Education bill ‘a key milestone’ in children’s care

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has described the publication of the Government’s Childcare Bill as a ‘key milestone’ in the drive to improve children’s wellbeing.

Kelly said it was a landmark Bill – the first ever Government legislation devoted specifically to under 5s and childcare.

“Mothers and fathers will have the certainty of knowing that whatever their background, high quality local early years education and childcare services will be available to support them and their children,” she said.

“The Bill is part of our drive to create quality childcare for children up to age 14 and a Sure Start children’s centre in every community by 2010.

“Within the framework of this legislation, services will be responsive to the needs of the community, making sure that children from families in the most challenging circumstances have the opportunities they need to get the best start in life.

“This Bill confirms the vital role that local authorities will play as strategic leaders, working in partnership across all sectors to shape the delivery of early years services and the future provision of childcare, raising quality and improving outcomes for all children and parents.”

Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes said: “This Bill is emblematic of the Government’s third term objectives, combining radical reform of services with the focus on improving the life chances of all young children and especially the most disadvantaged.

“It is a truly radical Bill, enshrining in law the duty of local authorities to reduce inequalities amongst the youngest children and improve outcomes for all.  It brings, for the first time, the provision of integrated early years education and care into the mainstream of the modern welfare state.”

“The needs of children and their parents – fathers as well as mothers iare at the heart of this legislation, with local authorities as their champions, ensuring their views are heard in the planning and delivery of services to reflect their real needs.”

The Bill will improve children’s wellbeing by ensuring that Local Authorities provide:

A better start for all children up to age five, in particular to close the gap between those at risk of the poorest outcomes and the rest, through helping them to access integrated early childhood services

* Sufficient local childcare to meet the needs of working mothers and fathers, or those that want to return to work, with particular regard to low income families and those with a disabled child – with parents given advice and help with accessing childcare

Access to the full range of information parents require for children up to the age of 20 – with parents’ views contributing to the planning of early childhood services and childcare in their area.

The Bill will also introduce by 2008 a new, reformed legal framework for regulation and inspection of all early years settings, strengthening their focus on improving outcomes for children.

 For children from birth to the end of reception year, all registered settings will be required to deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage ia framework of requirements to ensure all young children have access to an integrated learning and care experience that evidence shows enables them to achieve the best outcomes. This will have the same legal force as the National Curriculum in schools.
 For out of school childcare, settings will be judged against new Ofsted Childcare Register (OCR) standards ensuring safety and suitability; for the first time offering parents consistent mechanisms for choosing safe, reliable and good quality childcare for children up to age 15 (16 if disabled).  The OCR standards will be compulsory for all settings caring for children under 8 and any setting offered as part of an extended school.
This new regulatory framework will also help deliver our aim that by 2010, all parents of children between 3 and 14 will have access to a year-round childcare place open 8am to 6pm through extended schools, children’s centres and other early years providers.