Day Nurseries

Day nurseries come under the jurisdiction of the Social Services Department and provide full day care for children whose mothers work or for other social need reasons. The staff does not necessarily include a trained nursery teacher although some authorities are experimenting with day nurseries closely allied with nursery schools. The activities there may provide for play needs but on the whole this has to take second place to the health needs of children. The age range will be from a few months old to three to five years. Fees are charged on a sliding scale according to the income of parents. There are nothing like enough day nurseries to provide places for all the children who need them and many may be understaffed. Hours are from 8 or 8.30 a.m. To 5 or 5.30 p.m. Although the children do not necessarily stay for the whole of that period.

Private nursery groups which are not subsidized either fully or partially by the State (except that some are registered as a charity and may receive grants from various sources) offer other opportunities for children to play together regularly on an organized basis. The word ‘Playgroup’ can mean anything, as indeed can ‘nursery school’ or ‘kindergarten’. Some truly are ‘private’, being owned by one person or perhaps several people and are not necessarily any the worse for that. Some are com-munity-sponsored groups where parents take upon themselves the functions of local education authority, Board of Managers, sometimes act as staff and quite often undertake the duties of caretaker as well. These parents are responsible for hiring premises, engaging staff, providing equipment, providing money and managing the necessary income and outgoings of the group. The administration of these groups may well be placed in the hands of an elected committee. Such committees may be simply responsible for carrying out policy decided on by the total group of parents or they may both formulate and carry out policy.

There are rules and regulations for such groups which arise from the 1948 Day Nurseries and Child Minders Act (amended in 1968) and administered by the Departments of Social Services at local authority level. These regulations are so widely and variously interpreted however that an area on one side of a main road can have very different playgroups from those on the opposite side. The regulations are mainly concerned with the suitability of premises, number of children and ratio of staff to children, although there are some stipulations regarding the suitability of staff. In fact it is the premises that are registered although a titular owner or responsible person is recorded. There are no regulations concerning what is done within the group or what should be provided for the children – this is hardly surprising since in 1948 there were no such things as playgroups – but some local authorities sensibly make fairly firm suggestions in this direction.

It is a sweeping generalization but reasonably fair to say that in areas which already had a tradition of private education, particularly in the younger age-range sector, one will usually find the private playgroups. The community-sponsored groups seemed to start where there were no private kindergartens and where the few and far between nursery schools had impossibly long waiting lists. As the playgroup idea spread, indeed mushroomed, the new ones tended to model themselves on those nearest to them which had proved viable and so produced yet more of the same type.