HC Deb 06 July 1995 vol 263 c324W
Mr. Sweeney

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement about pre-school education in Wales. [33471]

Mr. Hague

The scheme announced today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to give parents of all four-year-olds a voucher that can be exchanged for pre-school education, will apply equally in Wales.

Wales has a good record in this field with some 90 per cent. of four-year-olds already receiving some form of pre-school education. I hope the scheme will enable all four-year-olds to benefit from a pre-school place.

The voucher will be exchangeable for a part-time place in any private, voluntary or maintained institution providing nursery education, a full-time place in a reception class in a maintained school where this is available, up to a full-time place in a playgroup of a combination of these options. The value of the voucher will initially be set at £1,100.

Parents will be able to top up the value of the voucher in the private and voluntary sector if that is necessary. But provision in maintained schools will continue to be free.

Providers of places for which vouchers are exchanged will be expected to meet certain minimum quality criteria and be subject to light-touch inspection arrangements. The scheme will be funded by a mixture of recoupment of some of the money already spent on pre-school education in the maintained sector and of new money.

It is my intention that the scheme will be fully operational in Wales from April 1997. I shall be consulting interested parties about implementation of the scheme, including how to make sure we are well prepared to secure its successful introduction.