In his budget statement, the chancellor said: “In 2010, there was barely any free childcare for under-fives. A Conservative-led government changed that …” Why would someone, respected for their integrity and decency, be prepared to tell such an untruth? I asked myself this question after listening to that part of Jeremy Hunt’s speech relating to the initiative on childcare, and his interviews the following morning.
In broadcast interviews, he then went on to claim that this was the greatest investment in his lifetime. Bearing in mind, of course, that in the coming year, this will amount to £140m and future expenditure will depend entirely on recruiting a workforce to deliver much-needed improvement: much needed because of the devastation caused over the last 13 years, including the demolition of the Sure Start programme, pioneered 25 years ago by the late Tessa Jowell and myself.
Additionally, back in 1998, as education and employment secretary and with the support of the then-chancellor, I introduced the first national nursery education programme for four-year-olds, and subsequently three-year-olds.
Fundamentally, it would appear that the chancellor does not understand that nursery education is a critical part of the childcare offer for under-fives. The additional element is of course “education”, which complements the care funded from the public purse (Finally, a budget that mentions childcare. But where will these magic nursery places come from, Jeremy Hunt?, 16 March).
We have reached rock‑bottom in terms of political dialogue when someone as respected as Mr Hunt can distort the truth and seem to believe the words that are coming out of his mouth.
Labour, House of Lords
Many years ago in Coventry, at the beginning of my 35 years in education, Sir Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher’s then education secretary, asked a primary headteacher at a gathering: “When do you think you will move up to be a secondary school headteacher?”
That thinking of his education policy is redolent of the latest government move to change the teacher/child ratio in early years education from 1:4 to 1:5. The effects of good early years provision, in deprived areas in particular, have always been misunderstood or ignored, especially by the Tories. Children are seen as numbers.
Talk to practitioners, to child psychologists, or to parents even. What George Osborne started with slashing Sure Start now lives on.
“Thirty hours of free childcare per week for three-year-olds” has been quoted in the press and is apparently going to be extended to two-year-olds. This sounds good. However, when you apply for these hours at a nursery you discover that the 30 free hours are only available for 38 weeks per year. To gain a nursery place you need to commit to paying for 52 weeks. There is a shortfall. The government should be more honest about what benefits are actually available.
So the government proposes more childcare for greater growth. Do ministers have any real concern for the nurture and wellbeing of children? It is not just in the early years but throughout childhood that parents need support to ensure that all children achieve their potential. Value children and their parents as people, not objects for growing the economy.
Kelso, Scottish Borders