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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 364 v
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Foundation years: Sure Start children's centres
Wednesday 4 September 2013
PROFESSOR Cathy Nutbrown, Ben Thomas, Sue Egersdorff and
CLLR Peter John, Cllr David Simmonds, Jon Stonehouse
and Annette Wray
Evidence heard in Public Questions 646 781
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 4 September 2013
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Mr David Ward
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Cathy Nutbrown, Professor of Education, University of Sheffield, Ben Thomas, National Officer, UNISON Education and Children’s Services, Sue Egersdorff, Independent Leadership Consultant and Brian Tytherleigh, Director of Operations, National College of Teaching and Leadership, DfE, gave evidence.
Q646 Chair: Good morning and welcome to this session of the Education Committee looking into Sure Start children’s centres. We are grateful to you all for appearing today. We tend to be quite informal and use first names; I hope you are all comfortable with that, including you, Professor. Excellent. That is great. We have two panels today. The material we have to cover is gigantic, so I apologise in advance. Please make your answers as succinct as you can and the Committee will try to break the habit of a lifetime and be reasonably brief as well. Thank you.
Can I start with you, Cathy, if I may? The Government has dropped its changes to childcare ratios. It is also doing consultation on standards for early years teachers and the criteria for early years educators. Do you feel that the Government has listened to your proposals and are you broadly happy with the direction of travel now?
Professor Nutbrown: I cannot say that I am broadly happy. My recommendation was for teachers qualified at the same level, to the same degree and rigour as teachers who work with children who are over five. That is not the case, so we are now going to have two kinds of teachers: teachers who are qualified to teach in schools and teachers who are not, in that sense. I worry about their conditions of service. I worry about their pay. I worry about their promotion prospects. I put forward that early years teachers would have QTS, would probably have a PGCE and that they would be trained to work with children from birth to seven. Birth to seven is important because children will go into the Key Stage 1 through the Foundation Stage and anybody who teaches children under five certainly needs to know what is going to happen in the next two years. That has been rejected and the present criterion for EYTs is from birth to five, although the criteria for early years educators is birth to seven; the argument there being that you have to know something about the children as they become a bit older. I do not know why the argument does not apply to both groups of professionals.
Q647 Chair: Can you see any reason for it or would you append any other descriptor to that contradiction?
Professor Nutbrown: If we have an education system, as we do in this country, that runs from birth to 18, then there is an argument that children should have the same calibre of staff. Certainly, some of them should be qualified teachers. I would see teachers as part of a multiqualified team, people with different kinds of qualifications, as I put forward in my review. I do not see any logic for some people being trained to teach from birth to seven and some people being trained to teach from birth to five.
Q648 Craig Whittaker: Do we know why the Government did not accept your proposals?
Professor Nutbrown: I don’t know why.
Q649 Chair: Do you think the split that is proposed by the Government, the lack of QTS, is going to further undermine the status of the early years workforce?
Professor Nutbrown: Yes. One of the things I was asked to do was to think about the status of the workforce as a whole. It is important to remember, and it was my premise when I started the review, that the only reason we have these conversations about workforce and qualifications is that we want to get it right for all our children. Once we agree on what it is that we want our children to have, then we can agree on what it is we need to equip those professionals to do. The important thing is to make sure that the people who work with those young children are really able to build those foundations. There are lots and lots of early intervention programmes. If we have really well qualified, knowledgeable people who understand young children, they will be well equipped to put in place additional programmes of support for those children who are most vulnerable who might need it.
Q650 Chair: These are not words you have used, Cathy, but my summary of what you have said is that the proposals we have are incoherent and that, with a lack of QTS, we are going to further weaken, or at least not strengthen, the status of the early years workforce when we wanted to do precisely the opposite. It does not sound a very good situation, Brian.
Brian Tytherleigh: I think the situation is improving greatly. If we look back over time, in particular starting in 2006, 2007 and the introduction of EYPS and graduate leadership into early years settings, we have made tremendous progress: 12,000 graduates working already. The provision of early years teachers is a continuation of that trend. The Government listened very carefully to Cathy Nutbrown and her report and have implemented a great deal of it; in particular, in terms of the issue of status and the recognition that these people are teachers.
Q651 Chair: Why not with QTS then?
Brian Tytherleigh: The QTS is irrelevant. QTS is a proxy for discussing pay. The vast majority of these people work in the private, voluntary, independent sector and QTS does not mean anything in terms of employment in those settings.
Q652 Chair: When you say "a proxy for pay", what do you mean?
Brian Tytherleigh: The issue that we are talking about when we are talking about status here is about pay and conditions. In fact, what we really want is our early years teachers and leaders to be paid appropriately for that work, and I think we all recognise they are not.
Q653 Chair: If they were QTS, that would somehow-
Brian Tytherleigh: If they were QTS, it would not make any difference at all except in maintained settings, which are very, very few. The vast majority of provision is in private, voluntary and independent provision. It is just like independent schools. QTS does not mean anything in independent schools and free schools; it does not determine the level of pay.
Sue Egersdorff: This is really interesting and I would like to take it from a slightly different angle and say not what do we have, but what do we know young children need, what do we know young children need to do very well and what do we need them to have to do very well so that later on in school they achieve highly as well? What we know for sure is that a strong foundation is the means, so the issue at the moment is around the elephant in the room, which is terms and conditions. Take away all the labels-QTS, Early Years Teacher, whatever-and let’s talk about what we need. What we need are well respected, professional individuals who have a vocation and an understanding of early childhood development and understand how important it is to get that right for children to achieve later on in life. Therefore, what do we need to provide them with in terms of professional status, pay, terms and title? If we keep talking about what we have, rather than what we need for children, perhaps that might be-
Q654 Chair: Since that was Cathy’s job and she was asked to look at precisely those questions, she came up with an answer and she has just said a lot of it was rejected, she thinks wrongly.
Sue Egersdorff: Cathy was very clear in terms of what young children need and that is very helpful, and everything that was in that review still stands.
Ben Thomas: In terms of the remit that Cathy was given, terms and conditions of the early years workforce were specifically excluded from the remit of that review. Obviously it is an issue, and we have talked about early years teachers, but it is not just an issue for the early years teachers; pay and conditions is an issue for the entire early years workforce. We have a situation where the minimum wage is seen as the average starting salary for staff in the early years sector. It is not surprising, when we look at the status of workers, that the principal measure of status and how they are valued is pay, and pay in the early years is very low. It is a low paying profession. If we look at the average pay of early years professionals, particularly in the private and voluntary sector, £9 an hour seems to be the average wage. If you look at the average wage for a range of professional occupations, for teachers it is around £30 an hour, so we have a vast differential. The average for any graduate profession is around £25 an hour, so we have a vast differential between the pay that we are paying early years professionals as a graduate profession and others. If we are going to link and see them as equivalent, we need to have equivalent pay for that group of workers.
Q655 Mr Ward: We have covered a lot of this already, but in terms of this issue of status, how people are viewed by others and how they believe they are viewed by others, is this going to do anything at all to attract additional people into these settings because of the changes that are proposed? Will it make people believe that they are valued more and perceived as being of higher value? You talked about two tiers and parity and so on, so you are obviously not sure that that is the case.
Professor Nutbrown: I am very clear that two tiers of teachers is not right for children, teachers or families. It is very confusing. If you are a parent talking to somebody who is called a teacher, how would you know what kind of teacher that was? How would you know what lay behind it? QTS is much more than pay. It indicates that you have had at least a year as a newly qualified teacher, supported by other people. It indicates other things that you have done that lay behind that status. I am not into qualifications for qualifications’ sake. Qualifications stand for what people know and have done and can do. The important thing here is that children get what they need. One of the things I put forward in my review, which I think is on page 47 or 48, something like that, was a way in which young apprentices and trainees could come in unqualified and do a supported initial qualification; that they could work their way up to become a qualified teacher, in the sense of how I understood qualified teachers when I was conducting my review; and that they would then have career progression. They would be in positions of leadership. They could get promotion, they could be head teachers or they could support people in local authorities. What I was putting forward was a career structure that would open doors for young apprentices, for women who were coming back into work who formerly had no other qualifications; a way of expanding the workforce in a way that met children’s needs, but at the same time met the needs of people in the wider community who wanted to come into employment, who wanted to work with young children, which reflected the diversity of those communities.
Q656 Ian Mearns: What you have said diverges from what Brian was saying about quality in terms of the Qualified Teacher Status. I suppose an important question behind that is how many people who try to go through the process fail to gain Qualified Teacher Status? You were saying that some people pass and some people fail and therefore there is an element there of a qualitative assessment of who is capable of doing the job and who is not.
Professor Nutbrown: I do not know the answer to that.
Q657 Mr Ward: There has been a suggestion by the IPPR about the creation of a royal college for practitioners. Do you see a merit in that?
Professor Nutbrown: I do see some merit in that. I think it would do a lot to bring together a profession that is made up of different kinds of professionals. I did consider it when I was doing my review, along with possibilities of licensing, but at that point, I did not put that forward because there were other more important things that I wanted to propose to Government. But if a royal college of early education or early childhood professionals was proposed, then I would support that, if it meant that entry to or membership of that college was clearly set out so that people had a clear status. That on its own would not be enough. It would have to go alongside other things.
Q658 Mr Ward: There is a proposed college of teaching. Is it not just making this gulf wider to have two separate things? Could it not be part of the college of teaching?
Brian Tytherleigh: Our position here is that we welcome anything that contributes to collaboration between professionals, to developing and strengthening the professionals and our job at NCTL is to support professionals doing that. A professional college is something that we would support, but it would be something that we would want to see emerging from the profession and not being necessarily led by a Government body. Importantly, your point about creating two separate bodies does seem to me to create division rather than build across it.
Ben Thomas: Obviously, if you are going to create a professional college, you have various expectations: that you are treated like a professional; that you have an expectation of the salary that goes with being a professional; you have a right to ongoing continuing professional development; you have a registration, there is a cost and you want to get something for that cost. If you are paying people the minimum wage, paying the registration for a professional college and being regulated is a cost. You expect something in return for being part of a profession and the principal thing that you expect from that return is to be paid like a professional. You have to create that environment before you can have a professional college.
Q659 Chair: It is a perfectly reasonable point that, if you are being paid a minimum wage and you have your union dues in order to get certain things, how on earth are you going to find the money to pay to be part of some college as well when you do not have the money to do that? Any system in which someone else pays your membership is not really a proper, independent college. Is that not true, Brian?
Brian Tytherleigh: I was imagining that people were members of this college in order to develop their professional abilities and skills and to share and develop together. I do not see it as necessarily a membership organisation that has benefits just from being a member. It is about contributing and sharing together and working together in a professional way, being a professional rather than just being a member of a professional body.
Q660 Chair: The two are compatible. The trouble is if you do not have the money, you cannot pay it and you have to get value for money. People only join anything because they think it offers some value to them, part of which is improving their professional standards. Sue, did you want to come in?
Sue Egersdorff: Yes, I did. We need to be cautious about joining an early years college with a royal college of teaching. One of the strengths of early years is the multiagency aspect and knowledge that people have and bring to child development, which includes health colleagues, social care colleagues and many other colleagues. It would be incredibly supportive and make a strong statement to have a royal college of early years or something similar that enabled all of those multiagency professionals to join in. One of the challenges we have had in our work in the last few years is making sure that every professional feels valued, not just the teachers or the educationists. There are health visitors, midwives and all the rest who contribute hugely to early years, and that is a huge strength that we would not want to lose.
