In 2007 when the new SNP/Lib Dem Council proposed to close city centre nursery schools there was an outcry. The Council was forced to withdraw the proposals, but quietly reduced the power of head teachers to manage their schools.
The ability to accept children was centralised making it possible for the Council to reduce the numbers of children in nursery schools even where there was a demand for places. When these closures were mooted one of my main worries was that there would be a reduction in full time places for children.
Unfortunately my fears have been realised. In the week when my former Scottish Parliament colleague Susan Deacon has published a report emphasising the importance of early years, the Council are closing nursery schools and reducing access to high quality education for children who particularly need it.
Parents will either be forced to use private nursery schools or miss out if they cannot afford it. Children whose parents are on low incomes will be particularly badly hit. The city centre nurseries play a special role as they enable people who live locally, students and people who work in the city centre access to high quality to nursery education. We’ll lose the social mix that benefited children and the social justice benefits brought by high quality early years education.
The HMI report on the Council’s proposals to close High School Yards nursery expose the weaknesses in the Council’s case. For example the Council criticises the quality of the playground at High School Yards, but the school that children will be transferred to, Royal Mile Nursery will not represent an improvement. Moreover the parents and teachers had done an excellent job making the most its urban setting using eco school’s principles.
I wrote to the Council in December to air my objections and I was interested in reading the report on my Labour colleague Councillor Andrew Burns Really Bad Blog this weekend to see that my representations were not posted. The protesters I spoke to on Saturday were also annoyed that their names had been omitted on the Council’s website too.
I’m now worried that the Council’s strategy is to close nurseries by stealth one or two at a time. Westfield Court, a very popular nursery in Gorgie is being closed on “safety” grounds as it is on the top floor of Westfield Court – where it has successfully operated for over 50 years. Other nursery schools are now nervous as the Council has the power to limit the entry of children to nursery schools and then declare that they are no longer viable.