They are being sold as a way of increasing the freedom of women to choose whether or not they want to work full time. But I wonder if this really describes what is going on.
One of the great changes in British society in the past 30 years, though it is rarely commented upon, is that it now takes two full-time incomes to maintain a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. This explains, amongst other things, why divorce is now financially ruinous for all concerned.
Where once women fought for the right to work, they now have to work. So this policy is not about extending women's choice so much as a recognition that - single, married or divorced - they no longer have any.
Another powerful motive for this policy is Labour's belief that parental care is inferior to professional care. Socialists have generally seen progress as consisting in more and more of the functions of parents being taken over by agents of the state.
So it is that Ruth Kelly (as quoted in the Guardian) can write in the document which announces the scheme:
From my visits to schools, I know that the best are delivering extended services already. They know that children will be better placed to achieve their full potential if they are in childcare that allows them to complete their homework, keep fit and healthy and have fun.The implication here seems to be that parental care does none of these things and denies children the possibility of reaching their full potential.
And it was hard to be enthused by the response of Ed Davey, the new Lib Dem shadow education secretary. The useful summary on the ePolitix site quotes him as follows:
In other words, there is nothing in terms of philosophy or policy to differentiate us from New Labour here, and if the party speaks for anyone it is not children or parents but the teaching profession.
After eight years in government, Labour has finally woken up to the needs of pupils and parents.
These plans sound promising but Ruth Kelly will need to answer questions on whether this is real new money or whether schools will be forced to find these resources from other areas of their budgets.
The extended school opening hours must not result in additional paperwork for head teachers.
Davey was one of the contributors to The Orange Book, which leads some regard him as part of a sinister libertarian conspiracy within the party. If only.