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Parents disappointed by preschool programme rule change

Pilot programme: Warwick Preschool (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A single mother yesterday said she was “shocked and disappointed” after she found that her child could not be enrolled in a new Government-run preschool programme because of a policy change.

The mother said she applied in June for a place on the Bright Start programme but was not told that places would only be reserved for people who got child care allowance payments from the Department of Financial Assistance.

The woman and other parents who applied to give their three-year-olds a head-start through the programme will now have to put them in private preschools.

The mother, who asked not to be named, said: “It came as a complete shock and disappointment.

“I had hopes we could possibly get a place in the Early Start programme as my child met all the criteria that they asked for in June.

“However, I am not on financial assistance so I figure my child will have no place as that is now a requirement.”

The Department of Education said earlier this year it would expand its Bright Start programme for three-year-old children to four preschools for this school year.

But after applications were asked for, the process was put on hold “to review the online registration process requirements”.

It was later decided to give all of the places to the children of parents receiving child care allowances.

A government spokeswoman said: “With limited spaces in each programme, the successful implementation of this partnership has resulted in all four programmes being full.

“Parents who applied online for the programme are advised of the need to explore alternative options. Official notification will also be sent to all unsuccessful parents.”

The spokeswoman explained the decision was made after the Department of Education teamed up with the Department of Financial Assistance.

She said: “It has been determined that the three-year-old children of child care allowance clients will be placed in the Bright Start Programmes at the four designated preschools.

“The children selected for the Bright Start programme are presently enrolled in private nurseries and preschools across the island.

“As the enrolment for the Bright Start programme is limited, the impact on enrolment at these nurseries and preschools are minimal.”

The mother said that the government’s decision would cause her financial problems.

She added: “I still have a place at the current nursery my child is enrolled in – however, nursery fees are expensive.

“There are many single mothers who are doing it by themselves who do not qualify for financial assistance and were hoping to get their child a place in the early start programme.

“I am very disheartened that the government would make such a decision two weeks from the start of school.”

Another parent was in a similar position.

The parent said: “Myself, I’m sure like many others, have been reaching out to the department all the while, only to not receive the courtesy of an e-mail or call beforehand.

“I always knew it was a possibility that my child might not get accepted, so that isn’t my issue.

“It’s the lack of communication that has annoyed me. I am extremely annoyed. I was holding out hope.”

The parent, as a homeowner, is not eligible for financial aid.

The parent said: “I do have options for my child to attend somewhere in September, however financially I am strapped at the moment so it will be a struggle.”

The Bright Start programme was introduced as part of the Ministry of Education’s Plan 2022.

The plan expanded preschool spaces to include children aged 3.

The programme has been run as a pilot at Warwick Preschool for the last three years.

The spokeswoman said the Bright Start programme will be offered at four preschools – St David’s Preschool, Victor Scott Preschool, Southampton Preschool and Lagoon Park Preschool.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said: “Ensuring students have strong foundational skills is imperative to set them up for future success.”

He added: “Additionally, the Ministry of Education is pleased to partner with the Ministry of Labour for this inter-department initiative as this government remains committed to seeking ways to reduce public expenditure.”

Jason Hayward, the labour minister, added: “This is another example of how this government is providing further assistance for persons in need and in particular are targeting our young people who are our future."

The Department of Education was asked how many applications came in before the process was put on hold, if Warwick Preschool would continue with its pilot programme and how many places were available at the four preschools, but there was no reply by press time.

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Published August 26, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated August 26, 2021 at 7:59 am)

Parents disappointed by preschool programme rule change

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