Another day, another development in the saga of nursery provision in the Isle of Man.
If you’ve read the previous two posts, you’ll know I think it’s been a mess ever since the Department of Education and Children rushed through its plan to cut its pre-school nursery provision
That crazy scheme was first revealed in February – it leaked out ahead of the Budget, in which you suspect it was hoped the proposal would not attract quite so dramatic headlines.
There was a fair old political ding dong as the ill thought-out proposals and the woefully inadequate support measures for parents were debated.
In mid-June, roughly six weeks from the end of the current school year, the DEC announced which private operators would be operating the state-run facilities.
We still didn’t know all the charges. We still didn’t know precisely what was on offer and where.
Just remember, this was with an eye on a September start.
In fairness to the operators, it’s not as if they’d had much time to prepare.
It’s been a rush for operators, I would imagine, in terms of recruitment and preparing a business plan, and for parents, who have been faced with making crucial decisions about their children’s futures without the normal amount of information you would expect.
Last Friday, on the final day of the school term, one operator informed parents who had registered to send their children to two nurseries that were previously run by the state – at Ballacottier and Manor Park schools – were set to remain closed come September due to a lack of uptake.
Today (five days later), plans were announced to open the nursery at Ballacottier for five morning and five afternoon sessions per week following the intervention of teachers who offered to work without pay to help boost numbers, while Manor Park will be open two afternoons per week.
Naturally, in between, no doubt a lot of parents have been contacting other private nursery providers to see what may be available.
Some will have acted quickly to secure some form of nursery provision and will now be frustrated to discover their first choice has become available once more.
Others will be left wondering just how many more changes will take place between now and September.
The cuts are wrong. The decision to implement them in time for this September is just plain stupid.
Pre-school nursery should be the first step your child takes in formal education. It really matters.
Yet it feels as though parents are almost being put into a position where they are ‘playing chicken’ over getting the right start for their children. Stick with what you have or hold out in the hope a more suitable offer materialises.
I don’t really hold anything against the private operators; I get the distinct impression they have been less than impressed about how the DEC has handled things
I am curious, however, as to what criteria the department applied to those applying to take on the nursery provision – were providers asked to show what research had been undertaken as to the viability of people paying for a provision that was previously free at that location? Or had the department itself bothered to find out?
Another error on the part of the DEC was the decision to include, in its rather pathetic voucher scheme to support parents, playgroup costs as well as nursery.
Playgroups are wonderful things, but they do not provide the same level of service as either a privately run nursery with or without a teacher or the previously operated teacher-led pre-school facilities.
Consequently they are cheaper. Not surprisingly, given the inadequate support offered, I think we’ll find that a significant number of parents will choose the cheaper option of playgroup rather than nursery.
I suspect, however, those responsible for the education cuts that have diminished the pre-school provision in the Isle of Man won’t be unhappy about the further blurring of lines between what is child care and what should be education.
The Isle of Man Government used to boast proudly of its aim of a ‘prosperous and caring society’. It’s starting to look as though it desires neither.