Memo reveals voucher gloom

23rd August 1996 at 01:00
DFEEfears controversial nursery reform will not create places. James Montgomery reports.

John Major's much-trumpeted nursery voucher scheme is unlikely significantly to increase pre-school choice, a leaked government paper has revealed.

To increase the number of places in private nurseries - and thereby create diversity - the Department for Education and Employment may have to raise the value of the Pounds 1,100 vouchers in certain regions, it suggests.

According to the memorandum, written by civil servants at the DFEE, more than 630 private and voluntary-sector providers have applied to join the pilot schemes in Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth, Westminster and Norfolk.

Although it is not yet known how parents in these four authorities have chosen to spend the vouchers they were given in April, the memo admits that "given the overall shortage of places, the department is not expecting wholesale changes in the relative balance of providers".

The report estimates that when the voucher scheme goes national in 1997-98, almost Pounds 570 million will be diverted from local authorities' allocations for existing pre-school services. Only Pounds 160 million of new money, including Pounds 20 million for administration and inspection, will be provided.

The memorandum raises the possibility of increasing the value of vouchers in areas, such as London, where costs are higher. However, while four-year-olds in the City of London would receive vouchers worth about Pounds 1,600, in other areas the vouchers' value would be cut to under Pounds 1,100.

Such an arrangement may be unnecessary because "there is, as yet, no evidence that the absence of a regional adjustment is likely to lead to market failure". It could also lead to problems over boundaries. An outer-London voucher could, for example, be cashed in at a more expensive nursery in inner London.

Seizing on the leaked report as evidence of a "bureaucratic nightmare", shadow education secretary David Blunkett said: "The whole nursery voucher scheme is a complete fiasco. Where there is no place, there is no choice.

"There is an implicit acceptance in this paper that there is no great rush of private and voluntary providers coming forward - only 110 extra places were created by the new private or voluntary providers in the pilot scheme.

"Even at this late stage, I urge Education Secretary Gillian Shephard to recognise that her objectives can be met more easily and more cost-effectively through planned local partnerships involving local education authorities, the private and voluntary sectors," said Mr Blunkett.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?

Subscribe

To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers

Comments

Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
 
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today