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Next Steps for Early Learning and Childcare

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 28 January 2009

I am today announcing the publication of a new, cross-government strategy document “Next steps for early learning and childcare: building on the 10-Year Strategy” for England.

Five years into our 10-Year Strategy, it is the right time to take stock, identify and address new and future challenges as we move progressively towards the establishment of early learning and childcare as a modern, universal public service for all families.

We have come a long way in delivering on the agenda that we set ourselves in 2004. Thanks to hard work across the sector, parents now have access to more flexible, affordable and better quality early learning and childcare than ever before, and many more families are benefiting from new rights and services. It will take time for the children who have had these opportunities to demonstrate the long-term benefits, but there are already signs that changes could help promote the social mobility of future generations. The latest foundation stage profile results show that 21,000 more children achieved a good level of development at age 5 than the previous year. And the lowest achievers are starting to catch up; the gap between their achievement and their peers has narrowed for the first time.

We are determined to keep improving early learning and childcare because these are crucial long-term investments. Good quality early learning and childcare is vital for ensuring all children, but especially the most disadvantaged, reach their full potential. It supports parents into employment—which is the best way out of poverty. And it relieves the time and emotional pressures that families face in balancing work and home life. In a time of global economic downturn, where parents face increased financial and emotional pressures, these priorities are as important as ever.

Alongside the recent New Opportunities White Paper, this document sets out some clear commitments and firm proposals. In other areas we have identified the case for action and need to develop plans through discussion and consultation. We want this to be the beginning of a wider conversation with parents, people who work in the sector, providers, agencies, children and local government—about how we can meet these challenges. That is why, the Government are also launching today a consultation on our plans to enshrine our historic goal of eradicating child poverty into law—“Ending Child Poverty: Making it Happen”—and publishing a discussion paper on a new framework to help many more parents with younger children and employment and support allowance claimants to prepare for work—“Personalised Conditionality And Support”, the Gregg review.

We will place copies of the document “Next Steps in Early Learning and Childcare” in the Libraries of both Houses.