Labor plans expansion of public childcare sector in England to ease pressure on parents

Councils in England will be encouraged to open more high-quality maintained nurseries as part of ambitious Labor plans to transform childcare and ease pressure on struggling parents.

There are less than 400 public preschools across the country, which are considered the jewel in the crown of early childhood education, but have struggled to survive in the face of budget pressures.

Labor plans to expand the public childcare sector as part of wider plans to deliver an affordable, high-quality childcare system that better meets the needs of modern families and their working lives.

As concerns over the cost and availability of childcare grow, the Labor Party is working on an ‘expanded childcare offer’ ahead of the next election and says it would be one of the issues on the party’s pledge card.

This week, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson went to look at childcare and early childhood education in the Baltic state of Estonia, where all children are guaranteed a a place in state-run kindergartens from the age of 18 months until they go to school. to seven, and parents only pay €70 a month or less.

After announcing fully funded breakfast club plans for every primary school in England, Phillipson is keen to develop comprehensive care to extend the school day, and to that end has gone to some of the ‘leisure schools’ from Estonia – free after-school clubs that support children’s education and offer parents some flexibility if they have to work late.

“We need a system that better reflects the needs of modern families and the way they live their lives today,” she told the Guardian during her visit to Estonia. “I don’t think you can talk about growing your economy if you don’t have a child care system that supports parents.

“It is clear to me that we need to see a real transformation of the early learning and childcare available to parents, which is brought together in a system that provides continuous support from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school.

Basically, Labor is seeking to bridge the gap between the end of parental leave and the start of the 30 hours of free childcare, which kicks in for working parents once a child turns three. “For most families there is no support available, but most women want to be able to work when they have reached the end of their parental leave,” Phillipson said.

“More and more – and the figures confirm it – they are dropping out in greater numbers because there is no contribution from the government [during this time]. This must change. This will be a big priority for me. »

She said high-quality early childhood education was clearly beneficial for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but stressed that she wanted Labour’s offer “to benefit all parents, including many professional parents who find the cost crippling”.

For now, any political development comes with a health warning that until Labor knows the state of public finances, it will be impossible to make any firm promises. Policymakers, however, are considering reallocating some of the money already into what is currently a fragmented and unwieldy childcare system.

Managed preschools provide publicly funded child care up to age five and often include dedicated provisions for special needs or disabilities. They are run like schools and are the closest thing to an Estonian kindergarten in the English system, but only 385 survive in England due to the high costs involved.

Labour’s plan to develop the sector will remove barriers in current legislation that prevent local authorities from establishing new childcare offers, except where they can demonstrate that there is no other provider who could supply. “We would like to expand this element of the sector, but it’s really the ‘direction of travel’ and it wouldn’t happen overnight,” a source said.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of the UK Association for Early Childhood Education, welcomed Labour’s plans for new state nursery schools. “We know that they are the most effective form of provision, particularly in supporting children with the most complex needs and in the most deprived areas.”

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