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Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 23:12 GMT 00:12 UK
Funding mix-up hits pre-schools
vorda pre-school
Vorda Pre-School has saved to build a new room
Parents of three year olds have been told that money they were promised for pre-school places is not now available.

Families in the Swindon area had been told they could get government funding for two pre-school sessions a week for three-year-old children from next September, as the area moved towards the national target of places for all by 2004.

But the local early years partnership says the Department for Education (DfEE) has ruled that it cannot do this.

The good news is that more four year olds than expected will get funding.

"On 2 April, a DfEE decision was received that only packages of five sessions should be offered and that the minister was adamant on this," said the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership.

'Acted in good faith'

The partnership's manager, Claire Smith, said it would not have enough places available to provide five free sessions - so the department's "all or nothing" ruling meant it would not be offering any three year olds places except for those with particular disadvantages.

"Parents obviously are concerned and we understand that it will cause difficulty for some and for some pre-schools," she said.

girl doing jigsaw
Summer-born four year olds will benefit
"We acted in good faith and all we can do is to say that we understand people are disappointed."

Ms Smith was unable to say how many children might be affected. There are about 600 three year olds in the area.

Vorda Pre-School in Highworth, near Swindon, had offered places to about a dozen - in part taking advantage of a new classroom it has just opened after managing to raise 10,000 to convert a storeroom.

Summer birthdays

"Some of the parents have said they will keep the places anyway. They know it wasn't our fault," said the supervisor, Catherine Albert.

The silver lining is that the offer of free places for four year olds will now take in those with birthdays in the summer term.

"It means that children who would not have been funded until after Christmas will now get it in September," Ms Albert said.

Vorda's expansion illustrates the pressure on places.

Rising demand

"Demand was so high our waiting list was almost a year long," said Vicki Midwinter, one of the 10 staff.

So the decision was taken to convert a storeroom into a second classroom.

The annual "sponsored bounce" pulled in a lot of the money - with the children aiming to do 100 bounces each on an inflatable castle.

The pre-school - run as a charity - did have room for about 80 children but will now be able to cater for about 120 a week during school terms.

"Without the extra room we wouldn't have been able to offer the places," Vicki Midwinter said.

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