Liz Truss, British Education Minister, is urging local authorities in England to offer childcare for toddlers at local schools. The government is in the process of allowing schools to take in younger children. However, early years groups say this is an attempt to provide cheaper childcare. Ministers say they hope the move will open up childcare places in areas where there is population pressure. This comes as local authorities attempt to fulfill a pledge made by the government to offer free childcare to more than 100,000 disadvantaged two year-olds.
The free childcare places can be in nurseries, preschools, or by child minders. Mrs. Truss stresses that she wants to see the childcare centers be “age appropriate”.
“What you are doing with two-year-olds in terms of singing, reading stories, playing with paint is very different from what you do with a seven-year-old. If you have a really high-quality school nursery, children who are behind can catch up with their peers by the time they start school.”
BBC News reports that the Department of Education has plans to pilot this in 49 primary schools. Each was given £10,000 to offer childcare and education for two year-olds. They are also pushing legislation through the Parliament that will end the minimum space requirements and the need for onsite nurseries to register and be inspected by Ofsted.
Neil Leitch, from the Preschool Learning Alliance says that the government was aware there was not enough places to offer free preschool and nurseries, and that this is “just an attempt to get cheap childcare”. He continued by saying, “There isn’t enough investment in the offer and not enough people are altering buildings to take on more children at the right time.”
Chief executive of 4children, Anne Longfield welcomed the plans for more flexibility but cautioned that the need for two year-old care is different from what is provided for older peers in school, “Two year-olds need high levels of support and care to help them learn and develop from skilled staff who can give the specialist support they need.”
Chair of Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Councillor David Simmonds, says that the council wants to ensure parents know that their children have access to a good school, in order to do that resources need to be prioritized.
“Many councils already encourage schools to provide a wraparound service outside school hours, including homework clubs and breakfast clubs. It will be helpful for mums and dads if they can access such services at the school another of their children is already at. The funding and types of activity will rest with schools and councils will be looking for a solution that works for them.”
The number of facilities for disadvantaged children is expected to be 260,000 by next September.