The experiences which children have before they are five determine their readiness to succeed at school. It is vital that we provide properly designed and equipped facilities, with professional staff able to offer the combination of care and education appropriate to three and four-year-olds.
The implications of the proposed voucher system for four-year-olds are very worrying. In Wales, 72 per cent of all three and four-year-olds are already in local authority provision and 90 per cent of four-year-olds have places in nursery, reception or infant classes.
These figures are published in the report by HM Inspectors following inspections during the academic year 199495. The report which is intended "to inform the implementation of the voucher system" shows that there is already high quality provision for most three and four-year-olds in the maintained sector in Wales.
According to present proposals, the majority of the money to fund vouchers will be taken from local education authorities. A voucher of Pounds 1,100 given to the parent of a four-year-old will not be sufficient to purchase a full-time place in a reception class. The implications for three-year-olds in part time nursery places are very unclear. Will local authorities be left with sufficient funds to provide full-time reception classes and part-time nursery places for three-year-olds? Could this be the end of nursery classes and a reduction to part-time school for four-year-olds whose elder brothers and sisters had full-time? Parents will want reassurance that the voucher system will not reduce their access to education for their three and four-year-olds.
I do hope that as Parliament considers these new proposals, the circumstances in Welsh schools will be given careful consideration. It would be a disaster for our young children if in attempting to expand early years provision the Government reduces the quantity or quality of education already on offer.