Q661 Chair: Nonetheless, from the evidence we have heard, there is a centrality to the role of the teacher, not least in having the expertise, the professional status, the selfconfidence to be able to work with other agencies and bring them all together. The teacher does seem to be, if you like, the key to effective early years education and care, does it not?
Sue Egersdorff: A teacher is important, but it is a very inclusive community in terms of understanding child development and that should be respected.
Q662 Pat Glass: Can I ask about children’s centres leadership, because this Committee has heard a lot about how crucial that is? Is the Government doing sufficient to secure a future pipeline of properly skilled children’s centres leaders? Are they doing enough and is there more that they could do?
Brian Tytherleigh: As I am sure you are aware, the qualification that has been available for a number of years is a highly valued, high status qualification and that is continuing. We have very good uptake on those courses and that is continuing this year; it is available from September and is full. That course is under review because the situation is changing on the ground. We are waiting for a steer from policy colleagues to develop that review and the terms of that review and see where we go next, but there is clearly more to be done.
Ben Thomas: We have been very supportive of the NPQICL, but where we would see the problem is that, since the demise of the CWDC, we have seen a loss of the idea of an integrated qualification, a common core of skills across professions so that professionals are learning together alongside each other. That has been lost and we are not going to get people from a variety of backgrounds in leadership roles because it is going to be predominantly educationfocused. We are not having people from a social care or health background coming into those leadership roles in children’s centres to the same degree, because we have lost the focus on multidisciplinary training and integrated qualifications
Q663 Pat Glass: Should the NPQICL be mandatory for centre leaders?
Ben Thomas: We would support that, yes.
Brian Tytherleigh: That is not the policy of the Government. You would have to ask the Minister.
Sue Egersdorff: We need to be careful about talking about children’s centres as though they are all the same thing. They used to be. When the Government had a core offer of services, we could broadly say children’s centres across the country worked to a prescribed model. Since that has been transferred to local determination, to local authorities, we are beginning to see a whole range of children’s centres. Some are social care models, some still have education in them, some do not, some are health models. Therefore, I think we need to be cautious about talking about children’s centres per se.
The NPQICL was established at a time when there was a core offer and it served leaders well in terms of preparing them in their leadership and management roles to deliver that core offer and beyond. Now there is a need to look more broadly at leadership of early years, not necessarily children’s centres but early years across the board. We have talked a lot about entry level qualifications and very little about how we keep people in the profession. If we are to recruit high calibre people who want and see themselves as leaders, then we need to offer them some progression. At the moment, there is no progressive qualification they can take that would be equivalent to, say, NPQH or would have the same standing and respect out there in the system. NPQICL was established initially to be equivalent to NPQH, but it was never seen as such locally and, therefore, there may be a need to think about early years leadership more broadly and think about a broader qualification that would attract people in.
Q664 Pat Glass: But to be fair, if you want to be a teacher there is a standard qualification; we all recognise it. You might say we need to move right away from it, but in the real world there is a standard qualification and we all know what it is. What is the point of having this qualification if it is not going to be mandatory? The sector is dogged with lack of status, etc. Surely, this is one way of saying we will pull this together and make some sense.
Sue Egersdorff: It would be helpful to be mandatory, but that is not the way Government thinking is currently going in terms of qualifications.
Q665 Pat Glass: Right. In terms of the course, do you have people who have direct and recent experience of children’s centres delivering the course?
Sue Egersdorff: That is probably a question for Brian, who is delivering it.
Pat Glass: Sorry, you are no longer doing so.
Sue Egersdorff: I am no longer, no.
Brian Tytherleigh: But I suspect Sue probably has a better knowledge than I do, because of course we do not deliver it; we commission the delivery of the course. I am afraid I cannot give you that information.
Q666 Pat Glass: You said earlier that the course was full.
Brian Tytherleigh: It is basically full, yes.
Q667 Pat Glass: Can you tell me what that means, how many?
Brian Tytherleigh: Three hundred.
Q668 Pat Glass: How many are due to attend in 2013/14?
Brian Tytherleigh: That is the 300.
Q669 Pat Glass: What about post2014?
Brian Tytherleigh: There are no plans at the moment. It is not confirmed whether that course will continue. As I say, we are beginning a review, basically, to look at that provision.
Q670 Pat Glass: So you have 300 people taking a course that may not continue in the future.
Brian Tytherleigh: Well, they will complete that course. The funding is there for them to-
Q671 Pat Glass: Yes, but will it be of any value if the course then disappears?
Brian Tytherleigh: Things have to continue, do they not? We do not just stop something until we decide on what to do next. It is a very highly valued course. People want it and that is why they are still applying for it. Anything that we might do going forward would, presumably, build on that but it would not devalue that qualification.
I would also like to say, in terms of leadership, what we know from centre leaders is that they want to develop their leadership skills and courses are not the only way of doing that. It is part of a learning experience, isn’t it? Certainly, having just gone through a fairly long merger myself, I know, as a leader of that organisation, what I rely on most is other people’s experience and high quality mentoring and senior management above me to give me the inspiration and leadership that I need to lead others. We need to be looking more broadly in terms of leadership and leadership development.
Q672 Pat Glass: Okay. You say the course is not the only way of delivering leadership and I agree. Can you tell me what the National College is doing to develop leadership networks in the same way as they have done with schools?
Brian Tytherleigh: We are doing a number of things. Certainly, the leadership groups that have now formed as part of the NPQICL qualification are very, very popular. These leadership groups form and work together and we see them lasting way beyond the duration of the course. We are getting that professional leadership group that we talked about before. We have membership forums and we know our centre leaders who come through the course as members of the College continue to use those forums and work together and develop together. We also have a number of other funded initiatives on early language development, portage and other things, which basically are led by other stakeholder groups and engage with centre leaders as well and bring them together. All along that is delivering the second plank of the NCTL’s mission, which is about building professional leadership at the ground level for people to take forward their development.
Q673 Pat Glass: Can I just clarify, did you say "portage"?
Brian Tytherleigh: Yes.
Q674 Chair: How many marks out of 10 would you give yourself on this networking, collaboration, leadership front? It is easy to rattle off the various initiatives you are doing, but how well are you doing, do you think?
Brian Tytherleigh: I do not think I am in a position to answer that, Graham, at the moment. The NCTL has been going now for three days as a working institution and, having just taken up that post, I would like a little bit more time to think about that.
Q675 Chair: Sue, how many marks out of 10 would you give it?
Sue Egersdorff: That is a very difficult question. It is a new organisation delivering a new set of requirements. What I would say is we did have a national children’s centre network that is no longer in existence. The College is doing things in a different way and I am sure they will be very successful with those, but it is early days.
Q676 Pat Glass: Just one final question: I know it is early days but what have you taken from Ofsted’s report on leadership and how are you going to apply it?
Brian Tytherleigh: I am not sure I can answer that question, I am sorry. I do not have any information.
Pat Glass: Right, okay.
Sue Egersdorff: I think that is a very, very critical report and makes a strong case from Ofsted that one of the ways of raising standards in early years is to support leaders more. What we know in terms of recruitment, retention, progression, accountability, quality is that we need a strong thread of leadership. We need to be able to recruit strong people at the beginning and train them well to be future leaders, and that is something that we need to pay a little bit of attention to. So the Ofsted report was very valuable for us in giving us a working start to think about some of those issues.
Q677 Chair: That tells us we would like to have really high quality people coming in to leadership roles within early years-well, no surprise, Sherlock. The question is how do you do it?
Sue Egersdorff: We have already debated that. We need to look seriously at terms and conditions and at career progression, because at the moment we-
Q678 Chair: Terms and conditions would be top of your list. The terms and conditions make it extremely difficult to attract high calibre people in other than the most idealistic or peculiarly motivated people in this sector.
Sue Egersdorff: A really good example is Teach First, which is a great way of getting high calibre graduates into a profession and we have a pilot for early years Teach First and that is fine. That is all about recruiting them. I am talking about keeping them and making sure that they can see, on their horizons, where they personally are going. At the moment, in terms of early years, it is very difficult to talk to a high calibre graduate about where they may be and how we could stop them being snaffled off into primary leadership or even academy nought to 18 leadership or whatever. That is great, but we need to retain some of them to be strong advocates and ambassadors for early years.
Q679 Siobhain McDonagh: What would be the appropriate minimum level qualification for staff in children’s centres and in nursery schools? That is, in education and care settings. In an ideal scenario, should all staff be graduates in early years?
Sue Egersdorff: Take the example of our outstanding nursery school system here. When we look nationally at nursery schools across the country, the majority are outstanding. What we know there is that strong graduate leadership and pedagogy supports that. I can only talk from the evidence that is in front of us and that evidence has been strong, and strong for many years.
Professor Nutbrown: Fortunately, we do not have to have a long discussion about ratios, but in terms of counting the ratios, I think a Level 3 has to be the minimum. I do worry about calling that "early years educator" because you have to decide whether that term has capital letters or not in order to decide whether you are it or not. A good Level 3 that is more than a competencybased qualification plus teachers, in the sense that I think we know them-returning to Pat’s point that we all know what a teacher is: the day is fast coming when we do not all know what a teacher is-is important. I do not think everybody in a children’s centre or a nursery school needs to be a teacher. We have a long track record in this country of excellent nursery education. We have seen some fantastic Sure Start children’s centres; they are not all teachers. They are a multiqualified team who understand each other and each other’s roles and work together collaboratively. Within that, if you have strongly qualified people, you can then support people who are assistants and working towards their first qualification alongside that, who would provide additional support, who would then be on the first rung of that ladder.
We have talked about climbing frames for early years qualifications for years and years, but the way to grow good leaders is to take a longterm view. People beginning as a trainee or as an assistant might aspire to leadership because they see good leadership around them and they are supported by good leaders, who are leading from the middle and from the back as well as from the front. It is about building a strong, multiqualified team so that people who begin their career-a career, not a job-in the early days, with maybe very few qualifications at all, work their way through, because they see what a rewarding profession it can be ultimately.
Ben Thomas: We have always supported a fully qualified workforce in early years. The idea that someone can work in early years without a qualification undermines the professional qualities of those who do and who have achieved qualifications. So we have always been very supportive of a Level 3 as a minimum. We are talking about a workforce of nearly half a million people currently and I think it is impractical to expect that to be an allgraduate workforce. Graduate qualifications are not everything. No offence to the Professor next to me, but I have met plenty of professors who are the last people I would leave in charge of a room of threeyearolds. I do think we need to look at the types of people who are attracted to work in child care. We want them to be good people who want to work with children. We do not need to see academic qualifications as the be-all and end-all of quality. We need to place more value on some of those caring and empathetic skills, which are difficult to measure and value, but equally important in raising young children.
Q680 Chair: Cathy said it should be more than just a competencybased Level 3 qualification, which suggests an academic, pedagogical understanding, which could mean that certain people struggle to pass that and fail, whatever their caring skills. Is there a tension there? Are you on Cathy’s side of the argument?
Ben Thomas: We would be on Cathy’s side. Some people will tell you that Level 2, Level 3 qualifications in early years are difficult to fail. You have providers that are funded on their success rate, provided on a retention rate, so there is a perverse incentive for them to throw people off their courses, to fail them. We fully support Cathy’s view that there needs to be greater rigour in the qualifications and greater simplification of the qualifications, so that people are clear that the qualification has a value and is a clear demonstration that they are capable of doing the job.
