Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Watchdog to check playgroups
Playgroups will come under the scrutiny of Ofsted
The schools watchdog is getting new powers to regulate and inspect standards of childcare across England.
A new arm of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) will take responsibility for education provided by childminders, children's homes and playgroups.
The move caused some concern among childcare professionals, whose performance will now be judged by the abrasive Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead.
The Conservatives questioned whether Ofsted was the right organisation to check on standards of childcare.
That was what parents wanted, he said on BBC News 24.
"We don't think that there's any conflict between education and care," he said.
"It's just common sense, I think."
The Minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities, Margaret Hodge, said: "The safety of our children and the quality of their care and education is paramount.
"We are sorting out the confusion, the duplication and the unfairness which two separate regimes have created."
But the Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, questioned whether Ofsted was the right body for the job.
"Oftsed provides a first class inspection regime for education facilities, but childminders are not primarily educators," she said.
Ofsted firmly believes that children as young as four benefit from "a deliberate effort to teach them knowledge and skills" in the areas covered by the foundation stage of the National Curriculum.
The Daycare Trust charity said it had long argued argued for such changes to improve the quality of services for children and increase parents' confidence.
"The current system of regulations is an incoherent mess which does not consistently ensure basic quality standards," said its Director, Colette Kelleher.
"These proposed reforms - together with investment by the government - should provide a greatly improved quality framework to ensure that the increasing number of children's services are of the highest standard."