The plans, detailed in the party’s manifesto, launched today, also include the introduction of a presumption that all new primary schools should include a nursery.
The Conservatives have pledged to continue to support maintained nursery schools and allow them to take on academy freedoms. Nursery schools would be able to continue to operate independently or as part of multi-academy trusts. This move is one that has been lobbied for by the nursery schools All Party Parliamentary Group, to help ensure sustainability.
The party confirmed the 30 hours programme will still go ahead, and that they will assess what more is needed, including looking at the best ways childcare is provided elsewhere in Europe and the world.
Other plans include ‘strengthening’ the teaching of literacy and numeracy in the early years and building on the phonics screening test.
For schools, the party promises to make funding fairer so no school has its budget cut as a result of the new funding formula. It would also scrap universal free school lunches for infants and bring in a free breakfast for every primary school pupil. Children from low-income families would continue to receive free school lunches.
A Conservative Government would also introduce mental health first-aid training for primary and secondary teachers.
Commenting on the move to support primary schools to develop nurseries, 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.
'If the 30-hour funded childcare offer is to have any chance of succeeding and actually providing the places promised to parents, then the Conservative Party simply must ensure that adequate funding is available to all providers, not just a select few. Ignoring the needs of the private and voluntary sector, which for years has been the backbone of the childcare sector in this country, is thoughtless, offensive and rash.'
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, said, 'The Conservatives are not proposing any additional free childcare but draw attention to looking at childcare around the world for inspiration for new ways forward.
'The sector always wants to learn from other countries but many will be wary of re-opening debates about childcare ratios. The manifesto also mentions a capital fund to help primary schools to set up nurseries.
'Why only schools, many of which are very reluctant to deliver the 30 hours pledge this September?
'The whole of the sector, including private and voluntary providers, has a vital role to play in childcare and early years education and NDNA strongly advises the Conservatives to consider where places are needed and who is best able to provide them in allocating this money.
'With regard to the existing 30 hours plan, we still call for acknowledgement that the scheme needs urgent attention if it is to be delivered sustainably by nurseries.
'The hourly rate paid to providers still does not cover their costs. 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.'
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, 'The Conservatives are promising to create thousands of additional nursery places in primary schools, but this doesn’t recognise that the vast majority of places are currently delivered by private and voluntary-sector providers, including childminders. 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.
'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.'