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Is preschool eduction in this country in crisis?

(24 Posts)
flack Tue 09-Jan-07 18:46:33

Is it just me that thinks so?

Was on committee for one preschool 2 years ago, am on committee for another this year. Have friends on other preschool committees, and... I get the impression that almost every committee anywhere is lurching from crisis to crisis. Staff are demoralised because committee is so bad at its job, staff often poorly managed, committee members hate the entire job and the chairpersons only change under threat of closure (at least once a year).

Was it always so or is it a recent thing? ?The result of the ever more stringent imposition of standards, policy writing, policy and procedure revision, ever changing rules about Health and Safety & CRB checks, etc. etc?

NorksBride Tue 09-Jan-07 23:03:19

I'm chair of a thriving pre-school. But it is a huge amount of work. Paperwork & fundraising are endless. I have something to do every single day. It's tough on the executive. I do have an excellent Treasurer but she's leaving this year. The other committee members are a mix of those that work really hard and those that just turn up for wine & dinners.

I am aware of some other local pre-schools struggling to stay open but that's partly to do with numbers being down this year (but apparently there are legions of 2yo's coming through later this year so they just need to hang on).

Some friends have had to stay on committees this year, even though their DCs have gone up to school, due to lack of interest from the current pre-school parents

I don't know if it's always been like this - I've only had DCs at pre-school for the last 3 years.

twinsetandpearls Tue 09-Jan-07 23:19:53

I was on the comittee of our pre school and such was the demand to get on the committee there was an election and the staff seem very happy working in their thriving pre school. And as far as I know there were no problems replacing us when our kids started school. I thought this was the one area of education that was notin crisis.

brimfull Tue 09-Jan-07 23:25:02

I am the chairperson of a preschool committee,we are not lurching from one crisis to another.Actually it is running very smoothly at the thanks to me I might add but due to a fab treasurer and committee member who did all the organising last yr,the chairperson last yr was quite useless apparently.Hope I don't turn out to be useless

handlemecarefully Tue 09-Jan-07 23:49:40

Our Pre School is very successful.

However...I am the Chair - I didn't want to be and still don't want to be. I very much feel that the role was dumped on me and I am obligated to continue. Of course it is difficult to find a Chair - lots of work for no income ...and it is mums of small children (i.e those who really don't have any spare time) who are required to take it on

I shall resign from the role as soon as decently possible (but since I have only been doing it for around 5 months that won't be for a while yet)

flack Wed 10-Jan-07 12:59:54

How do you define a "thriving" or "successful" preschool?

zubb Wed 10-Jan-07 13:13:01

one with low staff turnover, motivated staff who are given training opportunites, are full or nearly full, are financially healthy, and one that children and parents aer happy with.
If the committees you mention hate doing it then I'm not surprised that the staff are demoralised. I don't agree that the list you gave in the OP is any reason for committees to be bad - CRB checks for staff are now easier as they have moved from Ofsted, although the committee members still go through them - but even then it is just up to the secretary to make a couple of phone calls if things need chasing. policies should be written by the supervisor / staff and just approved by the committee.

throckenholt Wed 10-Jan-07 13:13:17

Our preschool is running well, and I was chair for a while (until I resigned). Again I never wanted to be chair, did it because no-one else would.

Generally I feel 2 things.

1. preschools should not be education per se - but a fun safe social activity for children - I think Ofsted has become too involved and there is too much curriculum.

2. I think it is too big a responsibility to rely on untrained volunteers - as chair I had to deal with CRB, employment of staff - any number of issues that I had no idea about. I think they should be run by the local authority and the staff in particular should be employed by people who actually know and understand employment law, security of contracts etc.

beckybrastraps Wed 10-Jan-07 13:13:59

Our bisiness is successful, but due mostly I think to the efforts of our very experienced playleader and having a proper accountant as treasurer for the last couple of years. I'm sure there are parents who have run very successful businesses, who know their way around a payroll, understand how to write a contract for a casual staff member, how to negotiate leases and understand trusts and goodness knows what else, but in our village, they are not the ones who put themselves forward. The staff have to put up with a constantly changing committee, who, just as they have got the hang of things, are replaced by another bunch of know-nothings. The sums of money - public money - involved are quite significant. I do not feel prepared to run a business. But I do, because the people who have more skills than I did not volunteer. I don't care about the bureaucracy and the form filling. I was a teacher - that I can do. But it is too steep a learning curve for me to be confident that I will do a good job.

beckybrastraps Wed 10-Jan-07 13:14:32


throckenholt Wed 10-Jan-07 13:27:23

that is it - when you get the right combination it can run really well - but you cannot rely on getting that combination of people or keeping it. It is not fair on the staff and puts the whole exercise in jepardy - and in the end it is the kids who miss out if the thing folds.

I also think it is wrong that a bunch of well meaning volunteers can be held financially responsible if things go wrong. And when you are employing others it seems wrong that amateurs can be responsible for their training/discipline/pay etc.

LizP Wed 10-Jan-07 13:39:20

I'm another chair here and I would say our preschool is thriving based on zubbs description. Must say I have a very good committee and staff which makes it much easier, but I would rather not be chair (haven't had a child in the preschool apart from for one term and this is my third year!). Whenever things like payroll / admin seem to be getting on top of committee members I suggest we contact out the work (and up the fees), I think having this as an option makes people feel less pressured and we have never had to do it.

beckybrastraps Wed 10-Jan-07 13:46:25

It wouldn't make me feel less pressured. It would make me feel horribly guilty. We actually have contracted out payroll this year, and have not had to raise the fees thank God, but if we did it would be a huge issue for some parents. And I would feel very bad about it.

pageturner Wed 10-Jan-07 14:06:18

I agree entirely with throckenholt. I did five years on our committee (3 as treasurer, 1 as secretary). When the people are good and proactive it all runs well, but I am dismayed at the huge demands made on pre-schools in terms of standards, curriculum and general bureaucracy. Demands that have to be met by untrained, unpaid volunteers and it takes hours.

