Decent nurseries are worth high subsidies

Child care appears to have as many new initiatives as spots on a
dalmatian dog. This time the education minister, Charles Clarke has
announced (again) the extension of the school day to provide
“wraparound care” for every child.

In November, the government will lay out its 10-year plan for child
care. It is also crucial that the twin concerns of quality
(involving recruitment, training and pay) and long-term funding in
deprived, and not so deprived, areas are properly addressed.

A commercial nursery chain, concerned with profits, obviously won’t
venture into neighbourhoods where income is erratic. So far,
government subsidies have helped to bridge the gap through, for
instance, Sure Start, but as that subsidy tapers away a crisis

Shirley Mellors is head of Toy Box, a community co-operative
nursery, owned by the staff, based in a former mining area of
Nottinghamshire. It is run on democratic principles; profits are
ploughed back and the participation of parents, staff and the local
community helps boost neighbourhood confidence.

It also means that job satisfaction of the nursery staff is high,
pay is better and children benefit. Toy Box serves a rural area. It
takes babies and when they reach three and four, it ferries them to
and fro for half a day to three local primary schools. It has 40
places and charges only £100 a week .

Its recent Ofsted report was outstanding. Through Sure Start, the
nursery initially received subsidies of £100,000 a year. In
2005, that shrinks to £16,000 and ends in 2006. The nursery
has only half its places filled but Shirley Mellors believes that
number will grow as more full-time employment comes on stream. “We
fill a local need that’s desperately required but we do have major
concerns about future funding -Êand our survival,” she says.

Next April, some employees will be eligible for £50 child care
vouchers. At present, few parents receive a government child care
subsidy and it averages out at only £40 a week. If the
government really believes that high quality child care is as much
about the social development of the young as it is about pushing
men and women at the bottom of the earning ladder into monotonous,
badly paid work, then it has be prepared to fork out more both to
families and to nurseries.

Already, half the child care places created since 1998, have been
lost. It’s surely time to stop the haemorrhaging.

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