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Who Needs (Public) Nurseries? We do! online discussion 17.04.24

This April the government is beginning its £4.1 billion + childcare expansion.


But where will the money end up? At present shareholders look to be the greatest beneficiaries of the childcare expansion.

The UK has some of the most expensive childcare in the world, while early years workers earn the lowest wages in the formal economy. Where parents are eligible for the new ‘free’ childcare hours, reports are that extra charges and increased fees of up to 15% at private nurseries will wipe out any benefit.


Decades of bad policy and funding via ‘entitlements’ means that the Government has not invested in public childcare infrastructure, but instead has relied on the market to provide. This along with underfunding has seen large nursery chains buy up huge parts of the sector – and ongoing reliance on underpaid apprentices and a system that prioritises profit over education and care for the youngest children.


The legal ratios of children to staff have increased – putting additional stress on workers and making settings less safe and less accessible for children.


Universal early years education and childcare would enable identification of different learning needs so all children can access early support. Yet the planned expansion of free hours childcare (from age 9 months), is only for families earning over a certain amount, inaccessible to lower income families and student parents.

• 70% of those eligible for the new free hours are from homes in the top half of earners (Sutton Trust)

• Just 6% of councils report ‘sufficient childcare for children with disabilities’ (Coram, March 2024)

• 27% of nurseries reported that they had no space for children with SEND (Dingley’s Promise, November 2023)


Meanwhile council-run nurseries, and maintained nursery schools – remaining public nurseries, which provide affordable high quality inclusive early years education and care – are under threat, in Hackney and in Leeds.


Please use these links to find out what you can do to support the campaigns in Leeds through actions including a petition, and in Hackney with the public consultation ongoing and a rally planned on Monday 22 April.


Wednesday 17 April, 7pm –discussion with council-run nursery campaigners


Professor Helen Penn’s new book Who Needs Nurseries? We do! tells the story of private sector childcare. Penn points out that greater subsidy from government for private nurseries (which some campaigns are calling for), is not the answer, and argues for expanding local authority provided nursery provision.


The On the Record "Grow Your Own" oral history project is gathering veteran campaigners Penn, Jenny Williams, Post Pandemic Childcare coalition members, and parents from Hackney and Leeds public nursery campaigns, to discuss how to fight for council run nurseries.



Helen Penn is an activist campaigning for nurseries. She was a founder member of the National Childcare Campaign in the 1970’s and 1980’s and has subsequently been a director of local authority services for young children. For the last 30 years has been an academic at the Institute of Education, University College London, and at the University of East London. Her research has been international as well as national, for organizations such as the EU, OECD and UNICEF.


Jenny Williams has been involved in childcare campaigns and work in the sector since the 1960s. She was a founder of the groundbreaking Maxilla Nursery Centre, and went on to run Colville Nursery Centre, both of which were in North Kensington. Both centres combined high quality care and education, was state-funded but community controlled, and free for children living in its catchment area.


The Grow Your Own oral history project, run by On the Record, with Post-Pandemic Childcare Coalition, is recording the history of community action and campaigning for childcare work to be valued and all children to have access to childcare and early years education.

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