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BID FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW OF SCOTS NURSERY FUNDING

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A mother is taking legal action against Donald Dewar, the Scottish secretary, in a bid to close a legal loophole wh...
A mother is taking legal action against Donald Dewar, the Scottish secretary, in a bid to close a legal loophole which she claims can leave her and thousands of other penalised or forced to accpet a school place for children of only four years' old.

Scotland on Sunday (p9) reported that Mary Curruthers is one of a growing number of parents who have declined an offered school place for their children because they believe that, at four-and-a-half, their children are too young.

But after she turned down the offer for her son Kelly, she found that Perth and Kinross Council refused to pay£1,140 in allowances for a year in a private nursery. The council says Ms Curruthers had to pay the money herself or put Kelly into a council-run nursery.

She is now going to court for a judicial review to force the Scottish Office to fund the year.

The legislation on school entry - the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 - grants parent some leeway so children can start school at either four-and-a-half or five-and-a-half. The government abandoned a scheme which gave all children a pre-school year nursery vouture to be spent in private or council-run nurseries.

This was replaced by a commitment to provide a publically-funded place worth£1,140 at nurseries to be administered by councils.

Although the Scottish Office encouraged partnerships to be set up with private nurseries there was no obligation. But the Scottish Office has refused to fund pre-school education deferring entry to primary school. Although most councils in Scotland have agreed to fund the year, a significant number have not.

Janet Law, education convener of the council, says the authority is offering parents provision in public nurseries but is aware the rural nature of the country makes that option impractical for many parents.

'There are quite a few children in the area in this situation and we have had to take the view that we cannot help beyond offering a place in our nurseries,' she said.

The Scottish Office said it had originally believed the number of parents wanting to defer would be low and had made no funding provision as a result, leaving it to the local authorities to pick up the tab.

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