Young children's education in Wales 'a dog's dinner'

Image caption There are fears children could miss out on a good start to their education

Young children's education in Wales is "a dog's dinner", an academic has said.

Childcare and early years researcher David Dallimore of Bangor University wants an overhaul of education provision for three to four-year-olds.

He told BBC's Eye on Wales: "It's one of the things we haven't done well in Wales is have a long-term vision for our early years services."

The Welsh government said it can consider its options once the detail of the proposed Childcare Bill is known.

Currently, all three and four-year-olds are entitled to a minimum of 10 hours education delivered through the Foundation Phase.

Each of the 22 councils choose how they deliver those hours for three year olds and how much they spend on it.

Because of this, levels and flexibility of provision vary enormously from county to county.

"It's a patchwork of provision, there's a different level of provision in different local authorities, it's a bit of a dog's dinner," said Mr Dallimore.

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Image caption Research has shown there is a north/south divide in Wales

In contrast to England, this provision is mainly provided through state nurseries and schools, known as the maintained sector.

The problem for working parents is that 10 hours a week delivered over five days does not tie in easily with a working day.

Now there are calls to make the system work better for working families by offering a more joined up provision between education and childcare and enabling a larger range of providers to deliver the education entitlement.

Patricia Hanson from the National Day Nursery Association said: "Potentially we could be seeing parents and children in Wales missing out if something isn't done about it.

"We need to ensure that every provider, whether private, voluntary or maintained, that wants to participate in the delivery of the early entitlement is given the opportunity to do so."

Research for Eye On Wales showed there is a distinct north/south divide, with many councils in north Wales, such as Flintshire and Denbighshire, giving parents more options while in the south, councils such as Swansea only offering it through the maintained sector.

With England planning to expand its childcare and early years offer for three year olds, the pressure is now on the Welsh government to offer a better service for working families.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We are very clear about the importance of accessible, affordable and high quality childcare in helping people to get back into work, or to increase their working hours.

"Once we know the details of the proposed Childcare Bill and any financial consequential which may be generated, we will be in a better position to consider the options for Wales."

  • Eye on Wales, BBC Radio Wales, Sunday 12:30 BST

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