Labour's abolition of the controversial nursery voucher scheme has been warmly welcomed in local government and teacher union circles. But reservations and warnings are being expressed in the private and voluntary sectors.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance is particularly worried because "there is no guarantee of the rate which will be paid for four-year-olds in the voluntary and private sectors", according to its chief executive Margaret Lochrie. "Pre-schools will not welcome this."
Under the new plans, the state will pay for the cost of a place, rather than the set rate of Pounds 1,100 paid under the voucher scheme. Any funds left over will be used to enhance private and voluntary provision.
Mrs Lochrie says: "Direct investment in the voluntary sector is urgently required to support the education of three and four-year-olds and to continue to provide support for parents and families. In addition, pre-schools need funding for equipment, for materials and, most important of all, to pay a proper wage to those staff who have been working for nothing or next to nothing for so many years." The average hourly wage for trained pre-school leaders is about Pounds 3.
Meanwhile Steiner nurseries have different doubts. "We are concerned that the present Government, with its emphasis on standards, will forget other qualities like emotional development or working together," says Christopher Clouder, chair of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship.
The association advised its member kindergartens to withdraw from the voucher scheme because of its demands for academic learning, and could advise them not to participate in the new scheme if the inspection criteria remain the same.