Q681 Chair: You would see a certain number of people failing as a sign of it being a proper level, would you?
Ben Thomas: Well, if you are going to take-yes.
Q682 Siobhain McDonagh: This has been touched on in a number of answers, but how essential are teachers as part of a children’s centres workforce? What difference do they make?
Sue Egersdorff: It is really difficult, because again we are assuming all children’s centres are the same. Very many of them were set up with child care that involved an early years teacher and that has now gone for a range of reasons, mostly down to local determination and cost. If those teachers are used well in a children’s centre, there are many advantages to it. There are many examples of those where a children’s centre is also a nursery school, where the progress, the standards and the pace of teaching and learning is exemplary. But at the moment there are very many pressures that are working against that.
Professor Nutbrown: Teachers are essential. Teachers are essential because they have a particular kind of training and knowledge about what play is and what constitutes play and what can come out of play and what children bring to their play. I remember a conversation with colleagues from the Department for Education about criteria for the early years teacher. The question was: should we say 50% of play should be free flow and 50% should be structured? That is not the question we ought to be talking about. If we have teachers who know about how children learn and how to support children’s learning, that kind of statement is not in question because those teachers, by working with those children, watching them, talking with their families, know what to do next with them. Teachers are essential because you have to work on your feet, you have to think instantly about what the next step is. You have to know when to leave children alone, because children, in appropriate environments, are very, very capable of getting on with some of their learning without adults getting involved. But adults have to be there, they have to watch, they have to understand, they have to see where children are going and they have to know when to take them to the next step, so teachers are essential. Teachers also support other people who have some knowledge about play, but not as much as them. They will also support those colleagues in learning more about the children that they are working with and watching.
Q683 Siobhain McDonagh: I do not think I really need to ask the Teach First question now, do I? Does anybody have any different views?
Chair: Cathy, do you think the pilot will be a good thing?
Professor Nutbrown: We have to see how it works, but if you are going to have Teach First in the early years, you have to have proper induction. There are some professions that you would never have such a first. You would never have surgery first. You would not just immediately put people into a classroom and tell them to get on with it. I know that they are supported and so on. We have to look at it and we have to treat it with caution, but young children are not training grounds; we have to be very, very careful.
Q684 Siobhain McDonagh: Should early years professionals receive the same pay and conditions as school teachers? What further steps could be taken to raise the status of those working with young children?
Ben Thomas: As I explained earlier, there is an enormous gap between what an early years professional is paid and what an early years teacher is paid. What we would like to see is some sort of career structure for the entire early years workforce, not simply just about early years professionals. We would use some of the models that are seen overseas where you have minimum national rates linked to qualification level, so someone with a Level 3 is guaranteed at least a certain minimum standard; someone with a Level 4 is guaranteed at least a minimum standard, so that you can add value to people, increasing their qualifications, increasing their professional standards. If you look at what happens currently, particularly in the private sector, there is no link between improving your qualifications and improving your pay, or a very limited link between the two. There is no career structure in early years across the board. That is the problem. The motivation for people in early years in terms of improving their qualifications is mainly about their own personal achievement and improving their personal practice and the outcomes for children. It is not linked to improving their pay. No one enters the early years sector to get rich. You have to look at the motivation of people, but, if you want to attract higher calibre people, then we need to address the issue of pay and conditions. We need to address the issue of the complete absence of a career structure for early years staff.
Q685 Mr Ward: Do we really want to have our cake and eat it as well in terms of the whole of this sector really? We are going down the route of local discretion and, in answer to your question should there be a teacher in every children’s centre, well, every children’s centre is not the same; they are all different in many, many ways. We have this understandable need to want to give local discretion and yet we want a national system that ensures that there is consistency and that the level of quality is right across the board and we can guarantee that. Is it just incompatible?
Professor Nutbrown: We have a Foundation Stage that is national. There are some things that we have to have as our baseline. If we are seriously interested in equality, in raising achievement and in addressing the achievement gap, then there are certain things that all children have to be entitled to, so maybe we do want our cake and eat it.
Q686 Mr Ward: Can we afford it for all our children?
Professor Nutbrown: What I said in my review and in my response to the Government’s response to it is that children will bear the price of this if we are not careful. I think there are certain things we cannot afford not to do.
Brian Tytherleigh: We need to separate these two issues a little bit. Only 18% of children’s centres offer full day care; that is 4% of the total full day care places being delivered.
Q687 Chair: Can you say those numbers again? You lost me.
Brian Tytherleigh: Only 18% of children’s centres offer full day care, and that is only 4% of the total full day care places. In terms of whether teachers need to be part of children’s centres or not, that is the policy; that is what we are doing at the moment.
In terms of the pay and status, the vast majority of that is delivered by the private, voluntary and independent sector and, if that is the issue, that is where the issue lies, not in the status of staff in children’s centres.
Q688 Siobhain McDonagh: My final question: are there particular difficulties in recruiting from certain groups, such as black and ethnic minorities or male workers, as staff in children’s centres? How can these difficulties be overcome?
Sue Egersdorff: Yes, the statistics show that we have lower numbers of black and ethnic minorities and males, but I think as well we do not need to differentiate in this way. We are looking for the best people to be in front of our children. Sometimes I think we get hung up on having balance in these areas, but there is a lot more that we can do to encourage others to engage in this. We have tried various projects before that have not been overly successful, but we have to come back to the fact that this is not about central control anymore; it is about local determination. Therefore, if you take something like the academy movement, the biggest change in our educational structure for a long, long time, we know that academies can and will have their own way of recruiting people. Therefore, we can only encourage them and provide an infrastructure that shows them what best quality looks like. That would include, obviously, a look at equality issues in terms of male and ethnic minority.
Professor Nutbrown: I did make a recommendation about this in my review; it was recommendation 13. I found it very difficult to find the answer to your question when I was doing my review and I was concerned about that. I was concerned that a number of people were telling me that black and minority ethnic staff were only represented at the lower levels of qualifications, if at all. I could not find the answer to your question, so I recommended that the Government should commission some research to find that out. The More great childcare said that they are keeping that under review.
Ben Thomas: Sorry to bang on about this, but on the issue of men in childcare, the average earnings for someone working in childcare is less than half of median average earnings and probably only 40% of average male median earnings. That is clearly a recruitment issue for the sector.
The issues that predominate when you ask men about why they will not work in early years are their motives being questioned, the low status of the work, the fact that it is seen as women’s work, obviously working in a femaledominated environment, and sometimes the suspicion of parents and nursery owners about employing men within that sector.
Q689 Chair: What about the black and ethnic minority?
Ben Thomas: In terms of the way the question was, in children’s centres generally the figures I have seen are slightly better in terms of the representation of ethnic minority groups within-
Q690 Siobhain McDonagh: Anecdotally, from a south London constituency, that is not an issue. There are plenty of black and ethnic minority staff in our children’s centres.
Ben Thomas: That may be something about the location of children’s centres in terms of areas of deprivation, that the averages around BME staff in centres is higher than across the sector as a whole, but that is only through recollection. I cannot remember the actual figures.
Q691 Ian Mearns: In terms of staff who are already in the centres, what are the areas of greatest need for CPD for children’s centre workers? Would you agree that priority should be given to child development or parental and family engagement work?
Professor Nutbrown: I do not think it needs to be an either/or. Everybody needs more professional development throughout their career to do whatever job it is that they are doing better. There is a need to ensure that people understand modern theories of child development and attachment; I think that is very important. There is a need to understand more about what play is in children’s lives and learning, and certainly for more support and opportunities for work with families, because it is families and what happens in children’s homes that can really make the difference to children’s learning, development and life chances. When people decide to work with young children, they are deciding to work with the adults who belong to those young children too, so that is a very strong part of what needs to be part of their initial qualification and their continuing professional development. Also, I would say multidisciplinary working is important-how to work with, how to understand other professionals’ roles and responsibilities and how to collaborate together in the interests of those families.
Sue Egersdorff: It is really difficult to compartmentalise children in that way. They are complex, as we all are, and their cognitive, social, emotional and health needs all come together in a children’s centre. That is the beauty and the strength of that system. What we need to focus on is how we get our workforce to understand how children progress in all of those areas and what is a good benchmark and a good milestone by which to measure children’s progress, but that needs to be across the board. We cannot just look at cognitive needs above health needs. If we look at the public health agenda and the public health services coming into local authorities, it is a really excellent opportunity for children’s centres to showcase what they do in that arena of children and family and parental health. There is a lot to offer really.
Q692 Ian Mearns: Would anybody disagree?
Ben Thomas: The issue that we see is mainly around access to CPD, particularly time off from work, which is not common within the early years sector. That is the greatest problem. Also, the introduction now of fees for first level qualifications in Level 2 and 3 is a particular problem for those people who are returning to work, possibly after having had children, trying to improve their qualifications and enter the workforce.
Q693 Chair: What sort of fees are we talking about?
Ben Thomas: We are talking about £2,000, £4,000 for a Level 2 and 3 qualification. I think a lot of people take their childcare qualifications because they know they will never earn enough money to be in a position where they will be required to pay them back. I am not in advertising, but that is not how I would recruit the brightest and best into the sector, saying "You will never earn enough to have to pay back your loan".
Q694 Ian Mearns: Quite clearly within all the answers there is recognition that staff need to develop and increase their skills level. Therefore, should there be some sort of mandatory requirement on centres to have training plans for their staff? If there was to be some sort of mandatory expectation that centres would train their staff, how would that be enforced?
Professor Nutbrown: Professional development plans for professionals who work with young children is entirely appropriate. I think those plans should be expected, and along with that expectation there needs to be a plan for how that is going to be realised.
Brian Tytherleigh: I am just thinking of my own organisation. We have just started, and top of our list is our people programme and how we are going to develop our people. It just seems to me an expectation I would have of any successful organisation.
Sue Egersdorff: The evidence we have is that the best local authorities have excellent plans for the development of their early years workforce but, as with all local authorities, these are under pressure, as training is for anything at the moment. What we know is that we do have those training plans, but they are under financial pressure.
Q695 Ian Mearns: But, as Brian said before, an awful lot of this sector out there is in the private or voluntary sector and not controlled by local authorities or under some sort of guidance. But there is still a significant element whereby parents are being assisted with-is that the division bell?
Q696 Neil Carmichael: A rare phone call for the Chairman.
Chair: You are very kind and I am embarrassed.
Ian Mearns: Just answer it, Graham, it is fine.
Parents are quite often supported in gaining a place, even in the private or voluntary sector, through public funds. Given the fact that public funds are engaged in that process, really we should all have an expectation that those centres, even in the private and voluntary sector, given that their staff are supported through parents receiving public funds, will increase the skills and qualifications of their staff.
Sue Egersdorff: That is very often written into the funding agreements on the free entitlement for three and fouryearolds and, increasingly, the twoyearold offer. So that would be built in to that contract with the private provider or voluntary provider increasingly.
Q697 Chair: Is that a question for the local government representatives who here shortly, to find out how common that is?
Sue Egersdorff: Whether it is included in their contracts, yes, that would be helpful in their funding arrangements.
Ben Thomas: The recent consultation on the role of local authorities is making it illegal, unlawful for them to place training requirements on early years settings, to undertake training as an undertaking for receiving that public funding.
Sue Egersdorff: But they have it currently.
Ben Thomas: Some have it currently but that is being removed. What was available through local authorities or has historically been available through local authorities, through DfE funding, is funding for time off to undertake training or fully funding the Level 3 qualifications for some staff. Increasingly, that is under pressure because it is a nonstatutory responsibility for the local authority and we are seeing lots of early years support services being diminished in terms of the support that is given to private and voluntary sector settings.
