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Childcare lobby fights UK bias

Childcare campaigners claim that different patterns of provision north of the + border risk being submerged in the emerging national strategy due to be + published in April. Ministers are under pressure to stress the Scottish + dimension in talks currently taking place at the Department for Education and + Employment. The Government wants a childcare strategy in place before universal+ nursery provision for four-year-olds begins in August.Joan Ruddock, the + Minister for Women, and Alan Howarth, a junior education minister, head the + investigation, while Brian Wilson represents the Scottish Office.Bronwen Cohen,+ director of Children in Scotland, believes the strategy is in danger of + overlooking Scotland's interests. Sam Galbraith, the children's minister north+ of the border, said two weeks ago that he envisaged a UK strategy to take + account of the benefits system and other factors but acknowledged differences + in Scotland.Linda Kinney, head of children's services in Stirling, said: "It + is essential to have a Scottish childcare strategy because Scottish legislation+ is different and because of the arrival of the Scottish parliament. It is + important to have a strategy based on full co-operation with the childcare + agencies and not to have it drawn up in a dark room somewhere in the Scottish + Office or Whitehall."Dr Cohen drafted a European Commission report 10 years ago+ on the need for a child strategy and is now close to seeing her ambition + realised. She says: "Nursery education has always been more significant in + Scotland, along with the role of the local authorities. We have the rural areas+ issue and high levels of child protection in demanding communities. We also + have a value system that is different."Dr Cohen believes it is essential to + bring together education, play, recreation and care in one system and to end + the split between "universalism and need". She said: "In education, we are + talking about all children but at care level it is focused on need. We need a + framework for all children and families."The Scottish Office proposals for the + pre-school years stressed that education would have to recognise it was only + one element of the picture, she said. "There is a divide between departmental + responsibilities and there is a whole diversity of services from playgroups, + family centres, childminders and nannies to nurseries. It is a complex picture + for parents to wend their way through. Some services cannot be used by parents + in employment."The requirement to publish children's services plans and the + initiative on out-of-school care and homework clubs added to the strategy's + importance, Dr Cohen said. Local enterprise companies currently fund + after-school initiatives and #163;25 million of lottery cash will offer + different patterns of provision.

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