Headlines: December 1st, 2004

The government is accused today of misinterpreting the research that underpins its latest childcare strategy, plans for which will be revealed tomorrow in the Chancellor’s Pre-Budget Report.Gordon Brown is expected to give details of a ten-year policy with big increases in spending on day nurseries and childminder places. That is likely to mean more children going to day care at an earlier age but the Centre for Policy Studies is questioning the thinking behind the proposals.

Jill Kirby, chair of the Centre’s Family Policy Group, sets out three questions in a new pamphlet, “Choosing to be different – women, work and family.” She asks if the strategy is in the best interests of children, to what extent it is influenced by the Chancellor’s wish to get more mothers of young children into full time work and finally wonders whether the government is telling the full story.

The CPS document says the government has claimed nursery care boosts children’s development and helps them do better at school and bases this on research from the Department for Education. But Jill Kirby says research from the government-sponsored Effective Provision of Pre-School Education project, paints a more complex picture.

It showed that children who experience high levels of day care before they are three are more likely to have behavioural problems than those cared for in the family. It also indicates that the best pre-school experiences are those with a high degree of parental involvement and that though good pre-school education does improve a child’s school performance, a full day at pre-school is no more effective than half a day. The survey says the most important factor in determining how well a child does in the future is not whether he or she has been to nursery but to what extent parents engage in constructive activity with them.

Jill Kirby concludes that there is a clear conflict between these findings and the drive to get mothers into full-time work and that the findings have been overlooked. She calls for the government to be more honest about its motives for the expansion of daycare for children.