NEW care standards for pre-school age children will allow childminders to smack their charges and smoke in front of them.
The Government's national standards for the regulation and inspection of day care settings and childminders were released this week for consultation.
And they were promptly described by the National Childminding Association as "old-fashioned and ill-conceived".
There are 14 standards covering areas like staffing, care and learning, equipment, safety and special needs. The regulations say smoking in front of children and smacking babies and toddlers is allowed as long as parents give their permission.
A government spokesman said parents should agree with their childminder what they feel is appropriate for their child.
More than 90 per cent of the English local education authorities, currently responsible for regulating and inspecting childminders, will refuse to register them unless they agree to a rule which bans smacking. Most also prohibit smoking.
Gill Haynes, chief executive of the 40,000-strong National Childminding Association, said the new standards were misguided and unhelpful.
"These standards are supposed to be about providing safe, high quality care for children, wherever they are," she said.
"But smoking in front of children - and smacking babies - can never be acceptable childcare practice in any childcare setting."
The association's recommendations on controlling children include establishing a framework of clear boundaries and limits for behaviour, emphasising positive expectatins for that behaviour, sharing this framework with parents, and applying it firmly and consistently.
Corporal punishment was banned in state schools 13 years ago, and made illegal in private ones last year. The new standards, which will come into effect from September 2001, are aimed at removing the variations between areas and settings. But types of provision are subject to different criteria. For instance, day nurseries must have a no-smoking policy and "physical punishments" are banned.
The Government wants to recruit an extra 100,000 people into the childminding and nursery sector. The National Day Nurseries Association has criticised the Government for lowering the level of qualifications needed by nursery nurses.
But education and employment minister Margaret Hodge claimed that the new standards would ensure consistency for parents.
She also dismissed claims from the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses that the recruitment drive will attract paedophiles. The association has called for police checks on people working in homes as well as private after school clubs.
Pat Pritchard, its professional officer, said: "They are saying anybody who can work with children - they just have to love kids. Well, paedophiles love kids."
The latest figures from the Department for Education and Employment show that there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of out-of-school childcare places. But there has been a a 5 per cent decrease in the number of playgroups and an 8 per cent drop in the number of childminders.