Q698 Ian Mearns: Brian, if I can read faces, obviously the little exchanges we have had has engendered some thought in your mind about the whole subject.
Brian Tytherleigh: Yes, it is clear that the responsibility has been the local authorities’ as the commissioners, but clearly there seem to be some obstacles in the way, do there not? It might be something to talk to the Minister about.
Sue Egersdorff: Just to add a point that may be of interest to you, it may be helpful to recognise that we can think about these things differently going forward. We do not have to do what we always did. What we know we have is a group of early years teaching schools across the country. We have about 25 of them deployed through the National College and they might be a vehicle that would help with training and the reach of training going forward.
Q699 Ian Mearns: You are a mind reader, Sue.
Sue Egersdorff: It is a skill.
Q700 Ian Mearns: My next question is: what part can early years teaching centres play in developing workers in our children’s centres? I think people agree with the thought that Sue preempted in terms of that question.
Professor Nutbrown: Yes. Facilitating the collaboration between different centres, not just children’s centres but other groups in the community, is one of the things that can happen through that system. Some professional development can happen simply by visiting another setting and talking to somebody, but it needs to be planned and it needs to be for some purpose. But facilitating collaboration and networking and exchanges is one way that that can be supported.
Q701 Ian Mearns: It is one approach, but Sue said there were 25, so that is hardly going to be a national strategy, is it, from that perspective?
Sue Egersdorff: There is a range of other teaching schools as well. I am just talking about the early years ones. There are separate projects that Pen Green have been involved in that are equally valuable and are really moving at pace and they would be examples that we could, perhaps, grow from.
Brian Tytherleigh: Increasingly, we are looking for teaching schools to get involved in the nought to 18 agenda by working with providers locally. So I think this is a direction of travel.
Q702 Ian Mearns: Brian, in particular, what role is there for the National College in CPD for children’s centre workers, from your perspective?
Brian Tytherleigh: We have no direct responsibility for any of that at the moment and it would be something to take up with the Minister.
Ian Mearns: Okay. Thank you very much.
Q703 Neil Carmichael: The Government is very keen to improve outcomes as opposed to output, if you like, and evidencebased intervention is clearly part of that. Evidence that this Committee has received about evidencebased interventions is pretty encouraging. Do you think that the staff at children’s centres are well enough versed in evidencebased interventions?
Professor Nutbrown: If we get qualifications right, this could be one of the best early intervention programmes we have ever had in this country, because it would mean that across the board well qualified people are working with young and vulnerable children. I do think it is possible for people working in children’s centres with young children to involve themselves in particular programmes. I have done that myself in some of my own work. They need to be supported. They need professional development in that particular field, but I do not think it is just about delivering a particular intervention. If they have the right skills and knowledge, then of course they can learn about a particular approach, whatever it is, and work with children and families on that. The baseline for that to be really successful and to really maximise the funding that is put into that, is to make sure that we have a really well qualified workforce across the board.
Just to say that the early years workforce in this country is not new. We have been doing this for over 100 years. There have been nursery teachers, nursery nurses, people working on developing qualifications since the 1920s and before. Looking at the way people work together, it is not the case that academic qualifications mean that people are uncaring and it is the case that good care supports children’s learning. So, if you have a well qualified workforce then, yes, they could develop and work with children on those kinds of specific programmes.
Q704 Neil Carmichael: So it boils down to training and qualifications.
Professor Nutbrown: It does, as they stand as a proxy for what people know, understand and can do.
Brian Tytherleigh: I would add the leadership and the culture, basically, of the organisations as well, if you are talking about evidencebased and improving practice through an evidence base. Just going back to the point around teaching schools, that is a very key point of working with teaching schools: that they are building an evidence base and evidencebased practice.
Sue Egersdorff: Again, a word of caution about the metrics that are used to measure success. Historically, one of the metrics we have used on evidencebased programmes is how many parents completed the course or, indeed, turned up. Actually, that is no indicator of impact. When we say they have been successful, we need to be really cautious in terms of which metrics we are using to measure success. What we know from very successful programmes like the Family Nurse Partnership is that the individual relationship between parent and worker is the critical factor, as well as the qualifications of the said worker. We know that the one-to-one support over a period of time is very valuable, but we also know that the Family Nurse Partnership is quite a costly way of offering support, so we need to take on and think about a lot more issues than just the evidence we have of success.
Q705 Neil Carmichael: Yes, I think your point endorses the issue of the difference between outcomes and outputs.
Sue Egersdorff: Yes, absolutely.
Q706 Neil Carmichael: I have one last question, which is really all about silos in policymaking. At the end of the day, do you think that there are sufficient opportunities for training and professional development to effectively take into account all the different disciplines that need to be considered?
Professor Nutbrown: It is becoming harder and harder for people working with young children to leave their centres for any length of time and to work with other people, whether that is with people who are doing the same kind of job as them or people whom they will encounter in their professional life-health visitors, social workers and so on. With those opportunities diminishing, it is going to become more important that we continue to look for ways of putting those things back. We have had good examples of multiprofessional work, professional development and so on. There are good examples where people learning to be teachers meet with people learning to be social workers, for example. That means that, when you end up as a teacher in a classroom, at least you have met people who are in social work, and when you phone the social worker related to your own work, you have some sense of their job. Those are good examples of things that we need to retrieve and make sure we do not lose any more of them.
Q707 Chair: Direction of travel, Cathy: do you expect in the next three years there will be, across the sector, more multidisciplinary training with different workers from different disciplines training together, or less, than there has been in the last three years?
Professor Nutbrown: I would hope there would be more. I fear that there could be less. What I put forward was something that would take us into the next decade, so I do not think this can be a quick fix. One of the things that worries me is that the Government took a long time to respond to the qualifications review and then very rapidly implemented its own proposals. I worry that trying to do things too quickly will mean that we make mistakes rather than seize an opportunity to really make a difference longterm for children. I would hope to see multiprofessional training increasing, but I fear that it might not.
Chair: Thank you very much. We could discuss these issues with this panel for a lot longer; I wish we had longer to do so. The business end of what we do is writing a report, making recommendations to Government. We have not focused on recommendations per se today, although there are implications in what you have said. If you have any further thoughts on what you would like to see in our report-it might be a particular reemphasis on aspects of yours, Cathy-we would be very grateful to hear from you, if you wanted to write to us and say what you thought recommendations should be. Thank you very much indeed.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Cllr Peter John, London Councils Executive Member for Children and Young People, Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the Children and Young People Board, Local Government Association, Jon Stonehouse, Deputy Director of Children’s Services, Salford City Council and Annette Wray, Area Manager, Early Years and Family Support Team, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, gave evidence.
Q708 Chair: Good morning. Thank you very much for joining us today and following on from the previous panel. We tend to be pretty informal and use first names; I hope you are all comfortable with that. I am grateful that you have joined us today. Let us start by asking: the recent IPPR report Bridging the gap between evidence and policy in early years education concluded that open to all, mixed social class provision can have the greatest positive impact on development. Do you agree and how well do the children’s centres in your areas meet that requirement, if requirement it is?
Cllr John: Yes, I agree and I have a fantastic stat from Southwark, being very parochial. We have just conducted a survey of 2,500 respondents-a survey of parents-and 96% of parents who use our children’s centres rated their experience of them as excellent or good. That says a lot about what people in our borough think about children’s centres; incredibly encouraging. Another quick stat for you: 90% reported that contact with children’s centres had helped them to get more involved in their community. That goes to where your question was coming from, whether people rate their experience of children’s centres in such a positive way, and I have no reason to doubt that that is the same picture recorded Londonwide.
Q709 Chair: The difficulty we had a number of years ago, I remember, perhaps back to the ’80s, was that parents really quite liked their fluffy primary school. If you asked them, they would say they loved it, it was great, they thought the head was great, the teachers were lovely and the children were happy. It just turned out the education was appalling, and parents were not entirely always grasping that. There is a possibility that you can have public satisfaction with something that is inadequate. I just throw that back at you. I do not mean to overstate my cynicism or scepticism about that.
Cllr John: There was no sweeping generalisation in there, Chair.
Q710 Chair: No, exactly, but going back, this mixed provision having the greatest positive impact on development, is that what is happening in your area? Do you have socially mixed provision?
Cllr John: Yes.
Q711 Chair: Can you quantify that as well as your other stats on satisfaction? I recognise you are a politician.
Cllr John: No. I do not have a lovely stat there; I will have to work on that one for you, but David or one of the other panellists might.
Cllr Simmonds: It is a very helpful question to start with, because certainly most of us, as elected councillors, particularly this time of year when a lot of parents are making contact about what is going on with school places, will know that a lot of performance measures parents refer to are often used as a proxy for an underlying question, which is: who is my child going to be at school with? There does seem to be a sense that schools that are perceived as being good are popular schools, even if the reality of their educational performance is not great. I think we all have places where we know the services that we are offering are perhaps coasting, but the perception of those services is that they are extremely good because there are lots of smartly dressed, relatively well behaved children. They may not be doing wonderfully in their GCSEs, but the public perception is that the services are very good.
In terms of what that means for foundation years, Sure Start children’s centres and other early years provision, there is definitely a gap that is opening up. I have seen it in my own borough and I am sure that we will all have seen it to a degree, in that the core purpose for children’s centres and Sure Start is to reach out to those who most need it. There are some of our centres that are doing that and there are some of our centres that have become, essentially, low-cost nurseries for certain families. I do not think I am sufficiently qualified an educationist of any description to say that I can comment on whether socially mixed educational provision is more or less good. There is a lot of evidence out there and there are many people who are far more expert who could comment on that, but one of the big challenges for us at local authority level is making sure that it is the families who are most in need of the services who continue to get them at a time when the available funding has shrunk hugely.
Q712 Chair: Annette, the East Riding of Yorkshire perspective. It is great to have you here as well, I should say. We hear far too much from people from London.
Annette Wray: Thank you. We have been very proactive in making sure that all our sessions have a mixed group of people who come to them. Lots of people book onto courses, sessions, activities on their own and they are the more proactive parents who can see the benefit for their children and themselves in attending, but we reserve places for families we are working with on a one-to-one basis. They are the families who are getting the intensive one-to-one support, and they will be invited to be part of that group. There are places open for them, so they can just drop in or a worker can bring them along and introduce them to that session, so they feel comfortable attending sessions. As I say, we have been very proactive. We have made sure that all of our children who are most disadvantaged are registered with a children’s centre and are engaging. We have 86% of children registered with children’s centres, and over the last year 60% actively attended, engaged, came to groups, had intensive one-to-one support with workers in the children’s centres.
Q713 Chair: Thank you. And the position in Salford?
Jon Stonehouse: It is very similar from a Salford point of view. Where we are heading is to a more focused, targeted approach.
Q714 Chair: Will that exclude that socially mixed provision that the IPRR were talking about?
Jon Stonehouse: Not necessarily. I think the debate about whether centres are universal or targeted is a difficult one to define in the sense that we need to maintain universal access for families, so a lot of areas now are developing their children’s centre provision through a broader early help strategy. The importance of those early help strategies is that we attempt to destigmatise early help so that it is seen as offering a broad spectrum of services to families, recognising that families could experience challenges and disadvantages from whatever background. An early help offer needs to be universally appealing, but how those services are applied is very much in response to need. A lot of areas are achieving that.
