With all the hullabaloo about the Conservatives' plans for 'free' schools, why can't this principle be applied to the early years sector ('Parents want local authority-run schools', News, 8 April)? In fact, it already is.
Based on choice, we have chosen, in the UK, to adopt a 'mixed economy' approach, a blend of mainly private providers with some state facilities for our youngest citizens. We support this with a complex system of subsidy for childcare places and parents.
As the Editor's View (29 April) notes, none of the parties seem to have a real insight, but the most worrying thing is that we see this model as the only way. If we look at our European partners and further afield, we see different arrangements associated with different thinking about children and childhood.
We have a chance to sort it out, but I suspect a continuing muddle; we probably do have a vision, but the difficulty is that we can't agree on what it is. Surely children's lives are too important for that?
Andrew Sanders, lecturer, Early Childhood Studies, University of Derby.
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A TOP-UP TOO COSTLY
As the debate about plans to suspend the code of practice that prevents nurseries from charging top-up fees continues to rage, it is important that the voices of children and parents are heard loud and clear.
Daycare Trust, the national childcare charity, has spoken out against these proposals because allowing nurseries to charge extra will harm the families who stand to benefit the most from the free entitlement, meaning the value of these places will be lost.
In our view, the free entitlement is the most important policy of the childcare strategy. Not only does it guarantee all children the best start in life, but the evidence is now overwhelming that high-quality childcare has the most long-lasting effect on improving the outcomes of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
Daycare Trust appreciates the problems nurseries face in trying to deliver this high quality, and support them absolutely in calling for an improvement in subsidy so that providers can deliver high-quality care and also cover the overheads they face. And we will continue to lobby the incoming Government to improve the subsidy that they receive.
However, we remain resolute that the shortfall should not be made up by imposing the bill on parents who can least afford it. This is not a solution, and if nurseries are given permission to charge these fees, it will be the youngest members of society who really pay the cost in the long term.
Alison Garnham, chief executive, Daycare Trust.
VALUE THE STAFF WE HAVE
I simply cannot understand the current emphasis on practitioners having degrees or EYP status. It makes a mockery of what the Early Years Foundation Stage stands for - valuing individuals for who they are - and prevents some practitioners from advancing despite their wealth of knowledge, as in the case of the practitioner prevented from entering an EYPS course because her dyslexia leaves her unable to pass the maths and English equivalency tests (Letters, 15 April).
I do think the CWDC needs to devise ways for such practitioners to meet the required English and maths standards in ways that are appropriate to individual needs. Only then will the sector be able to retain these dedicated, experienced and qualified practitioners.
How many teachers across the country are not qualified to degree level? And are they being told they can't attend professional development to upskill their qualifications? I think not!
It doesn't seem long ago that the Government wanted to employ a 'mum's army' to work in early years settings. So, isn't it about time that we found a middle ground and a return to a society which values practical skills on a par with academic qualifications, instead of making those without feel undervalued?
Judith Baxter, nursery manager, St Mary's Nursery, Hexham, Northumberland.
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