Headlines: September 22nd, 2006



In spite of significant increases in public spending on early education, the UK still lags behind its European counterparts in providing universal access to childcare. The latest issue of “Children in Europe, Managing the Mix: public and private sectors” says that in Britain the private sector is left to fill the childcare gap.

In a study it has looked at how nine European countries deliver early childhood services and has found that publicly-funded education is almost universal across Europe for children aged from three to five. The key difference in the UK, is that this provision is part-time, leaving the private sector to fulfill the role.

The authors say that there is a continuing divide between education and childcare. Education is viewed as a universal entitlement while childcare is seen as a private commodity to be sold to parents and that, they say, means too many British children lead fragmented lives. Working parents are struggling to secure the hours of childcare they need at a price they can afford. Children have to use different services throughout the week, with some even moving between different services on a single day. The UK has increased investment in early education and care and the public contribution is now almost 0.5 per cent of GDP, but that is still low compared with France, Denmark and the Nordic countries.

Bronwen Cohen, a member of Children in Europe’s editorial board and chief executive of Children in Scotland, said there was growing evidence that full-time high quality early education and care, delivered in one setting, could bring rewards for society as a whole. “A holistic service not only provides care and stimulating learning but promotes healthy life-styles and develops citizenship skills, to name just two. However, it must be seen as a public good and responsibility rather than leaving parents to buy in other services,” she said.