HC Deb 30 March 1998 vol 309 cc382-3W
Mrs. McKenna

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the arrangements for funding pre-school education in school year 1998–99. [37185]

Mr. Wilson

Universal provision of education in the pre-school year is a key part of our drive to raise standards in education, to tackle social exclusion from the earliest age, and to provide integrated early years services to support working parents. It is also a crucial component of the Government's national childcare strategy.

Having considered the responses to the consultation paper on pre-school education which I issued last November, I now announce the detailed arrangements under which local authorities will lead the further expansion of pre-school education in the 1998–99 school session. Letters have been issued today to all local authorities and provider representative organisations explaining these arrangements in detail. The key points are as follows: £46.6 million will be distributed as grant under the Education (Scotland) Act 1996 among local authorities for the first two terms of the 1998–99 school session, on the basis of the participation of eligible children in provision. The latest GRO estimate of pre-school year children in 1998–99 stands at 61,371; and funding will be geared to cover this number of children. Estimated population figures for each authority, together with indicative grant figures, are today being issued to all authorities. Local authorities will be funded at an enhanced rate of grant of £1,140 over the school year 1998–99 for every eligible child occupying a part-time education place of at least 412½ hours over the year, whether in their own centres or in a centre with which they are in partnership. Local authorities and their prospective partners will be free to negotiate the price at which places will be purchased under partnership arrangements. The principles of 'best value', taking full account of quality as well as price, should obtain. As a guideline, and taking account of the need to ensure adequate remuneration for staff in partner centres, I suggest that a quality partnership place is unlikely to be obtained for less than £850 over the year, after allowing for the recharging of any quality support services. I intend to review in the autumn authorities' progress with partnerships. I am introducing simplified eligibility rules for pre-school grant for ease of local authority administration. Greater latitude will be given to local authorities in the configuration of education hours, so that they may respond more fully to the needs of children and their parents. I expect all authorities, and their partners, to strive to achieve fully loaded places of at least 412½ hours education by the end of the 1998–99 school session. Where places offer less education, grant will be proportionately reduced. In some rural areas the cost of provision can be prohibitively high. I am keen to ensure that children from rural areas should have access to the same opportunities as other children and I am therefore making an additional, one-year grant of £4 million available to 24 authorities with gaps in provision in rural areas to assist them to complete provision in their area. These resources will be used to create new provision, taking account of the needs and preferences of children and their parents and ensuring so far as possible that existing provision in registered voluntary and private centres is not displaced or replicated.