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CHILDCARE ACT GUARANTEES SURE START FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS

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The government's flagship Childcare Bill has now received Royal Assent fulfilling commitments to give every child t...
The government's flagship Childcare Bill has now received Royal Assent fulfilling commitments to give every child the best start in life and parents greater choice about how to balance work and family.

Children's minister Beverley Hughes said:

'We have a real chance here to make a difference to children's lives for generations to come, to work together - all of us - national and local Government, voluntary and private sectors, parents and children

- to deliver for the future. It's an opportunity we must all seize.

'This is an historic and radical piece of legislation - the first solely dedicated to early years and childcare - that redraws the boundaries of the welfare state ensuring that early years services are at the heart of what families can expect in their local areas.

'It will transform children's services by requiring local authorities to improve the outcomes for all young children, reduce inequalities, and ensure there is sufficient, high quality early years provision and childcare for parents locally.'

The Childcare Act 2006 ensures:

* For all our children under 5 high quality early learning and care and better access to early childhood services

This is achieved by the free offer of care and learning which will increase and become more flexible for parents of 3 and 4 year olds that want it; the new Early Years Foundation Stage which will establish a framework to support children's development and learning from birth to five; and a duty on local authorities to improve the outcomes of young children by providing better joined up and accessible early childhood services through children's centres.

Also importantly in improving outcomes for all, the Act requires local authorities to reduce inequalities between those at risk of the poorest outcomes and the rest.

* For working parents a choice of a wide range of childcare where they can be confident that their children will thrive and be well cared for, enabling them to have greater choices about balancing work and family life

The Act places a duty on local authorities to secure - in partnership with the private and voluntary sector - sufficient childcare for all parents who choose to work or are in training in preparation for work and a duty to provide information and advice to parents on childcare and other services to support parents. It also reforms and simplifies the regulatory arrangements through the creation of two new registers run by Ofsted. These will provide parents with greater confidence about the childcare they choose.

Local authorities will work in partnership with the private and voluntary sector to ensure a diverse and sustained childcare market.

NOTES

1. The Bill was introduced into Parliament in November 2005 following the publication of the Government's ten year childcare strategy in December 2004. The accompanying Work and Families Act received Royal Assent in June has extended statutory maternity pay and allowances to nine months from April 2007 and provide entitlements and flexibilities for fathers.

2. The Childcare Act places duties on English local authorities to improve the outcomes for young children and the reduce the gaps between them; to secure sufficient childcare to enable parents to work; and to provide information to parents about childcare and a wide range of services that may be of benefit to them in bringing up their children.

3. The Act also includes provisions to reform the regulation and inspection regime for childcare in England, meeting a commitment set out in the Government's 10 year strategy for childcare - Choice for parents, the best start for children. The provisions include the establishment of an early years register for childcare for children up to the age of 5 and a register for childcare for children aged 5 and over (the Ofsted Childcare Register).

4. The Act provides for the establishment of a high quality learning and development framework for young children - the Early Years Foundation Stage. All providers registered on the early years register will have to work to this framework which will support the work to improve outcomes for young children. The consultation on the EYFS has been underway since May and closes on 28 July. The full consultation document can also be accessed at www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations

5. The government is now consulting on proposals for the requirements that providers must meet in order to be placed on the Ofsted Childcare Register and the arrangements for checking that they continue to meet those requirements over time. The full consultation document and an executive summary can be accessed at www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/. The consultation period ends on 28 September 2006.

6. There will be further public consultation on the regulations and statutory guidance which flow from the Act over the coming months.

Choice for parents, the best start for children: making it happen was published on 4 April and set out an action plan for the implementation of the Childcare Act 2006. This is available at www.surestart.gov.uk

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