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Ministers pressed on early years

Hannah Walker lights a menorah during a Jewish theme week at Finningley Grove C of E school, Doncaster, organised during the harvest festival of Sukkot as part of the RE curriculum.

A former Labour party adviser is among a group of pre-school specialists calling for an early-years White Paper and a "fundamental re-think" for early learning.

Dr Peter Moss, at the University of London Institute of Education, was a member of the task force which helped the Labour party draft Early Excellence, its pre-election policy document. This, he said "set out lots of important principles for an integrated, coherent and affordable service. Most importantly, there was a definite commitment to set up an early-years unit based in the Department for Education and Employment. I've seen no reference to it since".

Earlier this week, education junior minister Estelle Morris outlined the Government's "radical vision" for early years. She said that at its heart would be the provision of good quality pre-school education for all four-year- oldsby next September and an "imaginative programme" of "early excellence centres". The first centres will be announced next month.

Ms Morris said the Government wanted to see an end to "fragmentation" and "bureaucracy". "I want to see a uniform system with a common approach." However, she confirmed that early-years funding will continue to come from a variety of sources, including DFEE New Deal for Schools , the new Standards Fund (formerly Grants for Education Support and Training) and administrative funds previously set aside for the nursery voucher scheme which Labour has scrapped.

Dr Helen Penn, who has recently completed a two-year research project on early excellence, said: "This isn't serious funding, it's just throwing in bits and scraps left over from other budgets."

Dr Moss agreed: "The excellence centres are important, but there is no point setting up these centres and waiting for them to deliver. Deep-seated issues like staffing, funding and affordability require the sort of thinking process that can only come from a White Paper. One department and one minister needs to take on responsibility."

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