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Minister may extend free nursery provision scheme

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EXTENDING free nursery provision to 30 hours per week and widening the scheme to cover children from the age of two are among ideas currently being considered as part of a review of early years education in Jersey, the Education Minister has said.

Nursery education is currently under review

A policy development board was set up earlier this year to conduct a review of early years and come up with a new model for the system, which currently includes the Nursery Education Fund. This provides 20 free hours of nursery education a week for children during term time in the year before they start school.

The board’s work is ongoing, with Education Minister Tracey Vallois stressing that she wants all early years provision from birth to starting school to be looked at.

Now she has revealed that some of the options under consideration include extending the free nursery hours to 30 hours per week during term time, providing free hours for longer – from the age of two to starting school, and coming up with a system to provide wraparound care for children at school nurseries, where hours follow the school day.

And she has repeated assurances that any new scheme will provide a minimum of at least 20 free hours for preschoolers during term time.

She also hopes that inconsistencies in the system, such as one that allows the Jersey Child Care Trust to provide free nursery hours for two-year-olds with special needs but then reduces their entitlement once they come under the NEF, can be addressed.

‘What we are trying to develop is consistency, appropriate transitions and pathways for the families at the centre, rather than having lots of people trying to do the absolute best – and they are obviously successful in it – but it is not as smooth a transition as it should be,’ she said. ‘We have got a gap in the system where families or children may fall through the net between two and three. So what we need to try to do is bridge that gap.’

She added that conversations were currently being had about what any new system could look like.

‘If we were to extend the NEF to two-year-olds, how do we do it? Do we do it on special educational needs? The other conversation is do we do 30 hours for NEF and limit the extension to two, or 20 hours for two- to four-year-olds?

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‘I have asked the board to look at research – there are plenty of methods around the world that show that investment at the right time can produce excellent outcomes for individuals and society as a whole. But then we need to look at whether they are right for Jersey, because they are all very different places.’

She added: ‘What I want to do is to try to stop ourselves saying “look what the UK do”. Let’s do what we do.’

Wraparound care for children at school nurseries, which provide shorter hours than their private counterparts, is also up for discussion, the minister said, adding that any provision would need to be a partnership between the public and private sector, for example by allowing private providers to use school facilities. Research shows that children are best catered for in one location, she added.

She said: ‘I made a commitment to the public about the NEF that it would continue as it is as a minimum. And I am hoping if we can’t do it [the changes] all at once, we will be able to phase it in over time.’

The board’s work is being carried out with a view to a new system being in place for the academic year beginning in September 2020.

Lucy Stephenson

By Lucy Stephenson
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