Personally, I think the whole structure is insane. People only stay on the committee for a year, in general, certainly as an officer, which means every autumn we have to scrabble around for a new committee and (understandably) it takes them half the year to get to grips with the job properly, by which time they're starting to think about looking for replacements. And all the time the paperwork demands on committee and staff just continue to mount up, making it an even less attractive option to take on.

For the first time, we have decided to pay someone a few hours for some of the admin work (she is the previous very-efficient chair), but tbh we can't really afford it and she does a lot more hours than she's paid for because she still has a child at the pre-school. She's also frustrated because the new committee aren't really getting on top of the workload and things aren't getting done, so she feels she's seeing some of her hard work going down the pan. I had exactly the same experience when I gave up being treasurer: me replacement completely stuffed it up. So discouraging.

I think the whole system needs a complete overhaul: if the government want professional standards they need to fund it properly and provide training and support.

Don't get me wrong: on the whole I've loved our pre-school and my children have had a good experience there (only just-under two terms to go!), but that's down the staff's resilience under pressure. The whole organisational structure is pants.

There, I feel better for getting all that off my chest!

zubb Wed 10-Jan-07 14:47:31

Ah, that may be the difference then as we have quite a stable committee as well. I have been secretary for 3 years now, and although the chair has changed recently the vice-chair has been there 4 years. The chair and vice-chair no longer have children at the pre-school which I think helps as they can deal with issues more impartially.
Committee members do change, but they tend to be there for 2 years at a time - we get them as soon as they start! People work to their strengths and we use the pre-school learning alliance a lot for all the forms / guidelines and talk a lot to the early years team at the council. If we are unsure about things we can usually find someone who knows the answer!

pageturner Wed 10-Jan-07 14:52:29

I'm glad to see that other people have more positive experiences. As I said, I did five years, but I'm in the minority!

handlemecarefully Wed 10-Jan-07 17:25:32

"I also think it is wrong that a bunch of well meaning volunteers can be held financially responsible if things go wrong."

I had heard something like this before throckenholt...would you mind spelling it out for me in a bit more detail as it may expedite my resignation decision!

redshoes Wed 10-Jan-07 18:53:08

If you look at the Charity Commission Website, the new Act allows Trustees (committee members) to fully insure themselves against liability (providing they acted honestly and reasonably). This should comfort trustees, but I do agree it is an onerous task. I am Chair, was Treasurer last year, didn't want to be Chair but no-one else would do it. Our pre-school is v. popular and financially secure. I work every day for no money. BUT I enjoy being part of it, I have a great committee this year and the staff are great too.

coppertop Wed 10-Jan-07 18:56:42

Does the financial liability issue only apply if your pre-school is registered as a charity? Ours isn't because you need a certain number of trustees and we can't get anyone to join the committee.

Orinoco Wed 10-Jan-07 22:15:22

Message withdrawn

throckenholt Thu 11-Jan-07 08:44:02

well you are employing people so you have to comply with employment law - even if you are totally unaware of what that law might be. You are responsible for spending other peoples money - much of it coming via government funding for over 3s. You are responsible for crb checks, employing staff, health and safety, insurance etc etc etc - all of which you may know nothing about - and you may be taking over form others who knew nothing about it either - so you can't necessarily rely on just carrying on doing what was done before.

I think it was fine when it was just a bunch of mothers providing a play environment for their kids - but once it got the stage of ofsted involvement and people paying to go, employing staff etc - it seems to me to be beyond the volunteer stage and needs some professional backbone and some long term continuity of management.

I had to employ staff, and do staff appraisals among many other - and I have no experience at all in personnel issues - I felt very uncomfortable doing it and really felt that the staff involved deserved a better deal. They also had no security of contracts because funding for the whole thing is so short term.

Frankly it amazes me so many preschools survive so well - purely down to the dedication of the staff (who are usually paid a pittance) and a small number of willing volunteers.

I honestly think the whole thing should be run more professionally by the local authority and with more secure and maybe bigger (certainly in staff costs) budgets.

throckenholt Thu 11-Jan-07 08:49:04

meant to add - my understanding is that if the thing goes bankrupt then the committee is financially liable. That is one of the issues that really concerned me and I felt that no-one on the committee really understood that - and we had very poor mechanisms in place for dealing with such an eventuality.

And the preschool I was involved with was a well established one - one of the oldest in the area - so you would have thought those sorts of issues would have been put in place a long time ago.

My concern is people take over and just do what was done in the past - with no-one ever understanding or even realising if they are not doing things they should be doing. All fine and dandy as long as nothing goes wrong. But it really doesn't seem to fair if it all goes wrong and the current committee have to face the consequences.

pageturner Thu 11-Jan-07 12:11:45

Agree with throckenholt.

On the liability issue, my understanding was that we had liability insurance under our PLA policy. Not sure if that would apply if your policy was with someone else.

seurat Thu 28-Jul-11 23:01:41

Have been a treasurer for over 10 years and have awards for my work, just been hung by a new zealous teacher chairman who has brought in county buisiness advisors. Have run with great playleader in this pre school for ages and have taken it from almost closure to a massive fund even with investing in staff and new equipment. With the help of a team of loyal staff have completely turned it around and secured it for the future. Not enough for a small stepford wife committee have hung me out to dry and I have resigned. Next project never with a committee or voulnteer. In the long run everyone wants chaos. I am an ex Financial director. what a mess. I feel so sorry for the future of all children in the community, not just the current committe kids

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