Parents want more nursery schools and classes for pre-school children, and they want them to be of a high standard and close to home, according to surveys carried out by education authorities.
Evidence on parents' views from the first reviews of under-fives services conducted under the Children Act has been submitted by the National Children's Bureau to the Department for Education, which is looking at ways to fulfil John Major's pledge to boost education for four-year-olds.
"Much of the consultative feedback referred to lack of flexibility in services to meet the multiple and various needs of families and many parents referred to the lack of holiday and out-of-school provision and the need to develop services on the sites of existing services so that accessibility and flexibility was greater," says the paper, by Peter Elfer of the NCB's Early Childhood Unit.
It says many parents see the great variation in services across the country and within education authorities as unfair. Parents complained of shortfalls in socially-deprived and rural districts, but even in well-off areas, demand far exceeds supply when it comes to services which are low-cost, conveniently located and of a high standard.
At least three-quarters of the parents seemed satisfied with the service they were using, but there were concerns about the quality of playgroup venues, lack of opportunities for parental involvement in nursery education and too few staff in private day nurseries.
Parents wanted services which "promote the educational and social development of children", and more day nursery provision, "apparently because it offered care for younger children than nursery education would, and for longer hours".
Parents tended to expect services in the state sector to be more reliable in terms of standards than in the voluntary sector or, particularly, the private sector. "While the statutory sector was preferred, it appeared to be less as a matter of principle and more that low-cost or free provision, well-trained staff and good quality buildings were more likely to be found in the statutory sector than elsewhere," the report said.
Many parents were anxious about the cost of services, and complained about the inequitable distribution of free education and low-cost after-school care. Many also said it was difficult to get information about what services were available.