Q715 Craig Whittaker: I wanted to ask you all about commissioning. I just wondered how local authorities engage communities in commissioning for services for children’s centres.
Cllr Simmonds: I am happy to open in response to that. It is very clear that it will be the council that has the lead role in commissioning for children’s centres. We have already mentioned the context of the overall funding envelope as it applies to councils. There are similar issues that are being faced by clinical commissioning groups, by NHS providers, by other organisations. The role of bringing everybody together has, if anything, become a lot more important than it ever was in the past. The transfers of certain public health services, in particular things like health visitors and school nursing from 2015, will have an even bigger impact on that, because it will become considerably more important. The thing we all seem to be referring to is the need to focus a lot more on the families that most need the services that a children’s centre can offer.
Q716 Craig Whittaker: Can I just stop you there? I am particularly interested in how you engage communities within that commissioning process, so if you have any examples of that it would be great for us to hear about them.
Cllr Simmonds: Probably a good example would be the Isle of Wight. They have done it through a completely outsourced process with the Children’s Society, who run all of their children’s centres for them. They have built upon their experience as a charitable organisation to reach out and make connections with community groups, church groups, local schools and to reshape the services that are offered. It has a quite distinctive look and feel that is very different from a council social services establishment or going into a school nursery. That is one example, but there are others, and probably some of those supporting this Committee can provide more detail about that. But it will vary and there will not be a consistent one-size-fits-all approach, because the needs of different communities will be very different. In my own council, many of the children’s centres are based in schools and they use the school community as their primary means for engagement in that sense, whilst it is the council that leads on the commissioning of services based upon the feedback that is coming to us through that process.
Q717 Craig Whittaker: Does anybody use a different type of model to engage with the community?
Jon Stonehouse: Our early intervention and prevention services, which include children’s centres, incorporate the very regular and frequent feedback from communities and service users, so we feel we have a clear view from communities in terms of how they feel about services.
Q718 Chair: Can you tell us about the mechanics of that? How do you get this feedback?
Jon Stonehouse: That would be as part and parcel of evaluating specific programmes that are delivered out of children’s centres, so focus groups of parents, involving children in their feedback of the services that they are receiving. We would use that evidence to inform the commissioning process.
Q719 Craig Whittaker: Okay, but that is services that are already happening.
Jon Stonehouse: Yes.
Craig Whittaker: How would you engage the community to commission the services that you may commission out from the children’s centre, which is a different thing?
Jon Stonehouse: It is and the community involvement in the commissioning process, I would think, in most places would be through health and wellbeing boards, children’s trusts, safeguarding children’s boards, which would have lay members, community organisations represented on that. They then lead those commissioning processes. In some cases-again being parochial-in some of the work that Salford commissions, we will have service users involved in making decisions on what is and is not commissioned, as part of that commissioning process.
Q720 Craig Whittaker: The Children’s Society was mentioned in the Isle of Wight. What process do you put in place to ensure that the service providers that you eventually commission have a proven track record and are going to deliver what, indeed, you commission them to deliver? How do you build that into the commissioning process?
Cllr Simmonds: With commissioning generally, rigorous performance management once a contract has been let.
Q721 Craig Whittaker: Does that really happen, though, in local authorities?
Cllr Simmonds: Yes. Well, I would say it does in mine. There are gaps in it and there are bound to be. That is inevitably the case in any large organisation.
Q722 Craig Whittaker: It was just the word "rigour" that really threw me.
Cllr Simmonds: Yes, well, we have given people the chop when they are not up to the job. A good example is speech and language therapy. We did not used to provide that through children’s centres. The feedback we were getting from parents and schools was saying, rather than going off somewhere separate provided by the NHS to have the speech and language therapy, it would be much better, convenient, much more friendly if we could do it through the children’s centres. So we have decommissioned an NHS contract that was not working particularly well and we are now providing that service directly through the children’s centres. That means people who would not have accessed those services previously are accessing them and people who would have had to go somewhere else to get a service that was part of a package their child was getting can now get it in one place.
Q723 Craig Whittaker: Okay, let me ask you then, you have mentioned speech and language therapy, but how do you analyse local need for the services that you provide?
Jon Stonehouse: On a number of levels and layers. The top level of an analysis of need in most local authorities would be the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, which would take an authoritywide view of a variety of need indicators. Then, particularly from a children, young people and families perspective, it is again taking that broad view of indicators across the piece. We would be looking at safeguarding indicators; we would be looking at children and young people at the different levels of threshold of need within safeguarding arrangements; we would be looking at education achievement and at NEET indicators. That whole system data view would inform our commissioning processes, but equally important is the view back from service users and the analysis of each programme in terms of the impact that it has had.
Q724 Craig Whittaker: I just want to press you a little bit on that, Jon. I understand that process, but how often, as local authorities, do you change to need, because quite often priorities within that process can change and they can change quite rapidly in some situations? How do you react to that change that is needed? Without saying "well, we just change", what processes do you have in that mechanism to be able to change your focus rapidly?
Jon Stonehouse: I think that would be in the review of contractual and commissioning arrangements. Whilst we would strive to have two or threeyear contracts in place through commissioning processes, we would have the ability within the course of those three years to annually review the performance of existing arrangements and have the right to change those arrangements if they are not working, if they are not proving to deliver the outcomes.
Cllr Simmonds: It is probably worth saying a key part of this is flexibility at every stage. Whether it is done through a charitable organisation or any other group, there is a degree of flexibility at the centre; there is a degree of flexibility within a cluster, if it is part of a cluster arrangement; there is a degree of flexibility in the commissioning; and then there is a degree of flexibility at the local authority level. If a particular local need emerges, the centre manager can say, "I am just going to deal with that by changing the sessions, bringing in somebody new, taking something out". They have a degree of ability to respond. If it is something that is bigger than that, it costs a lot of money or it requires a more substantive change, then through a cluster, through the school they may be partnered with, they can respond to it in that way.
Part of it, I guess, is being a bit business-like about it. You know that the people who are coming through the door will change sometimes on a weekly basis, never mind on an annual basis, so what the council commissions is a service that says it is going to meet the needs of this community. We know there are certain longterm needs, which are identified through things like the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment shared with the Health Service, but there is other stuff that bubbles up: a Roma community arrives in Rotherham and suddenly there is a little group of children who have a specific need. We cannot commission for that, but the centre manager can say, "Right, I will get someone in who deals with that".
Q725 Craig Whittaker: Just let me quickly ask you about longterm commissioning of services. Services tend to be commissioned on a two-year, three years if you are lucky, type basis. What about longer term? Are there any major reasons why you cannot commission longer-term services, because there are longer term needs there as well?
Cllr John: We do not know what is going to be in our budget, do we?
Q726 Craig Whittaker: So it is purely budget.
Cllr John: Yes.
Cllr Simmonds: Budget is a factor, but there is no reason why we cannot commission longterm. Certainly from the point of view of an organisation taking on that commission, a 10year contract is often more desirable than a two-year or threeyear one, but it is about that flexibility.
Q727 Craig Whittaker: And probably cheaper.
Cllr Simmonds: The longer the term of the contract, the more uncertainty about the funding, therefore the smaller the contract we would be likely to let over that period of time.
Q728 Craig Whittaker: Okay, fair enough. David, you mentioned earlier about joint commissioning. Health provision is one of the areas that is a particular stumbling block in a lot of local authority services-getting them to come to the table, to put money in the pot, joint commissioning, joint funding, pooling resources. Do you have any good examples of where that does happen?
Cllr John: No, I do not think I do. I am just trying to think whether within all my notes I have some good examples of that. The inevitable pressure is going to be towards that as our budgets are increasingly affected and as other agencies’ budgets are. The push and necessity for pooling commissioning that way is inevitable.
Craig Whittaker: So no examples of that happening.
Annette Wray: We have a good example. We have a Family Nurse Partnership that we have jointly commissioned with the health service, but also, because of the rural nature of East Riding, we only had two family nurses initially, could only afford two family nurses initially, so we have worked with North Yorkshire. We have a model where we have four family nurses working across East Riding and North Yorkshire who are providing a really good model. It is early days: they only started in December. They are just starting to work with the team parents, so we will find the results of that over the coming months.
Q729 Chair: Is it a genuinely pooled budget between the council and-
Annette Wray: The two health trusts, yes.
Jon Stonehouse: Recent structural changes have helped in terms of moving towards joint commissioning. Obviously, the movement of public health into local authorities has really helped us with not, strictly speaking, joint commissioning anymore, but in terms of alignment against priorities. Health and wellbeing boards are moving us in the right direction. Ultimately, it is about leadership of health and wellbeing boards and other associated boards, so children’s trusts where they still exist and safeguarding boards. It comes down to that clarity about what an area’s particular priorities are. Once you have that, then the joint commissioning becomes more logical, more sensible, more straightforward. Again, in Salford, we have some areas relating to teenage conception, smoking cessation where we are working with the CCG and public health and budgets are being pooled.
Q730 Craig Whittaker: They are pretty smallscale stuff though, aren’t they? I know in Calderdale we were doing those types of things six, seven years ago and here we are, in a much different world from what we were then and we are still talking about the same things. Let me just finally ask you then: you spoke about wellbeing boards, Jon, and children’s trusts in areas and local safeguarding boards. How much clout do they have in the commissioning process? My experience of children’s trusts is dire and I daresay that is the only reason why there are few of them left, as only the good ones have survived. Now we have the wellbeing boards, you have a great opportunity to get genuine joined-up thinking on some of this stuff instead of all sitting round in a room trying to pretend to be important for the day and then going off and doing nothing, which traditionally happened. How much clout do you think these wellbeing boards will have?
Jon Stonehouse: I hope they will have a big clout. They are positioned at a very senior level within local partnerships. My experience of them is that they have the right level of membership.
Q731 Chair: I am going to cut you off there, Jon, because we have very limited time. One of the things about the children’s trusts was that the first meeting had senior people, the second meeting had slightly more junior people and the third meeting had people who brought no budget, no power and nothing to the table.
Cllr John: I have carried on chairing our health and wellbeing board in Southwark from the shadow year through. It has been a struggle at times to continue that, because I have found it really headbanging stuff. You go through long discussions and then you find out that the CCG has commissioned something or set up a plan that is completely different because their structures are still operating under the old system. It is too early to say that it is a hopeless case, and that is why I am sticking with it, because it is really important that the most senior people within the organisations remain involved. As a for instance, one of the things that has come out when we have had our discussions is 50% of twoyearolds in Southwark are not having their twoyearold health check. That is the stat at the moment-awful. We need to do something about that, and you can do that if you bring all these agencies together and work in that way.
I am going to stick with it, but it will be tough and you need to make sure that all the organisations-and the NHS in particular and all the bits of it-are aligned so that what the health and wellbeing board says is going to have an influence on what they do, rather than in their just turning up, then going away and doing what they want.
Cllr Simmonds: I totally agree with that. If there is good leadership in the NHS and council, it will work. If there is not, it will become a bureaucratic mess.
Q732 Ian Mearns: In terms of the patterns of commissioned services going forward, do you think there is a particular model that is likely to predominate? For instance, do you think that resources should be concentrated in fewer, better centres or, conversely, do you think they should be spread more thinly to try to provide some sort of universal service?
Cllr John: We have a good example in London, in Barking and Dagenham, of hubs and spokes and satellites operating out of those hubs. The satellites are not all providing universal services, but across the piece they are. In terms of where your question was going, that is probably a model that we are likely to see more of, which will be concentrating in hubs. Whereas previously everyone would have been a hub, I think probably there will be a move to more satellite operations.
