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Caithness News Bulletins March 2006

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14 March 06

A senior Highland Councillor highlighted the Council's commitment to meeting the aspirations of parents, who want day care alongside pre-school education provided in the one centre.

Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of the Highland Joint Committee on Children and Young People, told Committee members that the Council should set a target of August 2008 to implement a strategy that would serve the Highlands well for years to come.

The principles that the strategy would found upon were: -

  • Providing quality services in a mix of local authority, voluntary sector and private sector services;
  • Focusing the planning and delivery of early years services around primary schools, retaining their vibrant and viable position in communities.
  • Recognising that a ~one size fits all~ is never applicable in Highland due to the diverse nature of our communities.

Councillor Davidson said that the Council had pledged in October 2005 to provide clarity for parents about provision before enrolment began for the next school year. Since then, local consultations had taken place about a number of services across the authority and a settled position for the new school year from August had now been reached.

Clear guidance could therefore be given to parents ~ ahead of the enrolment for the 2006-7 session taking place in the week beginning 20 March ~ that they should be confident about the services that would be available to them in the new school year. Apart from any unexpected local circumstances that might arise, elected members in Area meetings had confirmed what services would be commissioned in the new school year, and no further changes were envisaged before August 2006.

Mrs Davidson confirmed that the Council commissioned services from 244 centres in the Highlands -  60 more than the total number of primary schools.

Given falling numbers of pre-school children and the subsequent reduction in Government funding, as well as the growing demand for day care to complement early learning, the Council needed to devise future services in a sustainable and in a fit for purpose fashion.

She said: "The rapid development of Early Years Services across Highland has been a significant success story. However, pragmatic and rapid decisions were made to get services established quickly. The provision that developed does not always meet the needs expressed by families, and there are major issues about ensuring that these services are sustainable into the future.

"I fully appreciate the importance of early years services and it is so important that we take our time, consult widely with parents and interested community representatives, and design services that best meet the needs of local communities and offer the very best value.

"I estimate that our review of early years services is likely to take a further two years to complete and that is why we need to say to our communities that, by and large, the status quo remains until the review is complete. So come the week beginning 20 March parents have the guarantee of knowing there will be continuity of service."