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Both Michael Howard and Tony Blair have pledged greater support for families through childcare.


With Labour making assistance for "hard working families" one of its key election platforms, the Tory chief has sought to reclaim ground traditionally held by his party.


Government Response


Tony Blair said: "This is not about children being abandoned in schools for ten hours a day, all year round.


"It's about providing a service that engages children, helping them to flourish through sports, play, music while meeting the needs of working parents.


"We must ensure the best possible start in life for all our children who are our strength and our future."


Party Response: Conservative


Michael Howard leader of the opposition said: "We can ensure that regulation is a light touch - so that nurseries and playgroups aren't driven out of business or more expensive than they need to be. We can help support informal care more effectively. We can ensure that childcare is more flexible…and that's what these proposals are designed to do."



Party Response: Liberal Democrats


Phil Willis MP, Liberal Democrat education spokeperson commenting on Michael Howards plans to increase maternity pay said: "Yet again Michael Howard can promise nothing but confusion. He has failed to identify the level of support parents would get or where the money would come from. The only thing he has made clear to parents is that Tory childcare pledges don’t add up.


"It’s easy for the Tory party to promise the earth when they know they will never have to deliver."


Commenting on Labours childcare plans he said: "It makes sense to get maximum use out of school facilities and to keep children in a single secure place throughout the day. But by missing out on essential details the government is at risk of spoiling a good idea.


"Parents must have peace of mind that their children are receiving high-quality childcare by properly vetted staff.


"Teachers must be informed about how it will affect their work conditions and so far nobody has told schools whether they are expected to pay for this.


"Until all these questions have been answered dawn 'til dusk childcare remains another empty Labour promise."


Stakeholder Response: National Union of Teachers


Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary, said: "This bidding for votes by the leaders of the two main political parties can only be of benefit to families if it means improved provision both pre-school and before and after school each day.


"Bidding up what the other offers by the party leaders is fine by us but they must not turn our children’s futures into a political football.


"The expansion of nursery education and now the extension of child care will be welcomed by every parent round the country. Support of this type will help all children especially those from low income families where inadequate provision can lead to educational disadvantage.


"No child should be a latch key kid. Instead every parent should have access to child care  outside school hours. But such provision cannot be done on the cheap nor at the expense of increasing the workload on our teachers. Its introduction must be on a time scale with which schools can cope.


"The best form of extended child care is by dedicated and trained staff in appropriate accommodation."


Stakeholder Response: Association of Teachers and Lecturers


A spokesman for the ATL said:"To what extent does this proposal meet the needs of parents and the vocal majority?


"As reported its empty rhetoric. Parents have very little opportunity to influence SATs, the national curriculum or the inspection of schools. The idea for more flexible schools is a nonsense as it stands - it needs more thinking through."


Stakeholder Response: 4Children


Anne Longfield, chief executive, 4Children said: "Today’s announcements by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition place support for children and families at the heart of the political agenda. Consistent evidence has demonstrated that underinvestment in childcare in this country has limited opportunities for children to learn and develop and for parents to have genuine choice and support. We warmly welcome Tony Blair’s promise of placing a new statutory duty on local authorities to ensure every parent has a guarantee of an affordable and flexible childcare place for their child during the school years. We further welcome commitments from the Conservatives to supporting parents in those crucial early months.


"Despite considerable progress in recent years, we are a generation behind some of our European counterparts, where childcare has been an integral part of the social infrastructure for many years – and too many of our children have suffered as a result. We now have a real chance to create a broad and enduring consensus on the need to transform the community landscape for the good of children and families across the country. We hope that the government, and indeed the Opposition, will ensure that resources are invested to make the vision of universal childcare a reality."


Stakeholder Response: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development


Duncan Brown, assistant director general at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said; "Flexible employment policies are becoming embedded in the UK world of work.  Employers increasingly recognise that workers are more productive and more loyal if they are treated well and allowed to balance work and the rest of their lives.  Skills shortages and near full-employment are bringing these issues into sharper focus for employers and policy makers alike.  At a time when labour shortages characterise the labour market, giving a good deal to working mothers and fathers becomes a business necessity, not an optional extra.


"However, our most recent research on flexible working shows that fathers feel they simply cannot afford to take up their statutory right to two weeks paternity leave paid at the current rate of £102.80 per week – and are unlikely to be significantly more motivated by £150 per week.  Less than half would take paternity leave at the current rates, but this figure leaps to 80 per cent if they were paid at 90 per cent of their full pay, and 87 per cent if they are paid at their full level of pay."


Stakeholder Response: NASUWT


Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT,said: "High quality childcare is at a premium and the announcement of the government’s commitment to invest in such provision will be welcomed.


"Schools are at the heart of the community and it is inevitable that they will be central to the government’s plans for more flexible childcare arrangements.


"The Prime Minister’s public commitment to ‘working closely with the unions representing the majority of school staff, as we have been doing for the past two years over workforce remodelling’ will reassure teachers that these developments are not intended either to add to the workload or responsibilities of teachers or to detract from the school’s core focus on teaching and learning.


"Detailed discussions on extended schools are already underway and their development will form a key element of a package of support that will be undoubtedly be attractive to working parents."


Stakeholder Response: Professional Association of Teachers


Jean Gemmell PAT/PANN general secretary said: "We welcome the recognition by both parties of the importance of childcare.


"We would welcome a reform of the tax credit system - especially if nannies were

included - and greater flexibility and help with costs for parents. However, quantity

must not be at the expense of quality. Regulation is necessary for the sake of children and carers.


"In an ideal world, extending school-based childcare outside normal school hours

would put schools at the heart of their communities by extending the concept of

'education', but the government must back its good intentions with the funding and

training necessary to provide and equip the skilled education, childcare and health

professionals needed to put these plans into action.


"The pay, working conditions, training needs and professional status of nursery nurses

and other childcarers must be addressed if any of these proposals from the two parties

are to succeed. Unless there are improvements, the government - of whatever party - will not be able to recruit enough properly trained and qualified practitioners.


"PANN would like to see all nursery staff qualified up to the standard of NVQ level

three. At the moment, the rule is that 50 per cent of staff in nursery establishments have to be qualified.


"We would also like the government to subsidise nurseries so that they could pay

their staff more and ensure more mentoring and career progression.


"People who come into childcare only do so because they're very dedicated. They

would get more money working in the supermarkets. A lot of staff are working on

little more than the minimum wage. Many of our members are having to do two or

three jobs just to make ends meet.


"With such low wages in childcare, it's not surprising that there is such a high

turnover of staff at the moment."


Stakeholder Response: Institute of Directors


Richard Wilson, head of business policy at the Institute of Directors, said:  "Both political parties should give serious consideration to paying Statutory Maternity Pay and Statutory Paternity Pay directly to the employees concerned. This would lighten the burden on employers and ease potential cashflow problems."












Published: Thu, 11 Nov 2004 15:37:05 GMT+00