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The forgotten children of Forgotten Valley – Wisemans’ only pre-school closes

Feb 1, 2022


Wisemans Ferry residents with young children are battling to get their one and only pre-school reopened after Peppercorn – which was running the mobile pre-schools both there and for South Maroota – withdrew their support.


Peppercorn says it cannot get the staff for the pre-school in order to reach government staffing requirements.


In a letter to parents just before Christmas, Peppercorn’s Manager, Children & Families, said, “Despite efforts to recruit, deploy casual support and engage agency staff, we have not been able to fulfil the regulatory requirements to be able to operate and the service has run at a significant financial loss.”


The pre-school did not reopen at the start of Term 3, “as our staffing model did not meet the regulations pertaining to the Early Childhood Teacher and Diploma Qualified Educator ration requirements”, said the letter to parents.


“Having explored all avenues including staffing agencies, we were left with no option other than to temporarily close the preschool until such time we were able to appoint the necessary qualified educators to provide education and care according to the regulations,” she said.


The school has not re-opened. Both Hawkesbury Council and the Department of Education were notified about the situation back in July.


Since then, Peppercorn says they have been trying to get a waiver so they could reopen, despite not fulfilling all the government requirements, but that hasn’t happened either.


For residents of the area often referred to by locals as the Forgotten Valley, with young children, the loss of the pre-school is a major blow.


Families who now have no pre-school at all in the area got together in late January and set-up the Forgotten Valley Pre-School and Family Care Projects Committee.


Twelve families came along to the first meeting, as did Wisemans Ferry Public School Principal Mrs Deirdre Dorbis and pre-school-trained Kelsey Ramm who has been tasked with getting numbers of potential pre-school attendees.


Jan Westlake who had grandchildren at the pre-school is on the steering committee of the new organisation, and says the move by Peppercorn is not good news.


“It is terribly disappointing that the Wisemans Ferry pre-school, in an area disadvantaged by fires, floods, and geographical and COVID isolation, would be closed permanently, and it happened during the COVID lockdown,” said Mrs Westlake.


“We are encouraging everyone to write to their local MPs to request support. It’s difficult because Wisemans Ferry is on the borders of Hornsby, Hawkesbury, and Baulkham Hills councils, and also on the borders of State and Federal seats, so it is difficult to get anyone to take responsibility,” she says.

One avenue the group is pinning its hopes on is the announcement just before Christmas about the new National Preschool Reform Agreement between the Federal government and the states – NSW is its first signatory – which “ensures every child will receive high-quality education in the year before school, regardless of where they live or their background,” said the NSW government in December.


Then Acting Federal Minister for Education and Youth, Stuart Robert, said the agreement would ensure children in NSW had access to quality preschool options and were better prepared for their first year of school.


“It will help every child in NSW – about 400,000 children over four years – have the opportunity to attend at least 15 hours of preschool a week in the year before they start school,” said the Minister.


“This funding agreement provides certainty to parents, educators and the sector throughout NSW,” Mr Robert said.


But there is no certainty at all for the folks at Wisemans Ferry. They have no pre-school and at the moment nothing is on the horizon.


“I am a grandmother to two 18-month-old twins,” Mrs Westlake says.


“Their dad, our son Joel, lives at Wisemans Ferry and he chose the location due to the fact that it was close to the pre-school. So now he too is very sad about the closure.”


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