Chief education officers this week issued a damning statement claiming that the vouchers initiative is falling short of Government targets and should be scrapped. Roy Pryke, chairman of the Association of Chief Education Officers and director of education services for Kent, said: "The ACEO welcomes any steps to improve early-years provision, but the voucher scheme is not delivering on its promises.
"There can be no confidence that parental choice will be significantly increased, and four-year-olds are being pushed into starting primary schools earlier. The present arrangements for pre-school provision will completely change in order to fund the scheme, and evidence suggests that some local playgroups and private nurseries may be forced to close.
"We shall have difficulty in preventing the potential loss of money from undermining the quality of education in reception classes. Provision already in place for three-year-olds is also threatened.
"Headteachers in Wandsworth - and these are professionals who have experience of the sharp end of the voucher scheme - called for the scheme to be abandoned because it offered neither value for money, nor improved quality of education. The ACEO sees no reason to argue with their viewpoint."
The association, which represents all chief education officers in England and Wales, says the government scheme aims to increase provision for four-year-olds, to ensure the places are of high quality and to improve parental choice, but none of these targets have been met.
It is also worried about the experience of the pilot education authorities in phase one of the scheme.
The pilot authorities believe that the Government's performance targets for five-year-olds are lower than those of the authorities.
The ACEO says: "We have doubts about the quality of some private sector education, given that this area is primarily profit-driven and the standards required by private establishments for staff qualifications and training fall short of those for LEA provision."
The nursery voucher scheme will be implemented nationwide on April 1 but the Labour party has said it will scrap it if elected on May 1.