Nursery Education

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 17 Hydref 1995.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Tom Arnold Mr Tom Arnold , Hazel Grove 12:00, 17 Hydref 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will make a further statement about her plans for the expansion of nursery education. [35992]

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I am delighted to announce that Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster have confirmed their decision to take part in the first phase of the voucher scheme, beginning in April 1996. Others are considering the issue and I hope to be able to add to that list in the near future.

Photo of Mr Tom Arnold Mr Tom Arnold , Hazel Grove

Will my hon. Friend confirm that when he has completed his consultation exercise on quality assurance he will promote a policy of good education, good quality and good value for money?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I most certainly confirm what my hon. Friend seeks. The aim of the scheme, which will apply to every local education authority from April 1997, is to ensure the quality of education delivered to pre-fives and to extend the opportunity of nursery education to all four-year-olds who do not have it.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Given the recent debate about levels of crime, does the Minister agree that a proven connection exists between high-quality, early-years education and lowering juvenile crime? If he does, would it not have been better to introduce a system of proper, high-quality, early-years education for all three and four-year-olds instead of the cumbersome and bureaucratic voucher system?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I think that I can say no to most of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I am prepared to concede that one of the many elements claimed for early school education is that it may reduce subsequent delinquency.

I disagree fundamentally with the hon. Gentleman about vouchers. only vouchers will give parents choice in their child's pre-school education, including parents who may have only one opportunity. Secondly—I do not wish to outstay my welcome, Madam Speaker—any money channelled through block grants to local authorities is by no means guaranteed to be spent on the sector that he has identified.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst , Saffron Walden

Does my hon. Friend share my regret that Essex county council appears, as a matter of policy, to have refused even to take part in the trials that we have initiated?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I have been disappointed by the response of a number of local education authorities, all of which have been invited to take part and all of which, by definition, will have four-year-olds whose parents will be unable to secure pre-school education for their child. They would have had a better chance of doing so if they had been in phase one, so I share my hon. Friend's dismay.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton

Given the Secretary of State's failure to involve a nationally representative cross-section of authorities in the pilot scheme and her further failure to set clear targets for access to nursery education for three and four-year-olds, will the Minister tell us which agency is being charged with looking after the voucher scheme?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, he will have to wait but a short while longer for the announcement to be made.

On the central issues, the hon. Gentleman will have to recognise that some authorities are not taking part because they have been misled by him and others and have been persuaded to give first priority not to parents but to political dogma.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the chief attractions to parents of four-year-olds of the new plan to expand nursery education is that no less than £185 million of entirely new money is being added to the education budget for that? Will he confirm that there is great enthusiasm for the provision of nursery education and for the expansion of choice and diversity? Will he join me in paying tribute to the expansion of the education provision in playgroups run by the Pre-School Playgroups Association?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I willingly confirm the figure quoted by my hon. Friend and, like him, I welcome developments within the Pre-School Alliance. The large number of letters to the Department from parents who want to know why their authority is not taking part from 1996 shows that both Opposition parties are risking considerable unpopularity.