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RELUCTANT COUNCILS NOT HELPING PARENTS OR CHILDREN - ROBERTSON

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Councils which have rejected or have not yet taken up the government's initiative to expand pre-school provision ar...
Councils which have rejected or have not yet taken up the government's initiative to expand pre-school provision are helping neither parents nor children in their areas, Scottish education minister Raymond Robertson said today.

'We are currently consulting on our proposals for the expansion of pre-school provision in Scotland. What we want to secure is a Scottish scheme with arrangements which best meet the needs and circumstances of Scotland.'

The minister was responding to reports that a number of councils had indicated that they would not be seeking to participate in the pilot phase next year for the new voucher arrangements.

Revealing that eight councils have so far expressed an interest in the scheme at official level, Mr Robertson said:

'The consultation paper which we issued on August 15 invites councils to apply to participate in the piloting phase next year. So far, eight councils have expressed an interest at official level and I hope these councils will all now follow the initial contacts they have made in their formal responses to The Scottish Office.

'This is in every sense a real consultation and we shall take careful account of all the points put to us.

'It is important that all sides work together if we are to deliver the best possible scheme for Scotland. Councils, and others, have an opportunity to be involved in developing the new arrangements from the outset.

'That is what I seek, for the benefit of children and parents, and that is why we have invited councils to participate directly in the pilot phase.

'Those councils which have rejected our proposals, without even testing them, are helping no one, least of all those children and parents in their areas who may not be currently getting the provision they need. That sort of negative response is unhelpful to everyone and I am sure that parents in those areas will judge such actions accordingly.

'The consultation period ends on October 4. There is therefore still time for those who have set their face against expansion to reconsider. I urge them to do so.'

Mr Robertson also commented on the response to the consultation paper by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) who have criticised the voucher approach. The minister said:

'I have not yet seen the SPTC's response so it is difficult to comment directly on the points it raises. What I can say, however, is that we have made available new money to expand pre-school education and to allow parents to choose for themselves the type of education they want for their children.

'If the SPTC are saying that parents don't want this, I am surprised. Do they really speak for all parents? Certainly, the extra money we are making available could be used elsewhere.

'However, I don't for a moment believe that parents are saying this. I think the SPTC has misunderstood our proposals. They should wait for the details of the scheme to be announced, which we will do after we have taken full account of all the responses made.'

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