Nursery `hothouses' ruled out

The Government is not concerned that its expansion of pre-school provision and the introduction of baseline assessment in nurseries and primary 1 will bring too early concentration on formal education. Sam Galbraith, the minister for children, is confident that parents have other concerns.

Mr Galbraith said: "We are not afraid of children being pushed. Parents are not looking for too early concentration on literacy and numeracy. They want their young children to play and develop at their own pace. I see no pressure for formal education at all."

Mr Galbraith was interviewed by the magazine Nursery World, which is published by Times Supplements and which this week starts a Scottish edition. He said that for the first time there was a Government strategy for the interests of young children embracing health, care and education. "We have had to start from scratch. There has never been a childcare strategy before," he claimed.

An extra Pounds 5 million had been invested to increase the number of childcare places through partnerships involving local authorities, employers, private and voluntary providers and parents. This was in addition to Pounds 25 million already committed from the national lottery over five years.

Mr Galbraith said that the Scottish Childcare Board announced in May had met four times and contributed to the guidelines on partnerships which are about to be sent to local authorities. Two places on the board remained to be filled by parents, and 180 applicants had put their names forward.

He replied to criticism, mainly from private providers, of differing conditions for registration of childcare provision in different parts of the country. Mr Galbraith said the needs of the inner cities could not be equated with those of the Highlands and islands, but he hoped that the guidelines would "create a level playing-field" for providers. He said: "We want greatly to enhance training. There is now a proper career in child care."

More men should be recruited. "Child care is a man's issue, too," Mr Galbraith said as the father of three young daughters.

The partnerships struck by local authorities with private providers had to be made to work well, he insisted. Ninety per cent of places for four-year-olds were in the public sector, but there was bound to be a wider range of provision for three-year-olds.

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