Nursery Places

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15 March 2001.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 12:00, 15 March 2001

What assessment he has made of the take-up rate of nursery places in the last year. [152560]

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

Since 1997, we have created 120,000 free early education places for three and four-year-olds. We will announce figures for 2000–01 shortly. All four-year-olds and half of all three-year-olds are now entitled to free part-time early education places. In the same period, 298,000 new child care places for 546,000 more children have also been created.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am pleased at the increase in the number of nursery and pre-school places, and I compliment the Government on it. Will she consider a specific and rather unusual problem? Some primary schools have developed nursery classes, but because of the perversity of the charging system, independent, voluntary and local authority day nurseries often lose children, and as a result some of them have tragically had to close. I am sure that she would agree that at the same time as the Government are trying to develop more pre-school and nursery places, which we all welcome, it is sad that some of the independent and voluntary nurseries are having to close. Will she examine the charging system that they have to impose, especially for parents who are out of work or just about to start work and cannot afford the fees, which leads to a loss of necessary and important nursery places?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

The whole thrust of our policy on expanding early years education and child care is to develop integrated places, bringing together early years education and child care to best meet the needs of children and of the modern family. I hope that the nurseries in my hon. Friend's constituency will take advantage of the substantial new resources that are available to create integrated places, which could be in nursery schools or in nurseries in the private and voluntary sectors. Following the Chancellor's announcement on the increases in child care tax credit, places, especially in areas such as inner London, are now affordable to low-income families.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does the Minister recognise that although there has been an increase in nursery places attached to schools, the number of pre-school playgroups has fallen during the Government's time in office? There has also been a dramatic diminution in the number of registered child minders. Does she realise that the Government are doing further harm by their surreptitious announcement last week of a new stealth tax on small primary schools? When my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) introduced the citizens charter and the charter mark, small schools could apply for the latter free. The Government are now preventing small schools from applying by imposing a stealth tax charge of £600 to be considered for a charter mark. Many schools in my constituency with successful nursery classes have succeeded in winning charter marks, but now they will not even be allowed to apply. Is not that yet another scandal and another example of the Government betraying small schools?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

It is sad that Conservative Members never quite get their facts right. The additional costs will be met by the Department, so there will be no additional costs to schools. I shall repeat what I said earlier about places in playgroups. There has been a steady decline in pre-school places, which started under the previous Government because of their divisive nursery voucher scheme. We have replaced that with planned partnerships, and this year for the first time the number of places available in pre-schools has increased by 5,900. We are aware of the decline in places with child minders, which is why we have introduced start-up grants to assist child minders. That is already having an effect, and we are confident that there will be 145,000 new child minder places by 2004.