Catfield parents celebrate victory in pre-school campaign
18:07 08 August 2012
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012
Parents are celebrating victory in their battle for a new pre-school in Catfield near Stalham after an apparent change of heart by Norfolk County Council.
Villagers were last month told at an angry public meeting that the council’s director of children’s services Lisa Christensen had suggested in a letter to local MP Norman Lamb that the planned new provision at Catfield Primary School was a non-starter as it would have an adverse effect on other pre-schools in the area.
Local families feared that the council would therefore refuse to add the new pre-school to its approved directory of providers, an essential step for them to access government voucher funding.
However, following a meeting at County Hall attended by Mr Lamb, local district councillor Paul Williams, school head Mary Blackie and chairman of the governors Angie Johnson, the council has agreed to add the pre-school to its approved directory in time for it to open in September.
Villagers had expressed the view that without a pre-school feeding in youngsters, the primary school which had undergone a £1.8m revamp in recent years would struggle to survive.
And at the public meeting, it was highlighted how parents had been facing enormous difficulties taking children to other villages before work since the closure of Catfield Kittens pre-school earlier in the year.
Mrs Blackie had made the point that other pre-schools in the area were already at or near full capacity and they were proposing to link up with a childminder to provide 8am to 6.30pm childcare in Catfield, which was not available anywhere else locally.
Mr Lamb, who has supported the campaign from the outset, said he had taken advice from education minister Sarah Teather who had made it clear that the county council should add any pre-school to the directory if it met the quality threshold - its role should not be to plan things from County Hall.
He said: “This is a victory that puts parents in the driving seat with regard to where they choose to send their children.”
Mr Williams, who pledged to fight for a pre-school before his election in May, said: “This is brilliant news for families in Catfield.
“I believe strongly that children should be able to go to a pre-school and then a school in their own village wherever this is possible, and couldn’t understand the council’s objections.”
Mrs Johnson said: “We are delighted that Catfield will once again have a pre-school and thank Norman and Paul for supporting us throughout and the county council for reviewing our business plan and giving us the go ahead to put it into action.”
David Orsborne, head of integrated education advisory services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We are pleased to reach an agreement with the school and the community about the opening of this pre-school, and look forward to working with them to ensure it opens on time and provides a really good service to local children and their families.”
The school is now looking for children to start in September, the date now resting on Ofsted clearance. Anyone wishing to access it is asked to call the school on 01692-580568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org