said she was delighted that most nurseries and playgroups were offering high-quality education. All parents of four-year-olds will shortly receive pounds 1,100 vouchers.

The report from the Office for Standards in Education says that such weaknesses are widespread and that 45 per cent of the 329 private nurseries and playgroups need to be re-inspected within one or two years.

To receive voucher money nurseries have to meet government standards in maths, literacy, personal and social development, knowledge and understanding of the world, creative development and physical development.

Day nurseries and small playgroups had the most difficulty meeting the standards though the best of them managed to do so.

One in four of the nurseries inspected had weaknesses in maths and one in five in literacy. Sixty per cent had weaknesses in "knowledge and understanding of the world", which includes geography, history and science.

Margaret Hodge, Labour's nursery spokeswoman said: "This is an appalling record. If these were primary schools, ministers would be pointing to worrying failings. Public money is being wasted on low-quality nursery places."

Mrs Shephard said: "We now have evidence that schools, nurseries and playgroups are effectively helping children to meet their key learning goals. Where provision falls below the standards expected, I will not hesitate to remove a provider from the scheme."

By contrast, according to the report, a small sample of state-school reception classes with four-year-olds all came up to scratch. Inspectors looked at 28 such classes. All met the scheme's goals, but the inspectors worried that the needs of four-year-olds in some classes were not being met, particularly where they were being taught alongside older children.

The report found that all types of institution were capable of reaching the standards required. Good teaching was found in staff with a variety of qualifications, including parents trained to run playgroups.

The problem, say the inspectors, lies in giving staff the training to fulfil the scheme's requirements.

Playgroups and private nurseries have complained that they are losing pupils as four-year-olds are crammed into reception classes by schools eager for voucher money.

Margaret Lochrie of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: "It is quite a positive result given that our pre-schools have had no funding at all until now. But how are pre-schools with weaknesses to get the resources they need to improve when ... four-year-olds are being poached by state- school reception classes?"

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