Karen’s article on childcare and the importance early years education

Posted: 21/03/13

Bringing children up in central London is frequently tough, and always expensive. Everything costs more, from leisure to childcare, and all but the richest feel the lack of space, especially outdoor space. We have been fortunate, though, in having some outstanding nursery provision, with dedicated nursery schools, like Dorothy Gardner and Mary Paterson, Children's Centres, such as the Portman, and nurseries run by what was Westminster Children's Society (now the London Early Years Foundation). All these share a commitment to excellence in early years provision, understanding that childcare should be at least as much about enriching children as it is about enabling parents, and especially mothers, to take up work. A good quality nursery can transform a child's opportunities, helping to offset the disadvantages faced by poorer families: but the key word is quality.

The government know more has to be done to increase the supply of affordable childcare. Incredibly, at one central London nursery, you would have to pay £42,000 a year for a full-time nursery place -nearly twice what most people earn. Providing 15 hours free provision for 2 year olds, building on the Labour government's funding of places for 3 and 4 year olds, has helped, but does not solve the problem. Yet this is a childcare crisis of David Cameron's own making. Support for childcare has been slashed, and families with two children have lost up to £1,500 in childcare tax credit. Children's centres locally may not have been sold off or padlocked but fewer and fewer activities are going on in them and outreach services have been drastically reduced.

The government is also undermining the quality of childcare. An expert report which the Department for Education refuses to publish, warned that the plan to increase the number of children each nursery staff member looks after would threaten quality and not reduce costs.

New figures show that by 2015 this government will have taken £15billion from tax credits, benefits and services from parents- and children. This is despite the fact that if you cut childcare support, you hurt the economy. Taking away help for families means there is less chance for parents - especially mothers - to go back to work. And reducing investment in those vital early years reduces life chances for children. Our nurseries know what good can be done and they have a superb record of doing it, yet they too are under pressure as never before. How short-sighted it is to slash away at nurseries with a national reputation for excellence, reduce help for the parents and children who need it most, and makes it impossible for middle and lower earners to pay the childcare bills which will enable them to work?