Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)

WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001

MS MARGARET HODGE, MBE AND MR ALAN CRANSTON

  120. They are not in your Early Years Partnership anyway?
  (Ms Hodge) No, but we are now going to have a hundred by 2004. All the research evidence initial findings clearly demonstrates that they are proving very much their worth. Every pound we spend on a child in a setting like that, multi-agency support, saves £8 in alternative spending in the early years of a child's life, which mirrors very much the American data on that so I do not think we will be found to be terribly wrong even in 20 years' time. What we ask of them when we designate Early Excellence Centres is that they should cascade out their practice to other Early Years providers in their area. A lot of them do training, a lot of them spend time having people coming in and watching how they operate and how they deliver and offer services to children.

  121. I just want to push you a little further on that, Minister. The thrust of the article by David Walker in The Guardian yesderday touches I think on a very important point. On the one hand he gives full praise and says that the Government is not getting enough recognition for the enormous work it has done in pre-school, so it is a very generous precursor. But what he says is really the essence of it is that most of the work and most of the money and resources are flowing to those people who are from more challenged and socially deprived backgrounds. He says if you want to capture the imagination of the rest of the population and the people that the rest of this Committee will be facing pre-election very shortly is actually capturing the middle ground in terms of both the excitement, the opportunity of having quality pre-school provision for everyone. It was interesting, when I asked you the question about the beacon, that you immediately went to an exemplar which was targeted towards those communities which were more deprived.
  (Ms Hodge) No, it is not.

  122. Oh, is it not?
  (Ms Hodge) They are all over the place.

  123. All of the ones that this Committee looked at were actually in areas of deprivation.
  (Ms Hodge) There is one in Oxfordshire which is in the middle of a market town—I am trying to think what it is called—which is very far from deprived.

  124. Chipping Norton, I am told.
  (Ms Hodge) That is it. You would not really call that in a highly deprived area.

  125. Okay, Minister, that is a fair point, but what about the main thrust of the article that David Walker presents, that you have got to capture that broader market, what he called middle-class support that would then demand good quality pre-school provision?
  (Ms Hodge) The first thing is—I would say it, wouldn't I, and in fact I have written a letter to The Guardian today saying this, which they may or may not publish and which I said tongue in cheek—that if I had a pound for every time I try to get publicity for the very good stuff we are doing and the papers choose not to cover it, I think I would have a load of money to develop a whole lot of new nurseries. There is a lot happening that they choose not to cover because it is a good story. That is the first thing. The second thing to say is that we have done research among parents, BMRB did a research project for the Women's Unit, and 76 per cent of parents think that child care has improved under this Government. That is, I think, an incredibly good record of which we are proud, and if we are reaching the mums it is probably more important than reaching the media. The third thing is that we are providing for the first time free nursery education for all three- and four-year olds. Actually, what is so interesting about this is that no previous government has ever funded free nursery places for three-year olds. We are now having a phased expansion. What do I get? Hundreds of letters from a whole range of parents and they tend to be (the ones who are not getting it yet) the ones who are not in the less disadvantaged areas, saying, "Why haven't I got this now?" As we roll it out there is a growing demand there for what we are offering and that is free. The other thing that the Day Care Trust said, and that was borne out by other things, was that 93 per cent of parents want much better quality child care, so that is what we are responding to. The final thing is, should the state subsidise more child care in the way that, let us say, they do in Sweden? Again, I think from where we are at and how we want to grow, the fact that we are targeting low income families to enable them to access high quality child care is the appropriate way to go. Maybe five, ten years down the line when we have got a much stronger sector, when the Neighbourhood Nurseries have grown from 900 to 9,000 with a bit of luck, we can think again about resources, but it is right as we expand it to target low income families.

