Labour reported to be considering more nursery places in schools

The year began with the childcare crisis and it is ending with reports that Labour is considering expanding early years places at schools. Could this work?

Child with painted hands

 

The Times splashed today with a report that the Labour Party is planning to boost the number of nursery places in primary schools in order to address the childcare crisis in the country which has seen some areas declared ‘childcare deserts’ due to the lack of places.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has spoken in the past of Labour’s mission to “build a modern childcare system. One that supports families from the end of parental leave, right through to the end of primary school”.

Labour has previously announced plans for a review of early years led by Sir David Bell, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, who will work with the party to develop its Early Years Plan, including looking at ways to increase school-based nursery provision and reform the early years workforce.

It has also previously pledged to work with providers to improve capacity in the childcare system and address the sector’s labour crisis.

Primary school expansion has been suggested in the past by the Children’s Commissioner for England. A report by the Commissioner published in late 2022 said schools should be part of the solution to delivering affordable, quality early years childcare. It said predicted falling rolls in primary schools would mean more space would be available for early years and that rising costs for private childcare providers in the short term could make many childcare settings unsustainable. It stated: “Opening up schools to provide more early years education would address both these issues.” .

Childcare deserts have been a growing concern in recent years. These are usually more disadvantaged areas of the country which have been worst hit by nursery closures and falling childminder numbers. The Government’s own figures show that, as of 31st August, while the number of childcare providers has fallen across the board in England, the number of places has dropped mainly in the least wealthy parts of the country. Childcare places on the early years register have risen in London [although not in all parts of London] by 77 places, by 60 in the East of England and by over 1.2K in the South East whereas in all other areas they have fallen, with the biggest drop being in the East Midlands [down 1,629 places], Yorkshire and the Humber [down 1,413 places] and the West Midlands [down 1,067 places].

Nurseries workingmums.co.uk has spoken to have said that the big childcare chains are more able to survive in some areas because they can subsidise nurseries in poorer areas using money from nurseries in wealthier areas where parents can afford full childcare fees and extras.

The Government has announced plans to expand the subsidised childcare offer to parents, but providers say the money won’t cover the full cost of care and will place them in an even more precarious position.

The Early Years Alliance has been one of the most vocal critics of the Government plans, but it is not impressed by what it read in today’s Times about Labour’s proposals. Neil Leitch, CEO of the Alliance, said: “Given that more than three-quarters of early years places in this country are delivered by private and voluntary nurseries, pre-schools and childminders, it’s disappointing that Labour continues to place such focus on primary school-based nursery provision…If Labour is serious about creating more early years places, its priority should be ensuring that the whole sector is adequately funded, both today and in the future, and tackling the current staffing crisis as a matter of urgency. The private and voluntary sector is, and will always be, an essential part of our early years system. Any political party that fails to recognise this is unlikely to be able to deliver the affordable, accessible, quality early years places that children and families need.”

What’s for sure is that, without proper childcare, it will be impossible for many parents to work. Many are already swerving childcare due to the cost and putting together a tapestry of informal childcare and flexible shifts, but anyone who has tried that option knows how stressful that can be. It has a big impact on employers too. Without a fully functioning childcare system it is hard to see how we can address some of the key barriers to getting the economy off the floor.

 



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