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Pre-school Preparation

Volume 518: debated on Monday 15 November 2010

We are committed to supporting parents in making sure their children are ready for school. We are maintaining the network of Sure Start children’s centres; protecting funding for free nursery education and extending it to disadvantaged two-year-olds; and reviewing the early years foundation stage to look at how young children can be best supported throughout their early years while preparing them for formal schooling.

Save the Children has argued that every parent needs to be able to access family support programmes, which are shown to support children’s development and learning. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that a pipeline of evidenced family support programmes is available in order to improve children’s attainment?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. She will be aware that we appointed the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) to undertake a review of early intervention. He will publish a report relatively soon on best practice in that area, and it will include many of the issues that she has just mentioned. The best Sure Start children’s centres already use a significant number of evidence-based programmes, and the Secretary of State for Health has also announced an expansion of family nurse partnerships, which are extremely important in supporting young parents and in working with their children. However, we are very keen to encourage more Sure Start children’s centres to make better use of the programmes on offer.

Speaking from experience, I know that there is almost nothing a parent can do to prepare a child for the devastating experience of being bullied at school. Today, on the first day of anti-bullying week, well over 800,000 people are taking part in a groundbreaking online march, organised by Beatbullying. What steps are the Government taking to reduce such bullying, which can have such a devastating impact on children’s lives?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue at this very important time. The Government take it very seriously, and we will speak much more about it, including about homophobic bullying, in the forthcoming White Paper.

It was good to hear the Minister reciting the successes of the previous Labour Government in providing free nursery places and a network of more than 3,500 Sure Start centres. The fact that Lib Dem Ministers feel the need to resort to claiming credit for our ideas shows how few they are getting from their partners in government.

Despite what the Government spin merchants would have the public believe, Sure Start was far from protected in the spending review. By freezing the grant, removing the ring fence, cutting children’s services budgets and removing around £40,000 of the budget from every children’s centre to pay for health visitors, the Government have put the Sure Start network under severe pressure. I therefore have a simple question for the Minister: can she guarantee that no Sure Start children’s centre will close as a result of choices made by this Government?

We will be announcing more details about the funding for Sure Start children’s centres shortly, in line with the settlement for local government. Yes, we have removed the ring fence, but we are trying to encourage local authorities to look rationally at what they want to do locally to ensure that they prioritise early intervention. We have rolled this into an early intervention grant, because they tell us how strongly they want to prioritise early intervention. However, every area will be different. Unlike the previous Government, we want to give local authorities the freedom to make decisions on the ground on what matters for them.