To the point: Denmark points the way

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Whenever I visit a Nordic country, I'm mistaken for a native. I probably have some Viking blood in my ancestral line. That might explain why I've always admired the Nordic countries. More likely, they are admirable because they get so much right, not least their world-class early-years education and childcare systems.

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Take Denmark. The centre-piece of the Danish childcare system is a guaranteed daycare place for children from the age of six months until they start school at six years. It is available to all parents, and covers the period 8am to 6pm, plus school holidays. Ninety-seven per cent of children between the ages of three and five, and 91 per cent of those aged between one and two, are enrolled in daycare, with the vast majority in full-time care.

The cost of childcare to parents is capped at 25 per cent of the unit price of provision. Childcare is entirely free for parents on the lowest incomes. Although the price varies from place to place, in practice, parental fees are capped at around 3,000kr (£300) a month for under-twos and 2,000kr (£200) a month for children aged three to five.

While the guarantee of childcare is set out in national legislation, it is local municipalities that are responsible for ensuring there are places for all local parents who want them. Denmark has a diversity of childcare providers, with centres run by the public, private and voluntary sectors. Parents can take up their right to a place in any sector, although most centres are run by the local municipality.

The government sets out broad objectives which childcare providers and municipalities should pursue. However, municipalities are responsible for the organisation, governance and accountability of local childcare provision, and individual centres have considerable autonomy over their own practices.

This adds up to a very different system from the one which operates in the UK. Crucially, Danish childcare centres are led by pedagogical experts and the majority of staff hold degrees in child development. They are supported by childcare assistants, who have an upper-secondary level of education. What's not to like?

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