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Beacons of excellence to be lit nationwide

The 25 centres, which the party proposes to set up in every region of the country, are intended to serve as "beacons of excellence" and would be based on best early years practice.

The document mentions three models which bring together education and child care and offer flexible, affordable services.

They are The Hartcliffe nursery centre in a deprived area of Bristol, the Pen Green Centre for Under Fives and their Families, a community nursery on the edge of a Corby estate devastated by the closure of the local steel works, and the Margaret McMillan Nursery in the London borough of Islington which was developed by bringing together a nursery school and a council day nursery.

The Labour document says: "It is envisaged that the centres will provide at least 75 places each, two-thirds of which will be for three and four-year-olds, and the remainder for very young children. There will be qualified teachers and nursery nurses in every setting. Education will be free, while child care fees will be based on the ability to pay."

Margaret Hodge, chair of Labour's early years inquiry team, said mothers should not have to choose between work and the children they love.

"Our Early Excellence centres will be a pilot, a model and an example of what integration means in practice, with each centre providing education and care for children under five," she said.

"The centres will be used for other purposes according to local priorities. This might include a drop-in centre for parents, a training facility for childminders, nursery teachers and playgroup workers, a data-base matching child care needs to child care places, a child health centre and a toy library."

Labour believes there will be scope for partnerships with the voluntary and private sector.

The plans reflect the party's emphasis on the family, and its belief that the discipline problems of recent weeks could be prevented by early intervention.

The first 25 centres would act as a catalyst for the development of good practice, inspiring new ideas and stimulating the development of integrated nurseries across the area.

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