UK

Will more pre-schooling help poorest children?

children at nursery
Image caption A part-time nursery place can cost £120 a week

Some 130,000 two-year-olds from poorer families in England will be offered 15 free hours of pre-school education a week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced

But will the plan, part of a package of £7bn extra to be spent on disadvantaged children over the next four years, make any difference?

Anand Shukla, acting chief executive of the Daycare Trust, said the charity had been campaigning for 25 years on the importance of investment in early years education, so the announcement was "very heartening".

"Spending in the early years can reap rewards in the longer term, especially for disadvantaged children. Focusing the funding on really deprived two-year-olds can really pay dividends."

He said childcare costs could be prohibitively expensive, with a part-time place costing as much as £120 a week, which can amount to £6,000 a year.

"That can put parents off getting childcare, which has a knock-on effect on their development and also parental income if they can't go back to work."

'Gaps in support'

But Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, a parenting forum, said the money would be better spent on supporting mothers.

"Putting a child in childcare at the age of two isn't going to affect their education, not improve their ability at maths or which university they will attend.

"Studies show that children who attend a good nursery start school slightly ahead of other children, but within three years they have all caught up. It's not the head start they are suggesting."

Mrs Freegard said the outcomes for very small children were more dependent on the family situation.

"We know there are massive gaps in the support for mums out there and we support a lot of them on the site.

"Sending a child off to nursery is all very good but if the child then comes back to a situation where the mum isn't really coping, it's not going to be very helpful."

The government should be spending any extra money very carefully, she added.

"The mums in the middle who are being squeezed are going to be looking much more carefully at the detail about how money is being spent."

Gingerbread, a charity which supports single parents, said it was vital the government demonstrated its commitment to fairness across the full range of spending cuts.

Chief executive Fiona Weir said: "While the fund may in itself be a positive initiative, it is not going to make enough of a difference to poor families against the backdrop of the devastating impact of the emergency budget and looming public sector cuts.

"What matters to families on low incomes is the cumulative impact of government policies, and we are looking to the government to prove that they are taking a fair approach overall in next week's Spending Review."

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