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Families in the Foundation Years

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

Today the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) and I are publishing a policy statement “Families in the Foundation Years”, which sets out the Government’s policy and the services that we think should be offered to all parents and families across England from pregnancy until a child reaches the age of five.

Today we are also launching a document—“Supporting Families in the Foundation Years”—for commissioners, local leaders and professionals who work with families in the foundation years, setting out our vision for the system that will implement these policies. It has been developed with advice from a wide range of professionals with extensive knowledge and experience of the foundation years.

On 6 July I launched a consultation on revised standards for learning, development and care of children from birth to five—a simpler, strengthened early years foundation stage (EYFS). We also made available a discussion document on the new core purpose of Sure Start children’s centres focusing on the outcomes they support for children and families, particularly the most vulnerable.

Taken together these publications constitute our response to those recommendations from the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), and Dame Clare Tickell that deal partly or wholly with the foundation years. I have also laid a written ministerial statement today in response to the hon. Member for Nottingham North’s second and final report “Early Intervention: Small Investment, Massive Savings” which I welcome and which will inform wider work on innovative finance.

Today’s publications emphasise the vital role that skilled and knowledgeable professionals and strong leadership play across the foundation years. This requires a framework of high-standard qualifications that meet the needs of employers, and equip early education professionals to support young children’s development. I am pleased to announce I have asked Professor Cathy Nutbrown to lead an independent review of foundation years qualifications. The review will consider the quality and breadth of qualifications available to the early education work force, and how best to strengthen qualifications and career pathways in the foundation years, offering advice to me during next year.

I am also announcing that nine local authorities will be the first to trial payment by results in children’s centres. The areas are Southampton, Oxfordshire, Oldham, Gloucestershire, Devon, Croydon, Blackpool, Barnsley, and Barking and Dagenham. They will test how to reward and incentivise reaching the most vulnerable families, improving family health and well-being and raising attainment of children at age five.

Raising the status of the foundation years

This Government want to build on recent improvements in the quality of services for young children to create an environment in which local communities, business and public services work together to help families and parents to be the best they can be, particularly during the important first years of their children’s lives.

Research clearly demonstrates the impact of the first years of a child’s life on later life chances. Maternal health and health in early childhood are important for later well-being. Children who do well at age five are six times more likely to achieve at or above expected levels in the first years of primary school and the effects of good early education are still visible at age 11, and on into later life. Research also shows that children do best when parenting is warm, responsive and authoritative.

The strength of this evidence has been recognised in the recent major reports from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead on poverty and life chances, by the hon. Member for Nottingham North on early intervention and by Dame Clare Tickell on the early years foundation stage (EYFS). Both the hon. Member for Nottingham North and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead called for Government to adopt the term “Foundation Years” to signal the importance of the first phase of life in underpinning later achievement and well-being. Recognising the need to raise the status of this time of life, we have adopted this name in the statement we are making today.

Making this the most family-friendly country in Europe

Families are the cornerstone of our society, and this Government have committed to making this country the most family-friendly in Europe. We have already demonstrated our commitment to supporting families during the foundation years:

The Government have already increased to 15 hours a week the free entitlement to early education for all three and four-year-olds, and the paving legislation required to extend this entitlement to disadvantaged two-year-olds is currently before Parliament;

By 2015, we aim to increase the health visitor workforce by 4,200 (an increase of over 50%). Health visiting services can then deliver a full service to children, families and the community working closely with Sure Start children’s centres and other organisations;

Over the same period we will double (to 13,000) the number of vulnerable young families who will benefit from the family nurse partnership;

Investment in relationship support over the spending review period will further the positive impact relationship stability has on parenting;

The Government are consulting on a new flexible system of shared parental leave which will give mothers and fathers more choice about how they share their caring responsibilities;

The Government have announced that it wants to retain a network of Sure Start children’s centres, accessible to all families but focused on those in greatest need;

The Government are committed to strengthening accountability arrangements for children’s centres, including through introducing payment by results, so that success is recognised and rewarded. Nine local authorities, announced today, will become the first to trial payment by results in children’s centres—with up to 21 further trials to be announced early in the autumn. The experience of the trial areas will help the Government and local authorities develop a final set of measures so payment by results can be rolled out nationally from 2013-14.

Supporting children, families, and professionals

Taken as a whole, this package takes forward our principles of public sector reform by promoting greater involvement of parents in services; increasing flexibility in the free entitlement; strengthening quality across foundation years services; further opening up children’s centres to a wider range of providers; and reforming funding and strengthening accountability.

It emphasises the importance of intervening early and outlines the role that different services, working together, should play to ensure that children and families receive early help if this is needed, in line with recommendations from the hon. Member for Nottingham North and Professor Eileen Munro. The Government response to Professor Munro’s report was published on 13 July, and set out our commitment to early help.

As I confirmed in my statement on 6 July, we are introducing a new requirement on early years providers via the reformed EYFS to provide a summary report to parents on their child’s progress in the prime areas of learning and development between the ages of two and three. The report will help parents understand how they can encourage and support their child’s learning and social and emotional development at home and guide the provision of any additional support the child might need to help them catch up by age five. Parents will be encouraged to share that report with their health visitor to inform the health and development review at the age of two to two-and-a-half, which is part of the healthy child programme.

For the longer-term we are exploring the feasibility of a single integrated review at around age two, in which parents will be able to review their child’s progress with health visitors and early years providers jointly who will be able to offer help to address any issues early on. We will work with expert early years and health professionals, practitioners and sector representatives, and parents, to develop new models for this integrated review. We will explore, with the help of our health visitor early implementer sites, moving to a universally available single integrated review to support children and families from 2015 when the planned increase in health visitor numbers will make this possible.

We will place copies of “Supporting Families in the Foundation Years” in the House Library.