  126. I do not want to make a meal of this and I appreciate everything you have said, but one of the clear and powerful pieces of evidence spoken from the heart last week here was that the real area of concern was that yes, all these things are good which you say but it only makes up quite a certain part of the child's day. What one of the witnesses said was that what is of most concern to the people in pre-school is that a child is hawked around during the day and week to several settings and that cannot be good for a child. There is not enough joined-up provision that is both good for a working parent or a busy parent and good for a child. The Committee has not been pushing you to make statements but when we went to Denmark we found very great resistance to the state doing everything, and of course they have income tax at 50 per cent and VAT at 25 per cent. On the other hand, we do believe the Government should lead a bit more firmly and positively to encourage perhaps the private sector to give that full range of services: the after school provision, the pre-school, the early 7-9 slot, the 4-6 slot; you know what I am talking about.
  (Ms Hodge) Yes.

  127. It did come from the heart last week. This is the main concern, hawking a child around.
  (Ms Hodge) It is in my heart too. Honestly, that is my vision and I think we are on the route to it. I can go through the initiatives we have got on it. We have set a target, 2004, 100,000 of the nursery places must provide wrap-around care so that they will be all day, all year. We will have a hundred Early Excellence Centres. They all will provide all day, all year provision. That is one of the imperatives for them to be recognised as Early Excellence Centres. The 900 Neighbourhood Nurseries we hope will also provide all day, all year 0-5 provision. We have given money to the pre-schools to encourage them to provide the wrap-around care. We have given money to the nursery schools. We have not talked about those this morning but they had £12 million last year and we are now giving £15 million over the next three years to the 500 remaining nursery schools in the country to encourage them to develop their services so that they provide more all day, all year, down to nought provision rather than starting at three. The whole thrust of everything we are doing is to provide seamless services for the children and bring together the previously divided professions. We have also got our star rating scheme which we are going to be introducing which will, I hope, act as a further push towards providers to encourage them to develop more integrated seamless services.

  128. An AA rating for pre-school settings?
  (Ms Hodge) Yes. All of us as parents, when we go and look at our first nursery and pre-school, have not really got much of a clue what we are looking at. What we want to introduce is a scheme which will give star rating to all settings. I suppose the analogy would be that it would be a little bit like a hotel rating scheme.

  129. The Good Food Guide?
  (Ms Hodge) The Good Food Guide. What it will enable you to see on your screen through the Child Care Information Service that we have established is not only the facilities that are provided, so for example, is there a garden, are there pets, all those sorts of things, but it will also have an assessment of the quality which will be partly based on the Ofsted inspection but only partly based on that.

Charlotte Atkins

  130. How is the Ofsted Early Years arm working? What proposals do you have to make it more user friendly by comparison with the Ofsted inspection of schools? With our change of Chief Inspector that might help but what are you proposing in terms of the Early Years? Clearly the sort of inspection of schools would not be appropriate entirely for the Early Years settings that we are talking about.
  (Ms Hodge) First of all, they have not actually quite started yet. They are starting in June when they are doing their first registrations. Secondly, I am very pleased by the appointment of the Head of the Early Years sector because I think she carries great credibility right across all providers and professions involved in the Early Years and I think that is a really good appointment. I wish her well at Ofsted. The third thing to say is that Ofsted in the Early Years have already been incredibly successful. Two years ago only two out of three Early Years settings met the standards that did not require a re-inspection within two years. That has now increased to nine out of ten. The inspection regime has supported a quite radical and important improvement in the quality of standards. Two out of three to nine out of ten in two years is, I think, pretty brilliant. The other thing to say is that in the discussions we have had with Ofsted they are absolutely clear that they want to work very closely with providers and all interest groups in the Early Years setting. For example, there will be an Ofsted person on every Early Years partnership. That is a very different way of working from the past. Nevertheless, we have established this distinct arm of OFSTED to not only provide national standards but, also, to drive up the quality of early years settings. They are quite clear that that is their central agenda.

  131. Will all the inspectors have early years experience?
  (Mrs Hodge) No, but we have actually set quite tough parameters on who or who will not be accepted as early years inspectors.

  132. If you are ensuring teachers in early years are correctly trained, it is not going to be appropriate to have inspectors without that early years experience going in to inspect teachers or early years workers who have that training.
  (Mrs Hodge) I agree. All of them, currently, are OFSTED trained and recognised early years inspectors. They are now having to do childcare inspections, so they will be responsible for the registration and inspection of childminders.

