Patten emphasises nursery 'diversity'

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PRIVATE nursery schools and voluntary play groups will be enlisted to bring about the Government's new commitment to education for the under-fives, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said yesterday, writes Fran Abrams.

Speaking at the North of England Education Conference in Chester, Mr Patten made a clear attempt to close an apparent gap between himself and the Prime Minister on the issue. Shortly after the Secretary of State for Education said recently that Britain could not afford nursery schools for all, Mr Major said they were a highly desirable option.

Mr Patten told the conference that both he and John Major believed universal state provision was not the whole answer. 'The Prime Minister and I are therefore keen to find ways of helping to extend over time the amount of nursery schooling available. Let us be clear - universal state provision is not the whole answer.

'I am determined to ensure that parents continue to enjoy a diversity of public, private, and voluntary. There is no place for replacing or discouraging some of the excellent voluntary and private provision that now exists.

'But we do intend to explore ways of adding, as resources allow, to the choice already available from all sources,' he said.

Nursery education has been a matter for hot debate since the publication last year of the final report of the National Commission on Education, which said nursery schools for all should be a priority.

Mr Patten said he was sure he could trust most teachers to carry out this year's tests in English, maths and science for 7- and 14-year-olds despite continuing boycotts by some teacher unions.