The uses of nursery

Now, before you get the wrong impression, I am a fan of school. I think school is, on balance, a good thing. Firstborn will be going to school next August, when she will be (horrors!) only four-and-a-half; right now, she goes to a state-approved nursery.

But let’s call school school, so we can at least debate when it should start and when it’s “compulsory”. When Gordon Brown says he’s offering “free nursery places for 2-year-olds“, let’s not pretend they’re about helping mothers into work* with free childcare. What can you do with 15 hours a week, especially when most providers offer that only in 3-hour-a-day chunks? Well, either you can pay your own money to “top it up”, which a low-wage job won’t allow, so that’s just another subsidy for middle-class parents who can already afford to work; or you can stay home in order to do the drop-off and pick-up, in which case what is the nursery place for?

Well, clearly it’s a way to bring smaller and smaller kids into the system. Because the other thing about free nursery places is that they can only be taken up at “partner providers”: either the nursery departments of schools, state nurseries, or approved private nurseries. And those last, which theoretically allow parents the most choice about how their children are cared for, almost always charge a top-up fee of several pounds a day, so, again, the most”choice” is available to those who can most afford it. You get a bit of money; in exchange, you offer your kid up to an approved curriculum.

If it’s about childcare for work, why can’t you use it for a childminder? Or for relatives to provide care? What if you work shifts, or nights, or the sort of casualised crappy job the government are so keen on?

In short: it’s about when to put your kid into the machine. I think two is too young.

*Let’s, for the moment, leave aside the question of whether all a 2-year-old’s main carers should be encouraged by government funding to work outside the home.


4 Responses to The uses of nursery

  1. Steph says:

    Two years would be considered quite old to be starting full-day care here in Canada. Most parents (let’s face it, most moms) go back to work after 9 months to a year.

  2. Ruth Moss says:

    Well said. In fact I would like to go a little further. If funding is available for a certain number of hours of childcare, why can’t I (or my baby’s father) get that money and use it as a subsidy to take that amount of time out of paid work to look after my little one myself?

    I think this is an important issue, and unfortunately, it’s one that the right wing have seemed to hijack – why, oh why, is it the Tories who are suggesting “paying mothers to stay at home”, rather than Labour or the Lib Dems suggesting “subsidising parents to choose their own childcare, even if that’s the parents themselves”?

    PS liked your comments on the F word

  3. Bel says:

    Not sure that there’s anything wrong with assisting parents who work outside the home with the costs of childcare (which are astronomical). As a single working mother (if I didn’t work I’d lose my house) I would have appreciated the help.
    I don’t agree that my son would have been better off with me 24/7. I don’t know if I could have coped with that, and in any event it wasn’t an option. It’s nice to be able to have the option to stay at home with the children until they are 2. Not all of us have that. There’s little enough help for working parents as it is. I would support this initiative.

  4. Kate says:

    Yep, I tend to agree that staying at home full-time is really not an option (for so many reasons) for everyone. I stayed home full-time for five months with each child, and then worked part-time, and that’s been pretty good for me and, I think, for them. When I was too shit to get to playgroup or similar, my children were getting good social time with the childminder or nursery.

    The option of being paid, properly, to stay home is a really interesting one – personally, I’m a fan of citizens’ income, where everyone would get enough to make choices like that regardless of child-having status; I think it would transform the paid and unpaid economy. But that’s a whole other hobby horse (and blog).

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