Schools should open doors to two-year-olds, says minister

Schools are being encouraged to open their doors to children as young as two and extend their nurseries’ opening hours as part of the government’s latest attempt to increase access to childcare.

Liz Truss, the childcare minister, is writing to local authorities to ask that the nurseries are open for longer during the working day, while legislation will also be introduced to enable schools to take toddlers.

As well as helping mothers to go back into part-time employment, the government envisages that the move will create large numbers of childcare places and help to prevent the children of poorer families from falling behind their peers.

Truss told the Daily Telegraph: “Schools have excellent facilities. It is age appropriate, so what you are doing with two-year-olds in terms of singing, reading stories, playing with paint is very different from what you do with a seven-year-old.

“If you have a really high-quality school nursery, children who are behind can catch up with their peers by the time they start school.”

She added: “Many parents would prefer longer days rather than five short bursts during the week. If you’re working part-time, you could have two sessions of seven and a half hours, or three sessions of five hours. It gives much more flexibility.”

While some school nurseries already offer care to children under three, the government expects that 40% of all two-year-olds will be in line for 15 hours of free care a week.

At present, school nurseries have to register with Ofsted before taking in two-year-olds. This “red tape,” as described by Truss, will be removed by legislation in September.

About two-thirds of mothers say the cost of childcare is an obstacle to them working more, according to a recent survey by MumsNet and the independent thinktank the Resolution Foundation.

In terms of the various costs involved in raising a child, other figures put together by the Centre of Economic and Business Research showed earlier this year that childcare and babysitting costs had accounted for the biggest annual rise over the previous 12 months.

The Daycare Trust put the average cost of childcare at £405 a month, and the insurer LV= found that mothers believed they now needed to earn an average of more than £26,000 a year to make it worth returning to work.

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Schools should open doors to two-year-olds, says minister
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