This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Minister of State for Children and Families talks about the government's agenda for early years provision, including plans for Sure Start children's centres.
Anand, can I thank you very much for inviting me today - it is a great pleasure to be here.
And can I begin by offering my congratulations to Maggie Darling on her appointment as Chair. I’ve worked with Maggie before and I know she has been a long supporter of this organisation so I wish her well in what I know will be a demanding and challenging, but very exciting, time of work.
As Anand said, this is your last conference before your 25th birthday and I do hope that you do feel extremely proud of the work that you have done over the last 25 years.
But if I can add another thank you on top of the things that Anand said just a minute ago: I want to thank you for your help in working towards a good settlement in the Spending Review last month. Now, as Anand outlined just a few minutes ago, at a time of real difficulty in public finances, to get the good settlement that we did - the good settlement on Sure Start, the increased investment in the Early Years - was by no means inevitable.
And it is really thanks to the campaigning work that the sector did over a long period of time to raise awareness of the importance of Early Years and arguing for the moral, the political and the economic reasons for investing in Early Years, is what made it easier for ministers such as myself to make those arguments inside government.
So I want to say thank you for the work that you did. Without the work that you did there is absolutely no way I would be able to stand here today with the settlement that we have - so a huge thank you.
But of course the challenge is to build on that, and to make sure that that investment counts. And walking away waving a promissory from the Treasury is a good start, but we’ve now got to live up to the expectation that we’ve made with the Treasury - and we’ve made our bid for Early Years.
From the Government’s perspective, I hope that greater clarity about our objectives will help with that. In the past I think there have been many competing objectives around the importance of investing in Early Years. Why should we invest in Early Years? What’s it for? Is it about welfare to work? Is it about childcare? Is it about women’s equality?
Well of course all of those things do matter but the Government has made a clear decision to prioritise child development, and we’ve done that because we see what a difference that can make in the long term around social justice and on social mobility.
Successive governments have tried to tackle the issue of poverty and have spent billions trying to fix it. But this Government thinks the only way to sustainably make a difference on disadvantage is to focus on social mobility and on opportunity - trying to change life chances, not just moving people across an arbitrary income line.
Disadvantage in Britain today is too often passed from one generation to another, like a genetic trait. The parents’ income predicts how well you do at school; how well you do at school predicts your income. And so we go round and round. And we have to find a way of breaking out of that devastating loop.
We also know that the gaps between the rich and the poor set in long before children actually get to school. And we are absolutely determined to break that link.
This Government thinks that your birth should not equal your fate, and critical to that is investing in the Early Years. That is why I announced the extension of the three- and four-year-old entitlement to 15 hours in the summer. And it’s why the Comprehensive Spending Review prioritised investment in disadvantaged two-year-olds.
Now I announced this week that the Government intends to legislate to make sure it is a free entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds and make that an actuality by 2013. In the meantime, money will be available next year to continue to provide for two-year-olds at the current level. And after that, financial support will rise rapidly to £300 million by the end of the Comprehensive Spending Review period.
Sure Start is also - absolutely - at the heart of what the Government wants to do around early intervention and tackling disadvantage. Now Anand spoke a few minutes ago about the decision to remove the ringfence on Sure Start. What we’ve done is put the money for Sure Start into a new grant called the Early Intervention Grant, because we want councils to think much more about early intervention and to prioritise early intervention across the piece, from Early Years, but also the work they do with families.
But Sure Start children’s centres are going to be at the heart of what we do, and when we have the report through from Graham Allen - who’s doing a report for the Government on early intervention and best practice - we’re going to need Sure Start centres to deliver that work and deliver the best practice that Graham Allen advises on.
But I want more diverse, more flexible centres - much more voluntary sector involvement as well. Which is why I announced also that we’re going to use the Localism Bill to try and drive forward that change so that voluntary sector organisations have the right to challenge local authorities so that they would put those services out to tender, and so that voluntary sector organisations might be much more involved in running centres - as well as, of course - involved in providing services from centres, which many already are.
But I want to lift the burdens on children’s centres to allow them to be more responsive to local need. At the moment it doesn’t make sense for all children’s centres to provide full day care in disadvantaged areas if there is not the take up to make use of it. Money ends up being diverted from interventions that might otherwise make a real difference, such as family support, or co-financing extra speech and language therapy. So I can announce today that we will remove that requirement.
However, we are still expecting centres to provide high-quality early education to meet local need. Some centres will want to go on providing full day care, but only if that demand is available locally, and I want them to be able to make that decision based on local need.
We are expecting centres to tailor what they provide to their local area. Now in that context, if centres are not providing full day care, we don’t want to be as prescriptive as we have previously been in expecting them to employ both a QTS and an EYP. So we will remove that requirement. However, we hope that Sure Start children’s centres will want to play a leadership role in their area - driving forward the policy on Early Years and having good graduates in centres is vital to do that.
The final announcement I want to make today is about the work of the Children’s Workforce and Development Council. The Government is committed to improving the quality of the Early Years workforce, which is at the heart of the reforms I’ve spoken about today and the reforms that we will speak about over the coming months. However we do want to free up resources for front-line staff, so we will be taking the work of this body back in to the Department. CDWC has done some fantastic work but we want to reduce the layers within government that the sector has to deal with.
All of these changes have been about supporting the overriding ambition of child development - a principle that we feel is too important to ignore; a principle that recognises that while you can make the case for saying children are born equal in this country, they are not all born lucky. It’s up to us to load the dice in their favour.
By reducing bureaucracy, by giving local authorities greater independence, by trusting Early Years professionals to do their job, and by freeing up more resources for the front line, we are in a far better position to do that.
My thanks goes to the Daycare Trust, and the wider sector, for giving us that sense of direction and purpose - and for ensuring that the commitment to Early Years is a long-term one and will benefit children and families for many years to come.