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A place for all

THE campaign for nursery education for several decades drew admiration and little political support. Since the mid-90s, the climate has changed and a Labour administration has championed a programme of nursery education many thought they would never see. There is now common acceptance that pre-school education, paid for by the state, is a good thing that will particularly help disadvantaged children.

This week, the Scottish Executive trumpeted that on top of near universal provision for four-year-olds, around 80 per cent of three-year-olds now benefit from nursery (page five). Local authorities have shown over the past three years they can respond quickly by creating partnerships - sometimes uneasily - with the voluntary and independent sectors to provide places.

Ministers and authorities deserve credit. Yet their success merely throws up other key issues. Places are still part-time and parents have largely to fend for themselves in the remaining hours. Even the Chancellor's favourite family support schemes leave many short and as a recent report showed, grandparents remain important providers of care. The education versus care friction has yet to be resolved.

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