ANXIOUS parents waiting to hear whether their children could be starting school as young as three-and-a-half-years-old face a further wait as Powys County Council agreed to undertake further consultation.

Members of the council’s board agreed on Tuesday to take a report recommending that children start school at the start of the term in which they have their fourth birthday – instead of the term after – to a meeting of the Schools Forum before making their decision.

The proposals have come about following a significant reduction in the council’s budget for providing part-time education to children in the three terms following their third birthday. The funding has dropped from £1.8 million in 2007-08 to £800,000 for the current financial year.

The drop in Welsh Assembly funding means the council is unable to afford to fund the 10 free hours a week for children three and above for the whole year. Under these plans they would pay it for just two terms, and then move the children into a formal school setting.

Parents will still have the option of keeping their child in a pre-school setting up until their fifth birthday, but would have to pay the fees.

Cllr Les Davies described it as nearly heading into an apartheid for the children of the county.

“This is another one of those real tragedies that we keep running into because of the cut in our funding,” said Cllr Davies. “We are nearly heading into an apartheid for our children. There are some rural settings which will struggle to get enough children of three-years-old, even if that is the desired option of the parents.”

Cllr Geraint Hopkins echoed his concerns saying that while he understood they do not have the money to continue the current service, he was very unhappy about the situation. “This is going to disadvantage children, especially in rural settings,” he added.

Chairman of the board, Cllr Michael Jones, suggested councillors should write to the Welsh Local Government Association to highlight the effect that the cut in their budget is having on services.

“I think we should be writing to the WLGA and highlighting this,” he said.

The board’s report will now go to a special meeting of the Schools Forum before coming back to the board for a final decision.