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Govt: Good quality childcare 'all that matters'

Good quality childcare is "all that matters", according to an education minister, who will announce plans to structure nursery education in an attempt to bridge the gap between low income and middle class pupils.

The Department for Education wants a "school-led system that is self-improving" in early years, which Liz Truss believes should be achievable without huge expense.

Sir Michael Wilshaw - who spoke about this last week - is absolutely right.

The early years are vitally important, and they're our best opportunity to eradicate the gap before it gets any bigger...

That's why we have been simplifying the red-tape, making it easier for good providers to expand.

Schools, nurseries, private providers, childminders - as long as you're providing good-quality childcare, that's all that matters - and there is a place for everybody.

– Liz Truss


Government backs plan for more teaching at nursery

Nursery children will be given more structured learning under new plans. Credit: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

An education minister will tomorrow endorse the chief inspector of schools' vision for more teaching in early years, despite a wave of criticism of the plans.

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw sparked controversy last week with a call for more youngsters to start learning in school nurseries from the age of two, saying it would help break a cycle of disadvantage which sees poorer children fall far behind their classmates by the time they are five.

In a speech in London tomorrow, education minister Liz Truss will back the chief inspector's position and set out plans to improve and expand teaching in early years.

Restrictions have been removed so that any school can open a nursery and school nurseries can open for longer hours to fit in with parents' work schedules, she will say.

School nursery plans slammed as 'easyJet childcare'

Primary schools in England are to be encouraged to take children as young as two in their nurseries.

The government wants to ease restrictions and extend opening hours, so parents can leave their children for the whole working day.

Opponents believe it is an attempt to organise childcare on the cheap, and would leave young children in the wrong environment.

June O'Sullivan from the London Early Learning Foundation told ITV News: It's inappropriate and I really feel uncomfortable because it really feels like easyJet childcare.

"You've got a few spaces here and there and you pluck them in and that will be fine - but that won't be fine, because children won't thrive in that environment."

Labour: Review could 'end up snatching milk away'

Responding to the Government's plans to review the nursery school free milk scheme "to stop middlemen profiting", the shadow public health minister Diane Abbott has said:

Trying to cut the cost of this scheme may end up snatching milk away from the country's children, disproportionately affecting the poorest.

In a recession, which has been made in Downing Street, when there is a squeeze on families, it is the wrong time for risks with our children's health.


Milk provision has been an issue for previous Governments

Plans to alter free milk provision have proved politically explosive for the Conservatives in the past.

  • In 2010 David Cameron slapped down suggestions by Public Health Minister Anne Milton the supply would be scrapped, saying he "did not like" the idea.
  • In 1971 Margaret Thatcher earned the nickname "Thatcher, Thatcher milk snatcher" for ending free school milk for the over-sevens while education secretary.

Every child under five receives a third of a pint of milk free of charge at school each day and the nurseries claim back the cost from the Government.

Modernising free milk scheme could 'save £20m a year'

Milk has many benefits to children's health and is important for their development - we are committed to continuing to provide free milk for all under-fives.

But the current scheme has not changed operationally since it began and costs have ballooned.

In four years, costs have jumped from £27 million in 2007 to a staggering £53 million in 2011. Estimates show that modernising how the scheme operates could save as much as £20 million each year.

– Public Health Minister Anne Milton

Ministers to find cheaper way of supplying nursery milk

Ministers attempting to find a cheaper way of supplying free milk to nursery schools are examining is to set up a system of national suppliers to cut out the middlemen.

Ministers are attempting to find a cheaper way of supplying free milk to nursery schools. Credit: ITV News

Another suggestion is to cap the price that childcare providers can claim for milk. The other alternative is to issue e-vouchers to providers.

Nursery milk costs Government almost £1 a pint

Ministers have launched a consultation into the nursery school free milk scheme, claiming abuse of the system means the Government is being billed up to £1 a pint.

Figures show that middlemen are charging around double the retail cost, meaning the Government is spending 92p on a pint of milk while most consumers can buy a pint for 45p.

A loophole in the system means the Government is obliged to pick up the bill, regardless of cost, submitted by firms that are acting as schools' go-between with suppliers.

Last year, it was estimated that the difference in price costs taxpayers an extra £10 million a year.

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