Staff-pupil ratios hit private sector

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A private day nursery is threatening to take Norfolk County Council to court to loosen tough restrictions on staffing ratios to help it compete with schools for nursery vouchers.

The move by Rainbow Daycare nursery at North Walsham in Norfolk - one of four pilot authorities for vouchers - will further embarrass the Government a day after the scheme was criticised by the Tory-led Education and Employment Select Committee.

Private nurseries were among those expected to benefit from the vouchers, yet Rainbow claims it is losing out as schools "hoover up" four-year-olds. Its grievance, which it intends to take to the High Court, centres on a difference in the legal demands on private nurseries compared with schools over ratios of staff to children. While nurseries are obliged to allow no more than eight children to each adult, schools are exempt.

Most local authorities have changed primary admissions policies to admit four-year-olds to reception classes, where the pupil-teacher ratio may be as high as 30:1. Parents are opting for schools over nurseries out of fear that their child could otherwise be denied a place at their chosen school at five.