  133. What is the target in terms of—
  (Mrs Hodge) I cannot remember off-hand. We will have to write to you on that one.

  134. Mike Tomlinson was with us before and he mentioned something about the National Standards for Day Care soon to be published, I think he said, at the end of March. Have they been published?
  (Mrs Hodge) No, they are about to be.

  135. What difference do you think that is going to make?
  (Mrs Hodge) We have consulted quite widely on them and most of the news, I think, will be very welcome to the early years and childcare sector. They will establish national standards for the first time, so, again, it will not be a matter of geography as to how your childcare and early years setting is regulated and inspected; it will now be inspected against a set of national standards. I think most important, probably, from the discussion of this Committee is that we did listen to representations, as we always do, and will, in the final standards, raise the qualification levels that we expect people to have in an early years' setting. What we will be saying is that a minimum NVQ 3 must be the qualification for any leader of a setting or any person in charge—so that is a deputy—and, also, anybody in charge of a baby room must have an NVQ 3. That is a change from the original. Then 50 per cent of the others must be working towards a qualification.

  136. You have been talking about massive expansion in this area, and, therefore, hopefully, these standards are challenging. What is, in your view, the most challenging aspect of those standards?
  (Mrs Hodge) The LSC will be discussing the partnerships and how they are going to meet the 230,000 people with NVQ 2/3. We have got the 184 million that we have put into training. I am not worried. The recruitment campaign is going brilliantly, and out of the first take of 64,000 phone calls that has converted into 17 per cent who are now working in childcare and a whole range more who are training or looking for jobs. That is not bad. We are spending £4-5 million a year on recruitment advertising for the next three years of this Comprehensive Spending Review period.

Chairman

  137. However, there is still concern about the discrepancies between Section 10 and Section 122 Inspections. Andrew Lockett from my own area of Kirklees was concerned and said that both inspections need to sing from the same hymn sheet. Given the massive increase in the expenditure of OFSTED in this year because it is expanding its remit—we did not take this up with the Permanent Secretary yesterday—it could have easily figured in this massive increase. Getting this inspection right is a high priority, is it not?
  (Mrs Hodge) Yes. Currently it is being done by two different professions. From June it will be done by one. We then need to move to totally integrating the two regimes, and we recognise that that must be part of the agenda for the not-too-distant future.

Helen Jones

  138. As part of that agenda, when you look at the framework for OFSTED inspections, should it not include more than just what goes on actually, physically, in the setting? We have heard from a number of our witnesses that an important part of early years work is how you work with parents, how you integrate with the community. Should that not, in future, also be part of the inspection and, therefore, part of an attempt to raise standards in early years?
  (Mrs Hodge) Yes, it is. The answer is it is in there. Obviously, working with parents is an absolutely crucial part of any early years offer.

  139. Can I just follow on from that, then? We have talked a lot about training and talked a lot about inspections for driving up standards. What steps are you going to take in the department to make sure that the information we get from the inspections then informs the decisions that we take about training and driving up quality? Very often in school settings we have seen (certainly under the previous chief inspector) that the inspector says "This, this and this is wrong" but there is no advice on how to move it forward. Is that going to happen in early years?
  (Mrs Hodge) We will have to wait and see. I hope it will not. I suggest it might be an interesting session if you were to talk, when she has got her feet under the table a bit more, to the new Director of Early Years. She will have the power to produce state-of-the-nation reports on all aspects of early years. I have absolutely no doubt that she will see as part of her task advising Government on training needs arising out of the inspection reports. We are now setting up quite a tough structure. I think, Helen, you are a bit worried about it, but the regional branch of advisers is important. OFSTED will be decentralised in structure, so a lot of their inspectors will be working from home into regional centres. We are also setting up regional advisers to support the Neighbourhood Nurseries initiative with business developments, and that is a huge undertaking. So there is quite a lot of support going on in there to ensure that down at the grass roots where it has got to be delivered we raise quality and we expand services.


 
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