Time for school, toddlers: Teachers told to take on two-year-olds
Children as young as two years old should be given the chance to go to school, the government is proposing.
Education minister Liz Truss has written to local authorities across England asking them to extend school nurseries' opening hours.
The move is a bid to end the childcare headache which leaves parents relying on childminders or grandparents for up to four hours a day.
She also wants schools to agree to begin letting two-year-olds go to school nurseries – a move which, if widely adopted, would make childcare much cheaper for parents.
"Schools have excellent facilities," she told the Telegraph newspaper.
"It is age appropriate, so what you are doing with two-year-olds in terms of singing, reading stories, playing with paint is very different from what you do with a seven-year-old.
"If you have a really high-quality school nursery, children who are behind can catch up with their peers by the time they start school."
Schools are already allowed to open their doors to two-year-olds but must apply to Ofsted in order to be able to do so.
Truss is proposing scrapping this rule from this September.
Her previous attempt to allow staff to look after more children each, which would have brought childcare ratios in line with most countries in Europe, was blocked by the Liberal Democrats.
Now the education minister is moving ahead with a second attempt to solve the problem.
She believes many parents would prefer longer days rather than "short bursts" for five days a week.
Truss added: "If you're working part-time, you could have two sessions of seven-and-a-half hours, or three sessions of five hours. It gives much more flexibility."
Across the country average childcare costs are thought to be more than £400 a month.
Labour questioned whether the government would be able to afford to pay for the extra schools provision.
Shadow childcare minister Lucy Powell said: "The government is already failing to provide enough quality early years places for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds.
"With a crisis in primary school places meaning we'll need an additional 240,000 places by 2015 where will the funds come from for this announcement?"