Q733 Ian Mearns: So you would have a hub with more specialised services, which people would be led to.
Cllr John: Yes.
Cllr Simmonds: That is absolutely right. That is pretty consistently emerging. The key thing from a council perspective is not to end up with particular centres labelled as the one where all the problem children go, and that is something we are working very hard on. In terms of the approach, the branding of the service and the universality of it, that remains, but it is pretty clear that in order to reach the people who need that support, some of those centres are going to have to really focus on particular types of service.
Q734 Ian Mearns: That sounds a great model for Southwark, Hillingdon, Salford or Gateshead because of the urban nature of those catchment areas with good transport links, etc, but how do you do that in rural East Riding or in North Yorkshire, Cumbria or Durham?
Annette Wray: It is very tricky. It is very difficult. We want to try to keep that universal nature of children’s centres so that everybody feels comfortable coming in. It is back to the earlier point about having those mixed groups of parents, carers and children coming into those sessions which really brings a richness to them. People see different role models, different approaches to parenting, different styles and you need to keep that. What we are trying to do is maintain the network of children’s centres that we have, but look at how we resource them and try to make sure that we have a mix of those specialist services and the universal services in the centres. That might change as budgets decrease in the future, but that is what we are trying to maintain at the moment.
Q735 Ian Mearns: Do you think there are ways in which we can try to utilise what exists on the ground better in terms of rationalising provision and what we have and planning for it, saying, "What do we have, where do we want to be, how can we use what we have on the ground better?"
Annette Wray: We look at that on a regular basis. We are looking at the data and information on a quarterly basis. We broke down all of our data and information about all the services, about the health outcomes and education outcomes in each individual children’s centre’s specific area, and we are updating that information on a quarterly basis. That goes to advisory boards and, again, we can adapt and change very quickly in terms of responding to need and looking at the best outcomes we are getting for the resources we are putting in.
Jon Stonehouse: The key is around using what we have better, but there is no doubt that the universal element will become more difficult to continue to deliver if the current financial situation continues. What local authorities cannot afford to do is lose the early help, early intervention and prevention, the targeted element, because that, as Working Together says, is such an important element of that whole safeguarding system. So the risk of losing that bit would be too great if it came to an either/or, but using what we have better is where a lot of authorities are going now in terms of that whole public service review and the role that different elements of that play.
Q736 Ian Mearns: Moving forward in terms of the local authorities’ capacity to respond, the way in which Government cuts have been implemented has in fact had a different impact in different places. By the end of the next financial year, my own local authority will have taken something like £120 million out of its base budget on an ongoing basis, but I know that is not universally the case. Given that pattern of differential cuts across the board, what has been the impact of cuts on available spend on children’s centres and services and on posts within the local authority that support early years generally, including training and early education specifically?
Cllr Simmonds: I can give you some statistics and information on that. The overall funding envelope at local authority level has been reduced by about £900 million; it is just shy of £1 billion. At the same time, one big change is that many of these funds and budgets have been unringfenced. Just as you made reference to the pattern of cuts, there was also of course previously a pattern of spending, which meant that local authorities did not necessarily get increases in funding. That reflected the level of need that they would have said was in their local area, so there are differentials in both directions. I would say certainly the removal of ringfencing has been hugely helpful. When we look at the overall situation of the spend at council level on early intervention, we see that it has gone up, whilst funding for children’s services generally has gone down by about a third.
Q737 Chair: Can you quantify that?
Cllr Simmonds: 2.9% is the total. I could not tell you off the top of my head what that is nationally, but we will get you that figure pretty quickly.
You mentioned what it means in terms of posts. My perception as a councillor, having been involved in the ringfenced and the unringfenced side, is that children’s centres were awash with money and that was consuming resources that just were not available for other types of service. The removal of the ring fence has meant that rather than having to have one specific manager who had to be funded from the children’s centres budget, who was not allowed to do other early years stuff under the terms of Government funding arrangements, that person can now manage two or three services in a more efficient way. Now, partly, that is always going to be done as a response to a tightening of budgets, but also it does mean that you can get a much clearer line of sight. It comes back to the question about commissioning: if that person is also the person who knows what is going on in the local nurseries, knows what is happening in child protection, it begins to make it easier to join up those services in a more effective way.
Jon Stonehouse: I agree with a lot of what has been said. We have lost a significant proportion of posts.
Q738 Chair: Can you quantify how many?
Jon Stonehouse: Well, we have lost about a third of our budget overall for Sure Start children’s centres. That does not quite translate into a third of posts, so off the top of my head I am not sure what percentage of posts we have lost.
Q739 Chair: If you could write to us we would be very grateful, because I do not want to make you say something on the record that you are not happy with.
Jon Stonehouse: What we have done is taken that, by and large, out of management and out of what you would describe as back-office support, so we have strived to maintain the front of house delivery.
Q740 Ian Mearns: Anyone else on that one?
Cllr John: I would make exactly the same point. It is a lot of back-office savings and management savings, where possible. I am constantly amazed at councils’ ability to continue providing high quality front-line services in the face of the amount of money that we have had to take out of all our boroughs’ budgets and that holds true for children’s centres. There is no suggestion that the quality of provision has suffered, even though we have had to take huge amounts of money out across the board. I am just patting us on our back there, but it is good news for everyone who has worked in this area.
Q741 Alex Cunningham: I share your amazement that local authorities are continuing to provide that level of service. My own local authority are telling me now that they are facing even greater cuts than they expected in the new wave. How confident are you that the services you say they are still managing to provide can be provided into the future in the light of the cuts that are coming their way?
Cllr John: I think that exposes the tension between the universal offer and the more targeted offer and where we go with that. That is where we will see changes in the future, that it just will not be a universal offer, that children’s centres will be the centres where the most disadvantaged kids get sent and where we are picking up troubled families. That it then does not have this universal and popular brand as it currently does is the real risk. Well, we are already seeing it in some respects.
Q742 Chair: Is there also a risk that for political reasons or, I don’t know, whatever reason, there is a desire to maintain the look of the network but it is hollowed out and the quality of what is provided is not good? If the money keeps falling, there is going to be a tension between doing less and trying to do it well, while fearing that that will lead to an overall collapse in the whole attention on the area, or against having a hollowed out, pretend service that does not really deliver for anybody and is a waste of public money because it does not allow the quality that we know. The great nurseries, the great historical places that have done early years well have been places with good leadership, solid teams and a richness to them, which is hard to imagine having in a hollowed out system.
Cllr Simmonds: The key issue that probably across local government we would want Parliament to bear in mind is that, because the funding arrangements are very different for local authorities, there will be those who have plenty of mileage still to go, plenty of space in their budget still and there will be others who will be getting closer and closer to the edge at which things do not look sustainable any longer. At the moment, the feedback we are having is that big rural counties that are struggling with some of the issues and that Annette referred to have always found this a challenge and are finding it more and more of a challenge. For those of us who are in metropolitan areas, it is relatively a bit easier to maintain those services.
On one level, it is part of our job to come here and say we want lots and lots of money, because we can spend as much as you can give us. On the other hand, I do have to reflect, as an elected politician, if all of the reductions in spending are implemented, public spending in the UK will be at the level it was in 2007. In 2007, we had pretty good resources to put into children’s centres, so I cannot come to the Committee and say it is a total disaster; it is all about to fall over. This is a key, important service. The fact that we have increased spending on things like early intervention, when Government resources have gone down by 30%, is evidence that councils prioritise this and take it very seriously.
Ian Mearns: I am not going to criticise London authorities, because I cannot blame people who live in London for living in London and representing local authorities’ budgets, but before I came into this place I was deputy leader of Gateshead Council and in 2007/8, if we had received the same amount of revenue support grant as, for instance, Westminster per head of population, we could have charged a nil council tax and given every household £500 back. So it is different in different places.
Chair: In the East Riding we would have been able to give you more money back.
Alex Cunningham: Let’s do it.
Ian Mearns: It is quite clearly a mixed picture and I think we are reflecting a London experience, to a certain extent, compared with other metropolitan areas outside of the metropolis.
Q743 Chair: That is a good lead in for Annette to say something, if she wants to.
Annette Wray: Children’s centres have a responsibility as well of showing what good value for money they provide. We have been doing a value for money review, looking at interventions and outcomes for children. We have emerging data showing that children who are in the looked-after system, if their families are engaging with children’s centres, are spending 200 fewer days a year in care than children who are not engaging, who are not registered with children’s centres. We have to provide that value for money point to our councillors, to say, "Keep funding children’s centres". We are providing that early intervention, that early support, which is making a difference and we will save funds later on by keeping children out of care, keeping children off child protection plans, which are costly.
Q744 Chair: If you were in a position to provide us with that, we would be very grateful as part of the inquiry. Thank you.
Annette Wray: Yes.
Q745 Ian Mearns: Do you welcome the revised Government proposals on the role of local authorities in relation to early education and child care and how will the changes affect children’s centres?
Cllr Simmonds: The Government has, by no means, reached the end of the road in terms of what that will look like. The engagement that we have put forward so far has primarily been about making sure there has been enough local flexibility to respond to what is going on in different areas and that seems to be the key thing. The needs in your particular community may be very different from the ones in Gateshead, which may be very different from the ones in Hillingdon, East Riding or wherever it may be. The key thing is no one size fits all.
We also need to make sure, as we go through the process, that we recognise the journey that early years services have been on. A previous Government took a decision that there would be a particular role for the local authority, which was going to be an enabling role. A lot of resources currently are put into things like training. If you are going to be a childminder, learning how to resuscitate a baby, which is, funnily enough, a different task from resuscitating a grown adult, requires some specialist training; you have to have that to be able to do that kind of job and that is provided through the local authority. If we are saying that all of the resources available should effectively go into purchasing places, making sure the providers are still able to access that and that services are consistently good in future is going to be a key task. Whether what has been put forward by Government about Ofsted’s role in carrying out that is going to be sufficient to reassure parents is something of an open question at the moment.
Q746 Chair: So you do not think it is.
Cllr Simmonds: I think there is a risk there. What Ofsted do at the moment is more about, let us say, boxticking. It is about going through a particular process from time to time that says, "Can you show in a relatively high level way that you are meeting certain outcomes?" What the local authority tends to know a bit more is how things change, particularly between the kind of visits that Ofsted do, because we are in a much more regular form of engagement with those types of settings. Making sure that the service remains consistently good, and that if it is going wrong some intervention happens, is going to be a challenge.
Q747 Pat Glass: This Committee has tried to engage, I think is the best word, with the challenging issues of integrated working and information sharing on numerous occasions. I cannot tell you how depressed I am over the issue of, particularly, information sharing, but as there is nobody here from health for me to take my frustrations out on, I intend to look at some specific areas rather than the wider picture.
We have had evidence about the named social worker and I know there are different views in different areas, but, if we are looking at named social workers in children’s centres, should we not apply the same consideration to other professions, for instance, named midwives, named health visitors, named APs, named speech therapies?.
Chair: Who fancies that one? Annette?
Annette Wray: On the ground that happens already in our children’s centres. We have very strong links with health visitors, midwives, social care colleagues. We are working with over 90% of our children who are on child protection plans, child in need plans, so rather than have a named worker for the centre, we would work with that named person who is working with the family. We do have multiagency meetings where we invite colleagues from health-health visiting, midwifery-so we have those high level discussions about what needs to happen in a children’s centre area and then, on specific issues with children, we would link with that individual worker to discuss their case and see how things need to move on. So, for us, having a named person is already happening on the ground.
