Herts County Council is to seek further clarification from the Government on an issue which has prompted angry protests from a Jewish nursery in Borehamwood.
Parents are to fight a new ruling by Herts council which they say could put Jewish nurseries' survival in the county at risk. They have been asking the council to review its rigid interpretation of a new Government Code of Practice which, from next April, prohibits the charging of any additional fees in relation to a funding scheme which entitles every three and four-year-old to 15 hours' free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year.
According to Rivka Bicks, who runs Little Bicks nursery at Ohr Yisrael Synagogue in Borehamwood, this means that neither she, nor Gilah, at Borehamwood Synagogue, or Bushey Ganim, at Bushey Synagogue, the other two Jewish nurseries in the county, will be able to charge extra fees to cover the costs of services unique to Jewish establishments, such as security.
Gilah head Susan Gray said. "We normally charge £115 per term towards the cost of a security man. If we aren't allowed to charge to cover this cost, where is the money to come from?"
Both Gilah and Little Bicks nurseries say that if they are prevented from recovering such costs from parents, they may be forced to opt out of the Nursery Education Grant scheme, thus depriving pupils of their entitlement to the 15 hours of free education.
Gilah is planning to convene a meeting of parents in January, but Mrs Bicks has already galvanised Little Bicks supporters into action. Following a parents' meeting last week, assistance is being sought from Hertsmere MP James Clappison and former Borehamwood minister Rabbi Alan Plancey, now a Herts councillor representing the ward in which both Gilah and Little Bicks are located.
Meanwhile, a petition is to be sent to the authority confirming that parents are happy to pay for security and asking them to re-evaluate their stance.
Before the Herts CC decision to seek further clarification on the issue from the Department for Education, a council spokesperson told the JC: "The council is working with nurseries to look at how they can comply with national criteria. In particular, we are considering the possible additional costs which faith provision may have while delivering early years provision and whether these costs are acceptable under the code."
In neighbouring Barnet, where Jewish nurseries are thicker on the ground, the local authority has adopted a more flexible approach to the code. A Barnet council spokesman said: "Additional services or hours that a childcare setting offers - over and above the weekly 15 hours of provision - shouldn't be a compulsory condition of free provision. The rates which childcare settings charge for additional services are a matter for them and shouldn't be dictated by local authorities."