Too little of a good thing

8th August 1997 at 01:00
Nursery vouchers are to last for only a year, so why the bureaucratic listing of 2,000 centres recognised for Government grants? Labour was criticised for not scrapping the scheme immediately on taking office. Aside from the difficulty that parents had already signed up for a voucher-bearing place this autumn, ministers have given themselves a breathing space in which to assess the state and geographic spread of pre-school provision.

Because there are gaps, especially in rural areas, local authorities and other potential providers are being alerted in the hope that a year from now a higher percentage of parents will be able to find a place for their child. Research has shown that parents are not greatly concerned about how pre-school places are funded. They want a safe, secure and educational experience. On balance, most reject the idea of vouchers because the scheme came from a discredited administration and because it threatened to be cumbersome (a concern fully justified and now being tackled). Local authority provision comes out top in parental demand, but the contribution of playgroups and private enterprise is also valued.

There can be no monopolies for the under-fives. The Government's own figures show that only a variety of provision can begin to meet the target of universal education for four-year-olds and eventually for three-year-olds. The voucher scheme, trialled in four areas last session, focused attention on the age-group. It encouraged councillors to look for ways of expanding their own nurseries while condemning the then government's approach.

The Conservatives can take credit for the enthusiasm with which their political opponents tried to extend a non-statutory service at a time of educational cutbacks. Now it is not so much a case of a Labour Government reaping the reward as of facing expectations that outstrip facilities on the ground.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


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

View subscriber offers


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,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today