Labour to rewrite nurseries curriculum

Early learning: Policy to embrace partnership of public and private sector for under-fives
Labour will offer state money to private nurseries and rewrite the curriculum for the under-fives in plans to be announced next month.

The party is already looking at projects which might form the model for its aims to expand nursery education and day care. One involves a private company, set up by a Labour council, which has taken over all day nurseries in a Tory borough.

In a paper to be launched in the New Year, the party will condemn the Government's nursery plans, despite recent reports that the party might not withdraw the pounds 1,100 vouchers if it came to power after their introduction. It is likely to promise nursery education for all three- and four-year-olds, as well as day care for babies and toddlers.

Though Labour has not costed its plans, experts have estimated that between pounds 1.02bn and pounds 1.04bn per year might be needed to provide part-time nursery education for three-year-olds and full-time schooling for four-year-olds. A fully integrated under-fives service, including day care, would cost around pounds 2.7bn per year.

Margaret Hodge, head of the party's "early years" inquiry and MP for Barking, said Labour had to recognise that things had changed since Margaret Thatcher first promised nursery education for all in 1972. Part-time care would no longer suffice because far more mothers now worked, she said.

"We will have to build on the legacy we inherit, and so we would have to look for partnerships with the private and voluntary sector to create these places for children. We have got to be imaginative if we are to provide access to all," she said.

The party's new policy foresees an integrated under-fives service, often run by partnerships of private, public and voluntary organisations. Local authorities would still be responsible for planning and inspection.

Nurseries might be built by private companies, such as supermarkets, in return for planning permission for developments, and could be run by a local authority or by a voluntary organisation. Mrs Hodge said there should be flexibility so that authorities in different areas of the country could meet local needs in their own ways.

Labour would also scrap plans drawn up by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) for a nursery curriculum which sets down basic targets for levels of numeracy, literacy and general knowledge.

Instead, it is examining a project set up by all major groups representing nursery and childcare organisations to design a new curriculum from birth to the age of eight.

The Early Childhood Education Forum is just finishing a first draft of its plan, Quality and Diversity. Its authors say the SCAA curriculum is too rigid and could even be damaging.

Instead, they propose five "foundations", based on active learning, pupil participation and imagination, as well as on building a sense of individuality and of group membership.