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School's nursery wins recognition after 18-year fight

A NURSERY class which educated generations of children without ever having its existence recognised by the authorities has finally won an 18-year fight for state funding.

The early years unit at Heptonstall Junior and Infant School, 1,000 feet up in the Pennines, could now become a model for pre-school education in rural areas all over the country.

Parents helped to set up the unit in 1976 in the hope that it might bring new pupils to the school, which was facing possible closure after its numbers dwindled to about 25 children.

Over the years, numbers have grown steadily and the school now has 80 pupils and a secure future. But it was not until last week that Calderdale council in West Yorkshire formally recognised the existence of the nursery class.

Ironically, the Department for Education had to issue notices saying the school's character was about to be changed, when in fact it was to carry on doing what it had been doing for years. The funding formula for the area even had to be changed.

The project started out with a handful of children aged three to five, who were looked after by the reception class teacher. Funding, which has amounted to many thousands of pounds over the years, has been raised by parents and by diverting cash from other parts of the school budget.

A breakthrough in the campaign for state funding came two years ago when Calderdale agreed to finance a pilot project at the school in partnership with the Rural Development Commission, to see whether it could provide a model for nursery education in remote rural areas.

This allowed the school to employ a nursery nurse, who works alongside the reception class teacher and her 14 charges in the old head teacher's house attached to the school. Parents have converted the house for the purpose and have also built a play area for the children.

Local authority inspectors who visited the unit declared that it was working well and was providing an invaluable service to the community. Now Calderdale hopes to open similar nursery units in other parts of its area.

The school's chairman of governors, Mark Clyndes, said the authority was also talking to the Department for Education, which was making plans to expand nursery school provision. The Heptonstall model had the major advantage of being very cheap, costing well under pounds 20,000 a year.

'The local authority has talked to the department, and they have moved from the position where they were very negative to saying it worked quite well.

'There are few village schools that could not take on more children, and if you provide the right subjects and approach, you have a formula which works beautifully and which ought to be used all over the place.'

A spokesman for the Department for Education said it could not comment on individual cases, but it was talking to a number of different groups which provided education to the under-fives.