"The actual word 'playgroup' doesn't now reflect the multi-faceted role they have developed," said Mrs Shephard, on hand to support what was hailed as a "historic event" in London on Wednesday.
She stressed that the Government wanted to be certain that the increased provision was characterised by quality, as much choice as possible and by training. She said the Government's plans would "of course include local authority provision, but also contributions from the independent sector and most importantly from the voluntary sector, overwhelmingly represented by the Pre-school Learning Alliance."
The PLA, which serves 42 per cent of all three and four-year-olds in England, had waiting lists totalling 350,000, and there were many more families who could not afford the low fees, said its chief executive officer, Margaret Lochrie. There was "scope for more pre-schools (playgroups) to be established - but only with more funds." She said the new name would encourage parents to expect high standards.