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.