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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 17:12 GMT
Councils 'must ensure childcare'
Young children
Councils will have to help childcare providers get started
Every parent in England who needs access to childcare should be given it, the government says.

The Childcare Bill will force councils to fund private provision where there is a gap in the market.

Children as young as three will have to learn maths and English, with some education "from birth", the Department for Education and Skills said.

But Tories and Lib Dems said the plans could mean higher council tax bills because they included no extra cash.

'Parity'

The Childcare Bill, published on Tuesday, tells childcare providers to give a mixture of "integrated care and education from birth".

Education minister Beverley Hughes said young children's learning deserved "parity" with that at primary and secondary level, but denied this would come at the expense of play - a criticism sometimes levelled at the National Curriculum.

Beverley Hughes
Ms Hughes said councils would have to 'facilitate the market'

She added: "We are not talking about sitting down young children in chairs and making them learn numbers and letters where that's not appropriate."

The Department for Education and Skills said learning and childcare "happen together and are indistinguishable".

Under the bill, local authorities would have to ensure there was enough childcare to "meet the needs" of working parents, particularly low-income families.

However, councils would not get any more than the 600m they already receive.

'Abdication of responsibility'

Authorities would also have to provide the "full range" of information required by parents.

Theresa May, shadow secretary of state for the family, said: "The government's announcement to place the onus for childcare on local authorities is an abdication of responsibility.

"As a result of this bill, local authorities will literally be left holding the baby."

There was not a "penny of additional money", which could mean higher council tax bills, she added.

The Liberal Democrats said the bill should not force parents back to work - or give local authorities extra duties without the cash to deliver them.

By 2010, the bill envisages all parents of three to 14-year-olds having access to a year-round childcare place from 8am to 6pm.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said: "Mothers and fathers will have the certainty of knowing that whatever their background, high-quality early years education and childcare services will be available to support them and their children."

The bill calls for a "better start" for under-fives and to "close the gap" between those from different backgrounds.

It requires carers of children aged up to eight to register with education watchdog Ofsted, while carers of older children can register voluntarily.

There will be rules covering the suitability of people working as childminders and other health and safety issues.

Ms Hughes said local authorities would be required to "facilitate the market" to make sure there were enough places for children whose parents want to work.

Lib Dem children and families spokeswoman Annette Brooke said: "It is vital that the Bill does not force parents back to work, but instead offers parents high-quality childcare should they choose to return to the workplace.

"The government must decide whether extending the role of schools amounts to baby sitting or a quality learning experience.

"At the moment the fear is that local authorities are being given additional duties without the means to deliver."


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SEE ALSO:
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02 Dec 04 |  Business
Underfunding 'hitting childcare'
02 Jun 04 |  Education
Childcare strategy 'is on target'
27 Feb 04 |  Education
Childcare allowance for nurses
11 May 04 |  Health


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