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Conservative leader Theresa May has launched her party’s election manifesto 'Forward Together' to "build a stronger, fairer, more prosperous future."
The Conservatives have pledged to provide immediate funding to help primary schools develop nurseries where they currently do not have facilities to provide one, and introduce a presumption that all new primary schools should include a nursery.
The party confirmed that the 30-hours of 'free' childcare for three- and four-year-olds will go ahead in September this year.
It also revealed plans to scrap universal free school lunches for children aged between five- and seven-years-old, which will raise £1bn more per year for schools. Instead, free school breakfasts will be offered to every child in primary schools in England, while children from low-income families will continue to receive free school lunches throughout their years in primary and secondary education.
In the foreword, Ms May said: "We need to give every child in our country the best possible education if we are to provide them with the best opportunities in the world.
"Our future prosperity, our place in the world, our standard of living, and the opportunities we want for our children – and our children’s children – all depend on getting the next five years right."
The manifesto pledges to:
• Introduce, this year, 30 hours of ‘free’ childcare for three- and four-year-olds for working parents who find it difficult to manage the costs of childcare
• Introduce a presumption that all new primary schools should include a nursery
• Institute a capital fund to help primary schools develop nurseries where they currently do not have the facilities to provide one
• Continue to support maintained nurseries and allow them to become academies
• Strengthen the teaching of literacy and numeracy in the early years so that all pupils – regardless of background – get the best possible start in life
• Build on the success of the phonics screening test
• Assess what more is needed, including looking at the best ways childcare is provided elsewhere in Europe and the world.
The party also promises to make funding 'fairer' so that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new funding formula.
The manifesto also pledges to introduce mental health first-aid training for primary and secondary teachers.
'Persistent struggle for survival'
In response to the pledge that all new primary schools will be expected to include a nursery, with a capital fund set up to support this, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: "Private and voluntary childcare providers play an integral role in the delivery of childcare and early education in this country, and yet many have faced a persistent struggle for survival as the result of insufficient funding.
"As such, it beggars belief that the Conservative manifesto makes no attempt to address this issue, but instead, chooses to concentrate its funding efforts on increasing the number of school nurseries.
"If this is an attempt to avoid having to deal with the funding concerns raised by the private and voluntary sector, not only is it both short-sighted and cynical, but also nonsensical, given that many of those same concerns are shared by nursery providers in the maintained sector."
Liz Bayram, chief executive of Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), added: "Whilst the creation of more childcare places has to be welcomed, the childcare market is complex. These proposals will have to recognise the diversity of existing provision to ensure working parents aren’t faced with less choice and flexibility. Schools can only ever be part of the solution, given most only deliver provision over 38 weeks of the year."
She continued: "The manifesto also reiterates the Government’s plans to introduce 30-hours of 'free' childcare for three- and four-year-olds of working parents from September, but doesn’t recognise the current challenge of delivering this previous manifesto promise. In many areas of the country, funding levels are too low to cover the cost of delivery.
"PACEY is keen to work with whomever forms the next government to ensure this issue is addressed and a long-term, sustainable funding strategy is put in place. If not, many current childcare providers will be forced to choose between providing a place at a loss or losing business altogether. Neither option ensures that children and families have access to the high quality, sustainable childcare which will enable them to flourish."
Wary of debates
According to Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), many nurseries will also be "wary of reopening debates" about childcare ratios.
She said: "With regard to the existing 30 hours’ plan, we still call for acknowledgement that needs urgent attention if it is to be delivered sustainably by nurseries.
"The hourly rate paid to providers still does not cover their costs and this situation cannot continue as it is. The policy needs to be adequately funded and index-linked to keep pace with rising business costs and inflation.
"Capital funding, even if offered to the whole of the sector, is just a small part of the equation. The key is sufficient hourly rates to cover ongoing costs."
For more information on the Conservative’s manifesto go to: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto