A NEW government scheme that could see children as young as two in education for up to 15 hours a week has sparked a heated debate between members of the Hampshire Community.

Managing director of Tops Day Nurseries, Cheryl Hadland, hit out against the announcement that schools across the county are being encouraged to create on-site nurseries as part of a nationwide initiative to ease the shortage of childcare, branding it as a ludicrous attempt to save money.

Ms Hadland said: “This is an outrageous and extremely worrying announcement, not only for day nurseries but for our country’s future. Schools in the UK already take children far earlier than anywhere else in the world, yet our teenagers perform worse than the vast majority of the leading nations worldwide and are going down the chart not up. “School is proven to be a far from perfect place for older children, so why make even younger children go too? My opinion is that this is the exact opposite of what our children need.

“Current schools typically discharge higher numbers of disengaged young people than at any point in our history - children suffering from mental health issues, unable to go into work, training or further education after school, unable to cope with adult life, disrespectful of belongings and the people around them. Why make it even worse by making them go to school even earlier?”

However a Winchester parent said nursery education was the best option for his little girl stating he has seen a vast improvement in his daughter’s communicative abilities.

Gareth Lewis, 39, of St Catherine’s Road in Winchester, works in PR and communications. His two-year-old daughter Lila goes to Hartley House Montessori on St John’s Street for the equivalent of two days a week.

“We were quite uncertain when we first put her in,” he said. “But we think it’s been brilliant for her. We’ve noticed a huge change in her ability to interact with other children and she gets more opportunity to learn, more interaction time, than she would if she were at home.

“We were only really concerned because she seems so little and it almost seemed too much at the time but she loves it and the mere mention of nursery gets a little cheer on the day she’s due to go.

“You have to look at the environment carefully that you’re putting your child into and you make a judgement based on the quality on what’s on offer and, irrespective of if it was a primary school or whatever, I would work out what was best for my child.”

Hampshire County Council said there are nine early years and private and voluntary independent providers already based on maintained school sites representing 31 per cent of the 29 primary and infant schools.

There are a total of 14 early years and childcare provisions operating on maintained school sites however the guidance does allow for any school to consider changing its age range.

Councillor Keith Mans, Hampshire County Council’s Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, said: “Hampshire County Council is delighted that early years and childcare providers have already developed flexible services to enable two year olds to access early years education, when parents choose to do so.

“The new statutory guidance allows further flexibility for schools to consider changes in their age range and this will enable some of the schools that currently hold separate Ofsted registrations for early years and childcare, for child age ranges outside of their current school roll, to consider including this age range.

“For any school that may wish to make changes, it will be important for school governors to ensure that all aspects are carefully thought through with good business planning to ensure that any business risk and confidence in demand enables services to be viable and affordable for parents.”