Letter: Our vouchers did expand nurseries

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The Independent Online
Sir: Margaret Hodge's letter (18 November) suggests that the nursery education voucher scheme has not created new places.

The Government has never claimed that the voucher scheme would provide all the places needed for four-year-olds overnight. But a sound start has been made in just one term. Figures from a survey undertaken by Norfolk County Council show, in the private and voluntary sectors alone, 285 new places for four-year-olds with vouchers, and 1,300 children taking advantage of more sessions each week. Good news indeed for those children and their parents. I would be fascinated to know what Margaret Hodge considers created those extra sessions if it was not nursery vouchers.

In the state sector, Norfolk County Council has created 1,300 new nursery places. Of these, some 600 are attributed by the council to the voucher scheme. Norfolk, and the three other phase one LEAs, were given modest additional borrowing permission in 1996-97 because the Private Finance Initiative - which we expect to be a significant source of capital in 1997-98 and onwards - was not sufficiently developed at the time.

Schools tend to recruit into nursery and reception classes in the autumn term. It is no surprise, therefore, that the proportion of children in state schools has probably increased. It happens every year, as Margaret Hodge should know, with the voluntary sector picking up increased numbers in the spring and summer terms.

ROBIN SQUIRE MP

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State

Department for Education and Science

London SW1

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