The educational impact of Labour’s proposed nursery cuts
Nothing has fundamentally changed since the cut from full to part time nursery provision was initially proposed by the Labour Cabinet last year. That decision was of course overturned following a judicial review and it appears that Officers have merely indulged in a tick box exercise to try and ensure that there is enough flesh on the bones of the new report to try and satisfy the requirements of the legal system.
We therefore see reference to childcare audits and a specific recommendation from the Education Director which says that because England now have a set minimum level of 15hrs a week that must be good enough for RCT.
The Director's alleged "detailed assessment" of what he considers is a sufficient amount of nursery education that "would ensure the Council continues to meet its statutory obligations as to the provision of sufficient nursery education for RCT" seems far from that. Apart from stating that the Welsh Government has not even looked at the issue in fifteen years and that the UK Government have and as a result have made better minimum provision, there appears little reasoning behind his assessment.
The report which went to Cabinet states
"Ultimately what is "sufficient" nursery education for this Council's area is a matter of judgement for the Cabinet, based on what it considers the benefits of any particular amount of education and the particular educational needs of children of the County Borough to be."
It is obvious from recent statistics presented to the Cabinet and Council that educational achievement in RCT is lagging behind that in the majority of other areas in Wales. If the argument is that there has been no benefit at all from full time, teacher - led education then there are serious questions to be asked as to why it has been allowed to continue for so long in RCT. Surely it is not only now when money is a problem that this should have been looked at? This would appear to evidence the fact that the cuts are financially and not educationally motivated.
We have heard the argument time and again that it is quality not quantity that counts, but if the Officer and Cabinet are claiming the quality is poor then it needs to be addressed for part time provision too. And how much more would our children benefit if we had both quality and quantity of provision to offer?
RCT Welsh Liberal Democrats argue that just because the proposed new provision will still be above the statutory minimum in Wales does not make it fair. We are used to a provision that is far greater and it is unreasonable to take away something that has been part of this area's education base for many years without a great deal more research and consideration. Such a move would also require far greater notice and more in depth review of childcare provision.
We are one of the most deprived areas in Wales, with poorer health, education and employment outcomes than most. Figures show that more people in Wales have no recognised qualifications than in England and Scotland, and within Wales there are stark differences in the qualification levels of residents in different counties.
In the Vale of Glamorgan 42% of adults are educated to degree level or above and only 7% have no qualifications. In Rhondda Cynon Taf and Neath Port Talbot that number rises to 15%. It means people are less likely to find a job and the cycle of deprivation continues.
It is ludicrous that against this backdrop Rhondda Cynon Taff Labour Councillors are even thinking of reducing the educational provision for nursery age children.
Nursery education addresses not only an educational but in many cases a social need. Many three year olds do not get help at home with basics - their parents do not or can not read with them, or sing them nursery rhymes, or teach them colours. They come to school with no social skills and there are any number of issues to be addressed before they are ready to progress to more structured teaching in KS1