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The childcare sector has good news and bad news to ponder lately, as viewed by Alan Bentley.

Regular readers will not be surprised at my personal point of view on recent news items affecting our sector.

The first, which covers the ongoing problem of Nursery Education Grant, causes me more and more concern as time goes by. The children's minister, Beverley Hughes, is keen to make clear, at every occasion possible, that the £3bn set aside in the Dedicated Schools Grant will be more than enough to meet a fair payment to private nursery providers for the services the Government has chosen to provide to parents on a universal basis. However, having made no attempt to ring-fence this sum from the clutches of a financially desperate local government responsible for administering such payments, how can she be so sure?

Whether or not the amount set aside by Ms Hughes' department is sufficient to meet the £9.58 which the NDNA suggests is a fair minimum session payment - rather than the current £7.92 average - Ms Hughes can have no idea what will be left to meet such payments after local authorities have top-sliced the grant before it ever reaches nursery providers.

In addition, the timeframe set for deciding even transparency or a fair level of payment is so far away that, even by this Government's standards, there is more wriggle room than a bag full of ferrets.

When Conservative MP Anne McIntosh made her statement at the recent Westminster conference on private nursery viability, I believe she was spot on when she suggested that the present Government is 'ideologically opposed' to the private nursery sector. If they wish to dispel such views, I challenge them to demonstrate this by granting fair interim measures while the NEG muddle is resolved, and by ensuring that money set aside for the sector is actually delivered.

On a happier note, I was delighted to read of the plan by Glasgow City Council to consider delaying formal primary education until children are six. Not only does this mirror the sensible practice in much of Europe, but it also recognises the all-important need to let children enjoy their childhood.

There have been many reports over the past ten years seeking to enquire what is wrong with the youth of England today. In my opinion, unrealistic parental and state expectations, and the resulting pressures placed on young children, are a major contributing factor. The sooner England wakes up to a similar idea to that expressed by Glasgow, the happier and more fulfilled our children will be.

- Alan Bentley is chairman of the Childcare Corporation.

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