Childminders in England and Wales are campaigning to be allowed to join the nursery voucher scheme. Scottish parents will be able to spend their vouchers on a childminder but the Department for Education and Employment has excluded their English and Welsh colleagues.
This week Gill Haynes, chief executive of the 90,000-strong National Childminding Association, told a London conference that childminders were seeking an amendment to the nursery voucher Bill in the House of Lords. Afterwards she said her association would consider going to the Office of Fair Trading if it failed to secure the change.
The DFEE has told the NCA that childminders can take vouchers only if they band together to form a pre-school.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Office said: "We have decided not to exclude anyone arbitrarily. The criteria for all providers is to register with a local authority under the Children Act and to pass the quality threshold set by HM inspectors in Scotland. If the childminder can pass these two criteria we see no reason why they cannot be registered."
Delegates at the conference on nursery vouchers, organised by the consultancy and training company, Infolog, were sceptical about the childminders' campaign.
Tess Robson, headteacher of Tachbrook nursery in the London borough of Westminster, said: "There should be a place for childminders in an integral system of education and care but individual childminders should not be able to get vouchers. Childminders provide a fantastic opportunity for small group input, but children need large group experience as well."
An NCA briefing paper on nursery vouchers says: "We have produced a framework document which shows how the learning outcomes [recommended by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority] can be delivered as well as through a family day care setting such as childminding as in a centre-based setting such as nursery, playgroup or pre-school.
"Any childminder who uses the framework - which includes ensuring opportunities for each child to spend time with other children and adults in larger groups - can justifiably claim to be meeting the voucher scheme criteria.
"Childminders are already registered and inspected under the same legislation as other early-years providers who are eligible for the voucher scheme. All they are asking for is the same chance to be assessed and inspected under the voucher scheme.
"Many childminders have the same qualifications as other early years workers in day nurseries and pre-schools. Many are working towards the new national vocational qualification in childcare and education level 3.
"Individual registered childminders in Scotland are going to be allowed to take part in the scheme. So why not in England and Wales?"