Nursery children ‘would be packed in like battery chickens’ under Labour plan

Sir Keir Starmer said the Labour plan would 'create the childcare places needed to turn the page, and rebuild Britain'
Sir Keir Starmer said the Labour plan would 'create the childcare places needed to turn the page, and rebuild Britain' - Labour Party

Labour’s proposal to convert disused classrooms into nurseries would pack toddlers in like “battery farm chickens”, the Education Secretary has claimed.

Gillian Keegan said the proposals did not stack up and would breach guidance on the minimum amount of space per child.

Conservative analysis of Labour’s proposals claimed that the 3,334 disused primary school rooms it intends to convert into nurseries could only accommodate 67,000 children, 33,000 less than the 100,000 extra places Sir Keir Starmer has said the plan will deliver.

Labour has strongly disputed the figures, saying they were based on flawed assumptions about its policy and that the use of averages was a credible way of calculating available space.

The Tories said the situation could be worsened by Labour’s tax raid on private schools if that created extra pressure on state schools.

Ms Keegan said: “All Labour’s back of a fag packet nursery policy will do is result in pre-school children being stuffed into overcrowded classrooms like battery farm chickens.

“This should come as no surprise given just last week Labour admitted their politics of envy schools tax will mean larger classes in state schools.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, and Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, visit a primary school in Warwickshire on Monday
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, and Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, visit a primary school in Warwickshire on Monday - Stefan Rousseau/PA

The Tory analysis pointed to Department for Education guidance that sets out space requirements per child of 3.5 square metres for under-twos and 2.5 square metres for older children.

It said that would mean that, on average, Labour’s new nurseries would need to provide three square metres per child, but a typical primary school classroom is 60 square metres, meaning it would be able to cater for 20 children once converted into a nursery.

As a result it claimed that the 3,334 classrooms would only accommodate 66,680 places – two-thirds of the number Labour has said its policy would create.

The Tory analysis is based on averages, meaning it does not take into account the differing sizes of classrooms across England’s school estate. It also assumes a half and half split between children under two and over-twos attending the new nurseries.

Official figures published last December showed that the average size of a school-based nursery was 34 places, and not the 20 calculated by the Tories.

If that average were replicated across the converted classrooms, there would be enough space for 113,000 childcare places under Labour’s plan.

Labour has pledged to improve both the quantity and quality of nursery care available and to end childcare “deserts” so that more parents can work.

There is an acute shortage of childcare in England, with two children for every available place. Labour’s plan to create 100,000 more places would boost provision by around six per cent.

Announcing the policy earlier this month, Sir Keir Starmer said it would “create the childcare places needed to turn the page, and rebuild Britain”.

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour will deliver 3,300 new primary school-based nurseries providing 100,000 childcare places, paid for by ending private schools’ tax breaks.

“This desperate, back of a fag packet analysis is wholly inaccurate – it fails to take into account the range of ages of children attending primary school-based nurseries and that not all classrooms are the same size.

“Under our fully-costed and funded plans, older children, including those aged three and four, who would require less space, would also be attending these nurseries.”