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Nursery Education

Volume 301: debated on Thursday 27 November 1997

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what arrangements he intends to put in place to increase the level of pre-school provision once the pre-school education voucher scheme is withdrawn in June 1998. [18474]

We believe that every child should have the chance of good pre-school education. That means a major expansion of services. We have pledged, first, to make a good-quality, part-time education place available, without charge, to every child in the pre-school year; and we aim to achieve this by the winter of next year. After that, and as new resources are found, we will set staged targets for three-year-olds. This is an ambitious and exciting programme.For too long in some areas, pre-school education was neglected and ignored. Then it was subjected to the experiment of vouchers. Pre-school education needs a fresh start. It needs clear national priorities and targets, a fair and stable funding system, strong support for quality, and a framework for consultation and planning that will strengthen co-operation amongst providers.I am delighted today to announce the launching of a major consultation paper,

Education in Early Childhood: The Pre-school Years. Through this paper, I am initiating a national debate about the future of pre-school education in Scotland. The paper sets out our policy priorities; it discusses how services should be planned and funded, how providers, parents and others can work together in mutually rewarding ways, and how high standards of service can be assured. It also asks questions about the educational needs of three-year-olds and the kind of provision that parents want for them; and how best we should plan to offer learning to these very young children. The consultation paper also lays the foundations for more integrated early years services linking education to daycare and other services for children.