Labour will fund private nurseries 2/42point deckyy

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Labour plans to fund private nurseries and relax teachers' qualifications in order to provide places for all under-fives. The proposals are likely to stop short of committing a Labour government to putting a qualified nursery teacher in each class .

A party inquiry on the under-fives, to be launched next week, will look at ways in which it can form partnerships with private nurseries and playgroups. The move echoes plans under consideration by the Tories, though Labour hopes to give local authorities a greater role.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP leading the inquiry group, said new nurseries could form part of supermarket developments or other commercial ventures."If the private or voluntary nurseries meet the quality threshold and curriculum demands that we lay on them, there is absolutely no reason why they should not have access to public money," she said.

There would be money for training, but staff might be nursery nurses rather than teachers. "I don't necessarily believe you need to have all qualified teachers to improve standards, though I think you need an education focus and an emphasis on training,"Ms Hodge said.

She hopes a Labour government would integrate services for the under-fives in centres providing both day care and education. The day care would be means tested - Islington in north London charges £110 per week for parents earning more than £25,000 a year- but the education would not. Local education departments would run the service and a single inspectorate would monitor standards.

The cost has not yet been worked out, but the National Commission on Education estimated last year that nursery education for 85 per cent of three-year-olds and 95 per cent of four-year-olds would cost £860m a year plus capital costs. The plans met with a mixed reaction yesterday, both nursery campaigners and teachers' organisations maintaining their commitment to qualified teachers.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of teachers, said playgroups and day-care facilities were no substitute. "Any nursery education must be provided by qualified teachers supported by other adults." But the Pre-School Playgroups Association was delighted. Margaret Lochrie, its administrator, said: "From our point of view it is important that sight is not lost of people working in the voluntary sector."

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