Q748 Pat Glass: What about in other areas?
Jon Stonehouse: Yes, I would agree broadly. The CAF assessment, team around the child type models crystallise that type of working, if you like, and adopt the named lead professional. We are still facing a lot of challenges around data sharing, but the case management and case working is where things are working much, much better. The system view of families, children and young people and data sharing at that level is still extremely difficult. Where we have perhaps seen some move forward is within the Troubled Families programme. As the starting point for key agencies that perhaps previously had not shared names, addresses, dates of birth, postcodes, it demanded that they did that in order to identify the number of families that we have been expected to work with. We have seen a move forward through that programme
Q749 Chair: Peter, David, do you want to add anything?
Cllr Simmonds: No, totally agree with that.
Q750 Pat Glass: Okay, thanks. On the issue of data sharing and information sharing-although I have to say I want to throw myself out of the window, closely followed by my colleagues on the Committee, when we mention it, because it just does not seem to get any better-what are you doing specifically, as the Local Government Association and as individual local authorities, to try to get around this issue of health and not sharing information?
Cllr Simmonds: Through the Local Government Association, there has been some best practice work that has been done to try to share successful approaches. Half the challenge is that, with health, different data protection controllers take a different approach in different local areas. Some will say quite happily, "Yes, we are working together with this child. We can share what we need to share in order to do that effectively". Others take a real head in the sand attitude to it and that is a challenge. Partly, it is about breaking down some of those barriers, making sure that people know and can wave those examples under the noses of their health colleagues and say, "Look, if your counterparts in Southwark can share this, why are you saying you cannot share the same information in Gateshead?" or wherever that is cropping up as an issue. We are trying to make sure there is that exchange of information so that people are equipped to tackle that.
Q751 Pat Glass: So there will be a Local Government Association protocol that they can wave in front of them and say, "Look, it says here you can share this".
Cllr Simmonds: I would not call it a protocol, but we are sharing the best practice. The issue with protocols, of course, is the other side have to sign up to it and, as we know from experience, the other side may well say, "They may have signed that protocol in Hillingdon, but we did not sign it in East Riding, so we are not going to do it". That is why it is often about people having the knowledge that other people have overcome it so that they are able to tackle that and have that confidence.
Q752 Pat Glass: What about individual local authorities?
Cllr John: I come back to the health and wellbeing board and strategy and my hope and aspiration that that will lead to just these better working relationships on the ground and a willingness to share data and information in the way that you would seek. Yes, that is what I would point to. I cannot say that we have an absolute answer currently. Even in London, we have difficulty with the local authorities sharing information with each other, where there should be no difficulty in information being shared. There are always problems that arise.
I do not have anything much else to add on that. Clearly, it is necessary. Clearly, it is important that it happens. Through the health and wellbeing strategy and the health and wellbeing boards and also the fact that budget cuts are going to mean that agencies are going to have to work together if these things are going to work, hopefully those relationships will produce the solutions that we all hope to see. Call me back in five years, really, I suppose is the answer on that.
Jon Stonehouse: I certainly cannot deny that it is a very patchy picture with differences across the different local authorities. Where things are moving forward is on specific pieces of work in particular local authorities where there is that very-
Q753 Pat Glass: Who are these local authorities where it is working?
Cllr Simmonds: Bristol is probably the best example.
Pat Glass: We need to get Bristol in.
Cllr Simmonds: There is a very good case study. Bristol children’s centres get lots of really detailed information that is about poverty, health issues and so on, which is fed through from both the NHS and the council. We can share that one in a lot more detail, but that is an example of where it seems, so far, to be working and where there is a local protocol that has been agreed, which covers this.
Q754 Chair: Is there a coincidence between the areas that are better with the areas that have a MASH or teams in child protection? In other words, they have built up in that area the coworking and the sharing of data. In a sense, once you have broken through in one area you might be able to move that over to others. I do not know if there is any evidence for that.
Jon Stonehouse: Our MASH is the example I would give of where we are making progress, where we have a multiagency team that look at specific families and that information sharing happens within that context. That is not a local authoritywide agreement, but it happens for some of our most needy families. We feel that gives us the opportunity to broaden that out.
Q755 Alex Cunningham: Most of our conversation is about the purpose of children’s centres, but I wanted to probe one or two things in a bit more detail. We have seen the Government’s focus shift from childcare to a greater emphasis on early intervention. Do you believe that is the right way to go, or do you have different thoughts on what the core purpose of children’s centres should be?
Cllr Simmonds: Perhaps something of a national perspective: the answer is that it will depend upon the local circumstances. There are some areas where the key need of a community is to enable people to get back to work and a universal childcare type offer is enormously helpful. There will be other areas where there will be quite specific safeguarding needs. There may be particular issues with specific communities that exist in those local areas. The children’s centres will not all look the same. They will be providing quite a different service. That is why, at council level, we are trying to make sure that what we offer reflects the needs of those communities and is flexible to meet those needs as they change.
Jon Stonehouse: In most areas, the children’s centres should form part of that early help, early intervention and prevention offer.
Q756 Alex Cunningham: Part of it: is that a big part of it? Should it be their main emphasis or should they just be collaborating with others?
Jon Stonehouse: The emphasis and the size of that, I suppose, will vary from area to area. Again, speaking from a Greater Manchester urban authority perspective, it is a significant proportion of that offer. It has to be so for all sorts of reasons, not least the regulatory framework and being able to demonstrate that we take that view of children’s safeguarding from universal services right through to the very specialist end. It has to be a key part of the early help offer.
Alex Cunningham: You are nodding your head, Annette
Annette Wray: Yes. I think it does. It is part of that continuum, isn’t it, in terms of that universal offer? In East Riding, we only have childcare in four of our children’s centres. We rely heavily on our private voluntary providers in the localities. When we were developing children’s centres, we had to balance whether we set up childcare in an area that would put private community businesses out of business or we worked in partnership with them and that is what we have done. We have a really vibrant mixed economy of providers, and that is essential when we are looking at providing places for twoyearolds.
Q757 Alex Cunningham: David preempted my question when I was going to talk about whether the focus has to be the same everywhere. But can we expect, in the light of budgets and everything else, that we will see a lot of the universal service just go by the way and there will be concentrations on the quite narrow specific needs in specific areas?
Cllr John: The pressure is that way, but I hope that is not where we end up. I quoted that stat earlier on that, for 90% of parents who have attended children’s centres and worked through children’s centres, it had helped them to get more involved in the community. That is one of the very clear benefits of the universality of the offer and having parents coming together from different backgrounds and with different experiences. You lose that, don’t you, if you are just targeting all your intervention and care on a particular section of the community or children or families with particular needs?
Q758 Alex Cunningham: Will the resources in the future allow you to do these wonderful things that are happening in the 90% of cases that you quoted?
Cllr John: At the moment, local authorities are bending over backwards to try to keep and maintain the current offer. We have talked already about the risk that that might not be what we can do in the future, but I really do think that, for the purpose of children’s centres as we know and understand them in Southwark, in London and more widely, we have to try to carry on doing that. We have to try to make sure that that funding remains there.
Q759 Alex Cunningham: We can try, but whether we succeed or not is another matter.
Cllr John: Yes, absolutely, but it would be really regrettable if it just did become much more targeted in approach. I do not think that is where anybody here wants to see it go.
Q760 Alex Cunningham: Subject to resource.
Annette Wray: It is still the workers who are running the sessions and activities as well who are picking up those low level concerns and issues with families that they can signpost or support straight away, which prevents them escalating and needing a more targeted service. If you reduce or stop all universal services, families just will not come to children’s centres. They will just be seen as places you go if you have difficulties or if you are having support from a social worker, and we need to keep that universal element.
Q761 Alex Cunningham: Maybe there is some good evidence there for the Secretary of State to fight harder for budgets in the future.
Teachers in primary schools tell me that, of young children who have been arriving after the noughties, the ones who grew up through children’s centres are much better equipped when they get to school. So what place do you now see for early education in children’s centres? Is it still going to be the role for centres to ensure that children are schoolready?
Annette Wray: Yes, I think it is a role. People get hung up by the words "school readiness". We want children to be happy, engaged in learning, confident to start school. I think people are really hung up on what the term "school readiness" means. It is not about them being ready to stop playing, but to learn through play and have the school ready for the child to start attending and learning. We are doing lots of work around transitions, particularly with vulnerable children who are starting school. Parents’ concerns are everything from going into school, meeting head teachers, knowing what they need to do to really practical things about helping children out with the lunchbox and getting dressed and things like that. It covers a broad range of things and that is something we are addressing in children’s centres.
Cllr Simmonds: It is probably worth saying one of the powerful incentives for councils to maintain a universal service is that it is a very important part of stepping down and diverting people who might otherwise end up coming to our attention through child protection services. In many authorities, the service that is offered is a key part of what is often referred to as "tier two". This is not a family that is in crisis where we are going to send a child protection team round to visit them, but means that they have some needs and diverting them to a children’s centre to turn that situation around before it gets worse is a key part. It comes up in the Troubled Families agenda and through early intervention. It is something that we are all doing at the moment.
Q762 Alex Cunningham: Yes, but for many centres in disadvantaged areas, as David was sharing earlier about the report in a newspaper of a child who has not even been toileted prior to arriving, there is lots of catch up to do in some areas, so additional stresses on the system, yes?
Cllr John: I have a good Southwark stat for you on the positive impact, we think, of Sure Start in children’s centres. That is, in 2008, 40% of children at the end of reception year were reaching a good level of development. Last year, that had increased to 69%. That is a massive increase over the period that we have seen investment into Sure Start in children’s centres.
Alex Cunningham: And it must be celebrated. My concern is for the longer term-future and the impact of budgets.
Q763 Chair: May I interrupt? Just to go back to Annette, a few years ago the East Riding had the biggest gap in the country between children on free school meals’ outcomes at GCSE and the average in the authority. It went relatively unreported and it is still there. When we talk about early education and school readiness, and in the context of that historical failure of the poorest by our council, that is the kind of context I am looking at. I want to know that the early years effort and the children’s centres are going to play a part in making the children who are born poor less likely to have poor results afterwards. Do you feel confident in that, and do you have any evidence?
Cllr John: That was my stat, was it not? That is a good stat, which I think supports the work of children’s centres and Sure Start and also the experience of Barking and Dagenham, which is doing some great work with its children’s centres and is leading on a hub and spoke model. That is another borough with great deprivation and problems at the moment with a huge influx and increase in population.
Q764 Chair: One of the problems of course is that, although we get stats like that, when you get the major national research it tends to come out less favourably and leave us less sure. Annette, assure me that my constituents in the East Riding who were born poor are going to be better treated than they have been in the past.
Annette Wray: We have the evidence through the results of the Early Years Foundation Stage that children’s development is increasing, but only slightly-we are not making the same claims that Southwark can in terms of the good level of development. What was a really useful measure was the narrowing the gap measure, which was looking at the lowest 20% of children and their outcomes and whether they were achieving in proportion more than the rest of their peers. What we found in East Riding was that that was a very low gap: it was 27%; nationally it is around 30%. So we are increasing through our targeted work in children’s centres to reach those more vulnerable children and give them a better start.
