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All-in-one pledge for early years

Charles Clarke aims to give parents of young children better access to education and health services.

CHARLES Clarke, the Education Secretary, yesterday pledged to improve the access to all-in-one education, childcare and health services for young children and their families.

Mr Clarke called on all the country's early-years, childcare and health organisations to provide combined "wrap-around" facilities for children aged five and under.

The move comes at a time when early-years organisations are concerned that, although the Government has greatly improved support for young families since 1997, much of it is fragmented.

Parents of all four-year-olds can now send their child to five sessions of education a week in a nursery or other setting. By next April, all three-year-olds will have this entitlement. Eighty-eight per cent of three-year-olds are already receiving some level of state-funded education.

However, Mr Clarke is concerned that, too often, parents have to arrange childcare separately, while other services such as healthcare are available through yet another organisation.

He wants more examples of the type of services offered by the Government's local Sure Start programmes which have cost pound;1 billion. These embrace childcare, early education and family and health support, but are only available to parents in the country's most deprived areas.

Mr Clarke has no plans to expand the funding for these programmes, but wants local organisations themselves to support Sure Start's unified approach.

Mr Clarke told a London conference of the Pre-School Learning Alliance:

"Sure Start, which brings together childcare, early education and family support, has already achieved a lot.

"My ambition is to make sure the Sure Start model extends to every part of the country working with all providers across the maintained, private and voluntary sectors."

However, Nansi Ellis, primary education adviser for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was disappointed that no extra funding was being provided by the Government.

She said: "I agree that the joined-up approach is probably the best one.

But I don't think a call from Charles Clarke will prompt organisations to do anything different unless there is money attached."

Mr Clarke's pledge came as early-years minister Catherine Ashton launched national Sure Start month, in which half a million families will take part in 3,000 events celebrating childcare, early education and family support services.

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