Shadow education secretary appears confused over Labour’s nursery promises

Bridget Phillipson with Sir Keir Starmer at Nursery Hill Primary School, in Nuneaton on Monday
Bridget Phillipson with Sir Keir Starmer at Nursery Hill Primary School, in Nuneaton on Monday - Labour Party

The shadow education secretary appeared to be confused over whether the nurseries promised under Labour’s childcare reforms will be new or not.

Labour has promised to create 3,000 “new school-based nurseries” under plans announced this week, promising to accommodate 100,000 additional childcare places.

The party plans to utilise under-used and empty classrooms in England’s primary schools to house the new nurseries. It also plans to provide free breakfast clubs in England’s primary schools, with the aim of saving parents more than £400 a year and lowering absence rates.

But Bridget Phillipson appeared to suggest that some of the “new nurseries” would instead be created through the “expansion of classes” at existing sites or “the expansion of the age range” accepted within classrooms.

She told Channel 4 News during a visit to a primary school in Nuneaton, Warwickshire: “For example, what we have seen here today is that there’s provision for three and four year-olds. The school has told me they would like the opportunity to expand.”

When challenged over whether or not all 3,300 could be described as new, if some already existed, she said: “Because they’re expanding. It’s delivering on the commitments that have been made to parents. So it would be a new provision.”

Asked again whether this meant they were not all new nurseries, she replied: “Well in many cases it will be brand new, but in other cases it will be the expansion of classes or the expansion of the age range that is available.

“But it’s 100,000 places. That is an awful lot of places and would make an enormous difference to families.

“It would lead to 750,000 women being able to take on more hours. It would have an economic impact as well as the life chances that would deliver for children.”

It comes after the party was forced to correct Emily Thornberry’s suggestion that adding VAT to private school fees could lead to larger class sizes in the state sector.

The shadow attorney general claimed on Sunday that “it would be fine if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes”.

On Monday, Ms Phillipson slapped down this claim, and said it “just wasn’t right”.

Labour sources later said the 3,300 figure related to new premises within existing sites, which would involve upgrading and refitting classrooms to make them suitable as nursery spaces.

The party has said that the new provision would be paid for by their VAT raid on private schools, and would be targeted at areas of highest need.

It comes after Angela Rayner last week was mocked over a Labour pledge to build a cancer centre that already exists.

The party vowed to “Build Cumberland cancer hospital” in Carlisle, Cumbria, but it has already been built and has been open since 2021.

It was one of the listed “40 new hospitals” that the Conservatives pledged to build by 2030.

Ciaran Jenkins, of Channel 4 News, asked Ms Phillipson whether the 30,000 new nurseries pledge had echoes of the Tories’ new hospitals pledge, which ended up including refurbishments and new wings of sites as well as entirely new premises.

The shadow education secretary said: “No, we’ve done our sums. We’re serious about it and we’re confident that we can deliver on it.”