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Nursery Education

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what representations he has received on a regulatory impact assessment of the implementation of the 2006 Code of Practice for Nursery Education Provision. (113509)

In late 2006, the Department and the Cabinet Office Better Regulation Executive (BRE) received several requests for copies of regulatory impact assessments carried out on the 2006 “Code of Practice on the Provision of Free Nursery Education Places for 3 and 4 Year-Olds.”

The single substantive change to the delivery of the free early education entitlement, set out in the 2006 Code of Practice, was the extension of the minimum free entitlement from 33 to 38 weeks. Following full public consultation, we made clear our recognition that not all providers would be able to extend their provision to 38 weeks and that, at the relevant local authority’s discretion, they could be funded for the provision they actually delivered. Furthermore, all local authorities received additional funding to support the extension to the free entitlement. We therefore concluded that there should not be a substantive regulatory impact and that a regulatory impact assessment was not required.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what recent representations he has received on free at-the-point-of-delivery nursery provision in England; (113510)

(2) what representations he has received on the effect of the implementation of the 2006 DFES Code of Practice for Nursery Education Provision.

Child care provision, free at the point of delivery, has been a universal entitlement for all four-year-olds since 1998 and for all three-year-olds since 2004. It is widely supported by parents, providers, local authorities and other stakeholders.

My colleagues and I regularly meet representatives of a range of stakeholders with an interest in the free entitlement and other child care issues. These meetings have been opportunities to celebrate the progress that we are making together towards the delivery of our Ten-Year Childcare Strategy commitments and to discuss issues of implementation including those relating to the 2006 code of practice.

Since the code of practice came into force in April 2006, Ministers and officials have received a range of correspondence from a variety of stakeholders. Correspondents routinely acknowledge the benefits of the free entitlement for children, and demonstrate commitment to its delivery. A number of correspondents have raised issues relating to the arrangements for increasing the free entitlement from 33 to 38 weeks and to 15 hours per week by 2010, and a number have expressed views about the Government’s position on providers charging parents for elements of their free provision.

In responding, I have been clear that the Government provide sufficient funding to local authorities for the delivery of a universal free early learning entitlement that benefits all children regardless of their parents’ income or ability to pay. Local authorities have discretion over the use they make of funding from the Dedicated Schools Grant including the rates at which they fund early education in all types of setting. They are encouraged to fund early years provision equitably across settings in accordance with local circumstances. It has always been unacceptable for providers to charge so-called “top-up fees” for the free entitlement, in addition to the money they receive from local authorities for delivering the free entitlement.

We conducted a full public consultation on the 2006 code of practice, to which 585 responses were received, the majority from private providers. Most respondents were content with the extension of the free entitlement to 38 weeks in all sectors. None of those who responded questioned the requirement to ensure that the entitlement is entirely free at the point of delivery.