The issue is that that measure has now been dropped, so we are only looking at a good level of development. We are going to try to look at that, because we do analyse the data quite thoroughly and we do look at cohorts in terms of black and ethnic minorities, children in care, and children on free school meals. We break that down to children’s centre level, so we can see that in some areas it may not be an issue, but in some of our children’s centre catchment areas we do need to do more work and we can focus that work on those areas.
Q765 Pat Glass: Can I just ask, Annette? Before coming into Parliament I was a Government adviser and I did work in East Riding. I remember raising this issue with Graham personally, and saying, "The gap is biggest and nobody is listening". I remember there was a girl called Fiona Fitzpatrick in school improvement and she was banging her head against a brick wall. Is that true, because it cannot just be in the early years; it has to be in your school improvement services as well. Is it just you battling on your own or are people in those bigger areas taking notice of these things?
Annette Wray: No, they are taking notice of it. Obviously, my expertise is with early years.
Pat Glass: Finally taking notice.
Annette Wray: Yes.
Q766 Alex Cunningham: What could local authorities do more in order to promote children’s centres to disadvantaged families? We all have this wonderful vision: we would be out there, outreach would be the thing that we would do, we would bring these people in, everything would improve and things have improved, but we need to do more. What can we do, what can local authorities do to promote children’s centres more?
Cllr Simmonds: In terms of specifics, disadvantaged families, the families who come to our attention, partly that is about signposting them specifically and, if a family comes through a referral, maybe from a school, saying to that family, "Have you considered getting engaged with your local children’s centre?’ It is a very practical, transactional thing. Then, partly, it is for us just continuing to remind people what is available out there. It never ceases to amaze me how often people will come to me and say, "I wish I could get access to this", not realising that the children’s centre 150 yards from their house provides it to them free when they want it, should they need to. It is just making sure that that publicity is freely available-websites, council publications, through the centres, through the schools, that kind of thing.
Q767 Alex Cunningham: I was blessed with a grandson over the summer and I am sure my son would have loved to have been able to go along to his children’s centre to register the birth instead of having to make an appointment for a week later. Do you think using the centres for registrations of births would achieve anything or do you suspect that there would be problems with that?
Jon Stonehouse: The solution to getting people to use children’s centres is to broaden the offer of what is provided through them, so I do not think it is just the local authority’s responsibility to publicise them. If we make sure that the services operating out of them are the ones that the community needs, then it becomes that broader responsibility to publicise the work of the centres. Broadening the range of services that are offered out of them will help, inevitably, in doing that.
Cllr Simmonds: It has been tried, with mixed results so far. Manchester, Bury and Lambeth are already doing this at the moment. Some parents are coming back and saying, "We would much prefer it if it was a maternity unit in a hospital rather than having to go somewhere else". The feedback from Manchester said that, where it has been trialled, it has proved to be unpopular with parents, who felt it was quite an inconvenience.
From a general local authority strategic point of view, the key issue is that it is expensive. Registrars are subject by Government to all sorts of different requirement, so if you have to have people employed as registrars for 18 children’s centres, we would need to recruit 36 more registrars against a team of two-
Q768 Alex Cunningham: So the idea is bonkers really.
Cllr Simmonds: If Government wishes to pay for it, Government is more than welcome to. From a local authority perspective, I do not think I would choose to implement it as a good addition to local services.
Alex Cunningham: Do you have a view, Peter?
Cllr John: I would probably agree. Just in terms of the budget constraints we are facing, taking on any additional responsibilities would be difficult. Whilst it is a good idea, it sounds the sort of thing the Government would do and say, "Yes, you must now have all registration of births at children’s centres" but without giving us a single pound extra, which would put further strain on those budgets.
Chair: So that is a no as well.
Cllr John: Yes, it is a no.
Q769 Mr Ward: I have some questions on how you monitor the effectiveness of centres, but I just want to come back to this point that, allegedly, the Queen is supposed to believe the world smells of fresh paint and, for obvious reasons, we tend to get people who are coming here with best practice and good practice. Reading this recent report, poor children not being potty trained when starting school and poor white boys are at risk of becoming an educational underclass. It says, "The early years experiences endured by these children have been so abysmal that they begin compulsory schooling absolutely not ready for learning and potentially permanently disadvantaged". It is 14 years or so since the first Sure Start local programmes began. It was a massive capital and revenue investment by the nation as a whole and yet this is a damning report about the ones the scheme was originally set up to deal with: the most disadvantaged. Now, it is not your wonderful stats from Southwark and so on. Are we getting anywhere at all? What are we doing about this incredibly important issue of how we deal with the most disadvantaged young people? Is it working?
Annette Wray: We have a shared responsibility with health visitors, who also have a universal offer for all children. They would be assessing those children at seven months, two and a half, some at three and a half. They have a duty to do those assessments in terms of the development and learning of those children and they need to flag up if there are issues that then children’s centres can support. It is our responsibility to try to find all of these children and engage with them, but it is an equal responsibility with health visitors, who also have that remit in terms of supporting families. They could signpost on. We could do some intensive work-around if it means potty training with that family in particular, but we need the referrals. We need that joint working to be working effectively in the areas.
Q770 Mr Ward: What is going wrong? Not in your areas, but what is going wrong?
Cllr John: There are always families who do not want to engage. I know of stories in Southwark. I am chair of governors of a primary school where a child turns up aged six who has never been in the education system, facing exactly the sort of difficulties that you were taking about. We, as a school, have to try to deal with that child and sort it out, etc, and get them on the path to an education. It happens even where you think you have all the bases covered, but there are families who do not want to have any contact. These are the children who do not have the health visitor visit. I do not know how we pick them up, quite frankly, because some people just want to stay under the radar. They do not want to have any involvement with the authorities. We have to try to work harder, but it is difficult and I am not sure there is a perfect solution.
Cllr Simmonds: The Department for Education has commissioned a study by Oxford University to look at the effectiveness of these services, but the reality is there is no good quality long-term evidence really, from anywhere much in the world, that we know stacks up, that proves one way or another the effectiveness of these types of arrangements. If we go to similar countries, they say the British are completely bonkers to be trying to get children into any form of early education as young as we do. Other countries say, "Gosh, we wish we had early education like is available in the UK, because we think it would be brilliant". There is no sort of internationally agreed standard.
One of the things that is worth bearing in mind, though, when we look at impact is that, the more targeted the service is, the easier it is to measure the impact. If you have a child who comes with a specific need, you can look at whether that need has been addressed during that child’s time at the children’s centre. If they are there for speech and language therapy, has that overcome their problem by the time they have moved on? With a universal service, where essentially we are saying we are going to put the offer out there and we are going to hope that people’s engagement means that overall more children will be better equipped when they arrive at school, there are no effective measures that all those clever people who analyse such things have come up with yet that will prove that one way or the another.
Q771 Mr Ward: Even within the overall excellence, you must have systems in place to make sure the less excellent become better, so centre to centre, what are those processes that you have?
Cllr Simmonds: Ofsted is the primary national inspector. At local authority level, through both the commissioning process and who will manage them, we want to know what they are doing. We can measure that partly through some of the outcome measures that we talked about: if we are organising-
Q772 Mr Ward: Should there be a national outcome level?
Cllr Simmonds: There is probably a set of national indicators that we could return to should we want to do so, but I think we have never found those particularly helpful in the past, because what usually happens is people focus on the national indicator rather than on the needs of the local community.
Q773 Neil Carmichael: What I would like to talk about is payments by results, particularly with Annette, because you are obviously experimenting with them, so would you like to tell us how they are going?
Annette Wray: The programme ended in March. There was going to be a planned extension, but it was completed in March of this year.
Q774 Neil Carmichael: How would you describe the experiment?
Annette Wray: There are bits of it that have been really valuable to be part of the payment by results trial. We did a joint trial with North Yorkshire. We had a very clear focus when we wanted to join the trial that what we were really trying to tackle was moving the work of children’s centres upstream, so we were working really with the antenatal period to the first six months of a child’s life. That was an area where children’s centres in our areas had not particularly concentrated on, and obviously the first two years of life are crucial in terms of those outcomes for children. So because we had a clear remit, the trial enabled us to have some additional time to focus on trying to get the birth data from some of our hospitals and look at the work that we were doing and share good practice across North Yorkshire and East Riding. It has been very valuable.
The measures that were put in place were very controversial in that nobody could agree on the measures nationally. We could agree on our local measures and that has been useful in terms of looking at the data and the information that we are collecting on families and the longterm tracking of children that we can now do because we have invested that time in that information. But the payment part of the payment by results was never really the primary motivator to going into the trial, and it has been very complicated in terms of working out what the reward would be for and how the reward would be paid. We still have not had the results of that yet.
Q775 Neil Carmichael: We touched upon that in an earlier session, because we were talking about outcomes versus outputs, if you like, and of course that is central to this issue, so thanks very much for your answer.
Now, moving on, local authorities obviously have some responsibilities in terms of challenging centres, but mindful of Ofsted’s role, how do you think the future activities of local authorities are going to unfold?
Cllr Simmonds: In terms of current posts, the role of the council in carrying out quality assurance between what Ofsted do and the basic choices that parents make is likely to, more or less, come to an end. It is not yet clear what that looks like, partly because Government is still consulting about some of it. The view that has come out seems to be that what local authorities currently do in terms of quality assurance and monitoring what is happening is seen as a bureaucratic burden and should end. There is probably quite a variable picture around the country. If you ask a group of providers, ask a group of children’s centres, ask a group of nurseries what they think of the local authority, it will depend upon the quality and the price of what it is that they are able to access. I suspect, a bit like a lot of services that are in existence in terms of school improvement, a lot of that may move into more of a traded service, so those things like training for childminders, training for new staff, human resources, payroll, stuff like that, which may currently be provided through councils, may become provided purely on a traded basis.
Q776 Alex Cunningham: Are you confident that local authorities can deliver the twoyearold offer or are there barriers in the way that have to be overcome yet?
Cllr Simmonds: Yes, we will do that.
Q777 Alex Cunningham: We will hold you to that. Peter, how about you?
Cllr John: Yes, I think so. If we have as much freedom and flexibility in the way in which it is provided-that is probably what we would ask for-we can provide.
Q778 Alex Cunningham: So the local authorities will be ensuring that it is delivered, rather than relying on the third sector or private organisations.
Cllr Simmonds: Yes. It is us who are responsible for ensuring it is delivered. Who we get to do it is another question, and that will be at local level.
Q779 Alex Cunningham: So partnership will be important. Do you agree, Annette?
Annette Wray: Yes. We have to deliver it in partnership because we have such a wide variety of private and voluntary sector providers, so we would crucially rely on them to provide that. It is sad that the local authorities’ role in providing that quality assurance and support is ending, because that is how we have managed to get such high quality private and voluntary providers in the sector, by working with them in partnership, providing them with free training and looking at their needs in terms of improving quality. I think it is a shame that that is going, because I do not think that is a role that Ofsted can really pick up.
Q780 Alex Cunningham: If you agree it will be delivered, Jon, will it impact on provision of other services within centres?
Jon Stonehouse: A lot of our provision would not be delivered out of those centres; it would be delivered elsewhere, so I would not expect it to have an impact on existing services.
Q781 Chair: So you expect to be able to fulfil the twoyearold offer with reasonable proximity to those who need it.
Jon Stonehouse: Yes, through our provider network.
Chair: Excellent. I am sorry we did not have longer. Thank you very much indeed. If you have any further thoughts or reflections, please do send them through in a short email; it would be very useful, particularly mindful of the recommendations that we make and what you think should be in our report. Thank you.