Hughes argues with UNICEF over report criticising UK

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Children's minister Beverley Hughes has written to UNICEF to complain about a report on early childhood education which she described as 'poor' and full of inaccuracies.

The report, published on 11 December, set ten benchmarks for evaluating and comparing the early childhood services on offer in 25 countries. It claimed that England met only five (News, 11 December). The five benchmarks that England failed to meet were: parental leave of one year at 50 per cent of salary; a child poverty rate of less than 10 per cent; near-universal outreach of essential child health services; a minimum staff-to-children ratio for four- to five-year-olds in pre-school education of 1:15; and spending 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on early childhood services.

But Ms Hughes argued that England did meet the last three benchmarks and that the report 'misrepresented' the UK's position on childcare and early learning. She told UNICEF that the report fell 'well short of the high standards we expect from your work'.

A response from UNICEF said that it was in the process of trying to verify the Government's figures. However, it added that four- to five-year-olds in England would be in reception year and would not be subject to pre-school ratios of 1:8.

Stephen Pattinson, media officer at UNICEF, said, 'Most experts agree the benchmarks are fair and that England is in the right place in the league table. The country has come a long way but it still has a long way to go, in areas such as child poverty, parental leave, and the universal outreach of child health services. The report aims to provide a snapshot of each country at a specific moment in time and we are disappointed that the Government has got bogged down in the minutiae of the detail.'

Further information

The UNICEF report, 'The childcare transition: A league table of early education and care in economically advanced countries', is at www.childwellbeing.org.uk.

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