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A pilot scheme of establishing nursery schools in village halls in rural west Berkshire is attracting widespread in...
A pilot scheme of establishing nursery schools in village halls in rural west Berkshire is attracting widespread interest from around the country as councils prepare for the introduction of nursery vouchers, reports BBC's Farming Today programme.

Nursery education in rural areas is already a headache for parents, with places hard to find, and as vouchers become generally available local authorities say it will be expensive to provide pre-school places in country areas.

Berkshire CC has started a pilot scheme to put nursery schools in village halls in the Berkshire Downs. It is being seen as a model for the future.

Compton Village Hall is used for activities ranging from amateur dramatics to local elections. It is also a nursery school, accredited by the Pre-school Learning Alliance. In rural west Berkshire it is one of the few options available.

Alice Morris, chairman of the playgroup, said: 'Private nurseries would cost about£70 to£90 a week. The nearest one is almost probably six miles away and lots of people aren't mobile.

'And, of course, being in a rural community the majority of them couldn't afford it so the children wouldn't have any kind of pre-school education'.

Officers from other parts of the country are looking at the downlands play groups to see if they can serve as a model. Jonathan Townes, from Norfolk CC, said local authorities cannot afford to put a nursery school in every village.

He commented: 'It is clear that to provide nursery classes in every part of a very rural area is not realistic or feasible in the short or medium term or, I suspect, in the long term. We have to provide other ways of providing high quality pre-school education'.

In rural areas like the Berkshire downlands public transport is very limited and parents without a car are at a disadvantage.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance trains parents and staff to provide the equivalent of nursery education. Helen McMullen, from Berkshire CC, said the scheme keeps children in their own communities, adding: 'That's the whole purpose of the project: to look at alternative ways of providing good quality pre-school education for young children within their own community when a nursery school or nursery class is not a viable proposition'.

Mr Townes added: 'I certainly think this is a way forward and it is a route we're trying to go down in Norfolk. The early indications are very positive. It may be that with vouchers and, perhaps, some other funding, similar schemes could be encouraged in other areas'.

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