Opening the annual Nursery World exhibition at Olympia, London, on Friday he told nursery providers: 'The pilot phase of the nursery education voucher scheme is working very well. In the four phase 1 local authorities alone, an extra £1.5m has been injected into nursery education. Over 1,100 providers are in the scheme, including more than 600 in the private and voluntary sectors. Over 14,000 four year-olds have vouchers and are making use of them.
'We always said that vouchers would lead to new nursery places over time, and there are already signs that this is happening:
-- Norfolk local education authority has opened or plans to open 25 new nursery classes giving an additional 1,300 places
-- Kensington & Chelsea LEA have plans to generate 100 more places
-- in Wandsworth, despite existing very high participation (80%), the nursery voucher scheme has generated interest especially in other sectors
-- 27% of playgroups are offering more sessions than before
'There is room for expansion in all sectors. All nursery providers will have to work towards very clearly laid out learning outcomes and for the first time, they will be inspected - a sure way to lever up standards.
'Criticism that the scheme is bureaucratic has proved unfounded.
Research shows that 72% of parents and 60% of providers found the administration easy or very easy. In the words of one playgroup leader 'even the children could administer the scheme'. And we have simplified the scheme still further by removing the requirements to submit separate claims for the second termly payment and to supply lists of children's names in support of places and by simplifying eligibility.
'Some playgroups are concerned that local schools will expand their reception class to cater for younger four year-olds. But a reception class is not necessarily the most appropriate setting for a child who may have just turned four. It may be that another type of setting, with a more favourable child:adult ratio, and a different kind of regime is more appropriate. It is for parents to make best decision for their child. They are best placed to do this.
'So all is on course for nationwide implementation next April. We will be issuing information for parents and providers which will answer all your questions very soon. Until then my message is - join the scheme and be part of the expansion.'