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Lord Northbourne: My name is attached to Amendment No. 12 and also to Amendment No. 61. I should, therefore, like to say a few words about them. As I understand it, the Government propose to define nursery education in accordance with the category of child, the type of institution and, in regulations, the way in which grants are calculated. I am not entirely sure that that is quite enough. Surely we want some mention of the kind of nursery education about which we are talking.
Nursery education could, perhaps under a different Minister and a different Secretary of State, mean almost anything from strict three Rs to the other extreme where, perhaps under pressure from single interest groups, it might become little more than childminding, so that it could be extended for longer periods; for example, to suit mothers who want to go to work.
Surely there should be three elements in nursery education. The first is the preparation for academic education; the second--and most important in my view--is the social development, because unless children have the necessary social development they will not fit into primary school and they will go down and down. The third, is language skills which are most important for those who do not have them so that, again, they can fit into primary school at a later stage. All those elements must be within the framework of children being well cared for.
Amendments Nos. 9, 12, and 51 suggest forms of wording for the Bill. Amendment No. 61 suggests a way of linking the Bill with the "desirable outcomes" mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. The Minister kindly wrote to me about the matter on 10th June, and said:
Baroness Seear: I, too, have attached my name to Amendment No. 12. I shall be very brief. I want to emphasise something to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred; namely, the important scope and range that nursery education should have. It should at least cover--it clearly should do so--both care of the youngster and his or her educational development. The point I should like to add is that if you are going to do that properly it will be expensive. There is very little chance that you will get the full range of care and education provision when people are thinking in terms of £1,100 a year. Indeed, proper, good nursery education as is being provided in some places at present in both the public and private sector costs a good deal more than that.
I know that the Minister will say that we are talking about additional money. However, once the figure has been named and people are allowed to take it and run their own schemes, there is surely a very real danger that what is provided will become narrower and less satisfactory; and, indeed, will not provide what is required on both the care and the educational front. That is a real danger. I hope that the Minister will take that fully into account.
Baroness Warnock: I, too, attached my name to Amendment No. 12. I believe that the effect of the voucher scheme will be to obscure the line between playgroup and nursery school. Therefore, it is all the more important that there should be some account on the face of the Bill of what nursery education actually should be. I also believe that the emphasis on language is extremely important. Language is the route by which the relation between a child and his world is formed. It is only through language that he can learn to communicate with other people; to accept conversation from other people, and to enter into dialogue with other people.
An enormous number of children enter playgroup or nursery school without the concept of conversation and dialogue. They think of grown-up people as people who do not want to talk to them and who put them in front of the television and want them out of the way. It is therefore incredibly important that teachers involved in all forms of nursery provision should be seen by children to be grown-up people who communicate. That is why I place such strong emphasis on language. As I say, that is all the more important if the dividing line between playgroup and nursery school is becoming somewhat fudged by the application of vouchers. I feel strongly about this amendment.
Lord Henley: When the noble Lord, Lord Morris, introduced his amendment he said that in another place the Government poured cold water over these amendments. I hope that I shall not pour cold water over them but explain why I think they are unnecessary,
As I said, we believe that these amendments are unnecessary. All providers need to agree to provide education appropriate to a set of desirable learning outcomes on entering compulsory education which has been developed by SCAA as a requirement of grant. This will ensure that all providers are offering education appropriate to the age of the child and of a consistently high standard.
The SCAA desirable outcomes break down into six areas of learning, one of which covers personal and social development. Another covers language and literacy. I believe that that more than covers Amendment No. 12, and for that matter Amendment No. 9. Inspectors will consider the extent to which providers are working towards each of the outcomes. Where provision is not satisfactory in a particular area of learning inspectors will highlight that in the inspection report and appropriate action--
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but I hope he can clarify something. As regards the suggestion that the inspector should add to his duties an inspection of the physical and intellectual progress of children, the Minister has more or less made the argument for including that on the face of the Bill, as that is one of the outcomes, some of which are mentioned in paragraph 3 of the schedule, and some of which are not. It seems rather curious that some of the outcomes are mentioned but not others.
Lord Henley: I do not believe that I am doing that. I was discussing Amendments Nos. 9 and 12; I had not yet moved on to the others. We do not believe that they are necessary because we can, by means of a requirement of grant, make sure that any of the voucher redeeming institutions work towards those desirable learning outcomes as developed by SCAA. It will be for inspectors to consider the extent to which providers are working towards each of those outcomes, as I said. That is a matter which can be dealt with in the appropriate way.
The provisions sought in Amendments Nos. 9 and 12 may be provided for as requirements of grant as the Bill stands. Indeed such requirements are already in place under the Phase 1 arrangements. I therefore see no particular value in prescribing such detail on the face of the Bill. That relates to some of the discussion we had on the first amendment that was before the Committee this afternoon. I also think it is unnecessary to prescribe the scope of the chief inspector's duty to report to the Secretary of State, or the scope of inspections, in any greater detail than the Bill already does. Paragraph 3 (a) of Schedule 1--I think that was what the noble Baroness referred to--requires the chief inspector to keep the Secretary of State informed about the quality and standards of funded nursery education.
"Desirable outcomes" are generally felt to be well below nursery education standard. Some people, doubtless of a sceptical persuasion, suspect that this is provided deliberately to attract low level providers from the private sector into entering into this area of education, which would lower the standards that pre-school education should set for itself. It is an unworthy thought, I have no doubt, but one which from time to time, like all sin, obtrudes into the human mind.
As regards the weight of responsibility to be placed on the chief inspector, at this stage we have stated our positions and we must be content to disagree. We can return to that matter at a later stage. I am content to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.