LETTER: Halving the value of playgroups

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From Ms Viv Robson

Sir: Wendy Berliner writes that costs are low in pre-schools ("Playgroups threaten to quit nursery voucher plan", 14 July). Yes, they are, and artificially so, for two reasons.

First, community groups were created by parents who felt that their children needed pre-school education and were unable to find nursery provision. They have always had to be cheap (in my area an average fee is around pounds 2 per session) - how else can one guarantee that all parents in the community can afford the fees? Sadly there are low-income families who cannot afford even these low fees and their children suffer the further deprivation of no pre-school education. Most pre-schools exist solely on the income from fees and fundraising, receiving no financial assistance from local authorities.

Second, staff are very poorly paid (under pounds 9 per session is an average wage for three-and-a-half hours of mentally and physically demanding work). This is a situation which cannot continue. The Children Act 1989 requires staff to be adequately trained, a minimum being a 200-hour course. Once trained, the staff are bound to feel underpaid and undervalued and move on to "proper" jobs. This, coupled with the financial pressures on so many women to return to work, means a constant need to find new staff and fund more training.

The voucher scheme is an opportunity to give pre-schools some of the recognition they need and deserve. What a pity that they appear to going to be treated as not worthy of decent wage levels and adequate resources by being offered only half the voucher value for playgroup places.

Yours faithfully,

Viv Robson

County Chair

Bedfordshire PreSchool

Learning Alliance

Pertenhall, Bedfordshire

15 July