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Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has launched his party’s election manifesto promising to "Change Britain’s Future” by investing nearly £7bn extra in education.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to extend the 15 ‘free’ hours to two-year-olds, introduce a ‘Father’s Month’ as well as triple the Early Years Pupil Premium.
Mr Farron said ahead of the manifesto launch: “We want to give all our children a brighter future in a fairer Britain where people are decent to each other, with good schools and hospitals, a clean environment and an innovative economy.
“Education opens the mind, it fosters understanding and tolerance, and it empowers our children and our communities.
"We believe every child deserves a great start in life so they are equipped to shape their own future, and are determined to make sure that the education system finds and unleashes the best in everyone.”
The manifesto pledges to:
• Raise the quality of early years provision and aim for every formal early years setting to employ at least one person who holds an early years teacher qualification by 2022
• Increase Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per pupil per year
• Provide 15 hours a week of free childcare to the parents of all two-year-olds in England and prioritise 15 hours’ free childcare for all working parents with children aged between nine months and two years
• Commit to an ambitious long-term goal of 30 hours’ free childcare a week for all parents in England with children aged from two to four years, and all working parents from the end of paid parental leave to two years
• Ensure that this provision is fully funded at sustainable levels, provides flexibility for parents who work unsocial hours and enables parents to use free hours during school holidays.
The party said they will also introduce 'Father’s Month' – an additional month of paid parental leave for fathers, to encourage greater sharing of parental responsibilities.
Other plans include tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) - which provides extra funding for early years’ settings for children from disadvantaged backgrounds - to £1,000 per pupil a year, up from £302 in 2015-16.
The party also wants to extend free school meals to all primary school pupils and promote school breakfast clubs.
'Big promises, little detail'
Commenting on the promises, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said: “Once again, we are presented with a manifesto making big promises on childcare, but providing little detail on how these policies will work in practice.
“We know that navigating the gap between the end of parental leave and the start of existing free entitlement schemes has long been raised as an issue by parents, and so understandably many will welcome Liberal Democrat plans to extend the free entitlement to all two-year-olds, and under-twos from working families.
“However, it remains unclear how the party intends to ensure that this pledge is ‘fully funded at sustainable levels’, as claimed in the manifesto. The sector has been on the receiving end of enough underfunded ‘free childcare’ policies. Without more detail on how these pledges will be funded, many providers will remain rightly sceptical about these latest promises.”
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has also suggested that while the Liberal Democrats set out some “ambitious” and “worthwhile” aims, there must be “sufficient investment and strategic planning for these to be deliverable.”
She added: “Plans must also support a workforce strategy that seeks to fairly reward practitioners and elevate the profession to the same status as other educators. While we welcome the goal to have a qualified Early Years Teacher in every setting to ensure quality of experiences for all children, this would need a fully costed strategy to attract, train and retain the right candidates in these roles.”
She continued: “Any pledge to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is welcome. Currently, the early years sector lags well behind the amount of funding invested in schools. Tripling the EYPP would bring early years more in line with schools and recognises that investing in a child’s first few years will improve their life chances and reduce inequalities between peers.”
Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) supports the call to raise quality in early years settings. However, chief executive Liz Bayram said: "Employing early years teachers is only one way of achieving this, and it is crucial that any proposals meet the needs of the whole sector.
"The gradual extension of more free places to more children could have a hugely positive impact on children and families in England, but only if this is done in partnership with the sector – and addresses the chronic underfunding with which providers have been struggling with for the past several years."
For more information on Liberal Democrat’s manifesto go to: http://www.libdems.org.uk/education