Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am delighted to have secured this debate and, with it, an array of knowledgeable and talented speakers. In this election year, I hope that the issue of early intervention and improving the life chances of children will be high on the agenda of all political parties. It may even win votes. Without such intervention, children will suffer in terms of education, health and the acquisition of skills. That deprivation will continue to impact on social life and economic prosperity.
Research by charities, academics and politicians clearly indicates the connections between early years intervention and future economic mobility. The splendid work of children’s charities gives us valuable insights into the needs and implications of early intervention. Research from Tickell, Munro, Coughlan, Field, Allen and the Rowntree Foundation—to name but a few—is clear and forceful, and the all-party manifesto for intervention in the nought-to-two age range is a call to action.
There are many reasons for deprivation and lack of social mobility. There are particular children and families who need extra help—the disabled, those with poor health conditions or language skills, those in care, those who have experienced violence and those who are poor. I shall refer later to an ongoing Scottish programme, the Early Years Collaborative, which is an interesting model of successful intervention.
Just before Christmas I was struck by two news items. One involved the damning findings of an OECD report pointing out the link between inequality and growth in the UK. Those concerns were echoed by the Office for National Statistics. The UK has lower levels of intergenerational earnings mobility compared with other OECD countries. In fact, we have the worst performance and are way behind the Nordic countries, Canada and Australia. It is estimated that the UK economy would have been more than 20% bigger had the gap between rich and poor not widened since the 1980s. It is a shocking indictment of our society. The second news item, and indictment, was a statement by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey—the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey—that parents were giving up food so that they could feed their children and were suffering levels of hardship not seen in Britain since before the NHS was created in 1948. How depressing and debilitating.
We cannot ignore the evidence that social mobility in the UK is poor and that we need to look at early intervention as a way of combating the situation. Graham Allen MP has called for decisive leadership at the political level and for effective planning and co-ordination to shift resources to early intervention. I agree. One thing is clear: unless Governments are very focused about early intervention, with precise and measurable targets and evaluation of outcomes, we will fail children and families. Unless Governments ring-fence funding for children we will fail those children. Unless Governments encourage services to work together nationally and locally to benefit children and families, we shall fail them. We have too many examples, from government departments to local services, of lack of co-ordination and slow action which we should not ignore—for example, in sharing data about children and the joint commissioning of services. There are also, of course, examples of good practice, but this practice is often not shared because there is no strategy for doing so. It is a waste of money and resources. Does the Minister agree?
A key issue for children from birth onwards is developing confidence, self-esteem and resilience. It is known—but rarely given enough emphasis—that social and emotional skills, as well as academic skills, are important for success. It is known that succeeding at tasks—whether those tasks are academic, artistic, sporting or something else—helps to build a positive self-concept which protects against adversity and encourages the confidence needed to succeed. It is known that speech and language ability is essential for communicating and self-confidence and supports all learning. A University of London study has shown that children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school well-being have higher academic achievement, are more engaged in school and make more progress.
Although material wealth is, of course, not necessarily a predictor of success, it is a powerful factor. As we know, poverty in families can mean depression and poor health and have long-lasting effects. By the age of 16, children receiving free school meals achieve lower grades than children who live in wealthier circumstances. Leaving school with fewer qualifications may mean—does mean—lower earnings or unemployment.
I should declare that I am a member of the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, which is so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. Although our deliberations are not yet complete, we have already found that the systems and structures of childcare which parents have to negotiate are complex and confusing. We have found variability in the provision and quality of services, which is often to the detriment of poorer areas, and we have found that there is often no advantage to middle and lower income families in going out to work.
Ofsted has pointed out that only a little over one-third of children from low-income families reached a good level of development in 2013. Ofsted describes children’s centres as,
“a sector that is characterised by turbulence and volatility”,
where the accountability of the local authority may be seen as more important than that of children’s centres. Structures are changing, but often not for the better. We know that local authorities are spending less on children’s centres than they did in 2013-14, yet children’s centres can genuinely provide a place where education, health and well-being can be combined and where parents are supported. An earlier government report—the early years framework of 2011—speaks of the importance of retaining Sure Start centres, reducing bureaucracy and improving quality. The social mobility strategy of 2011 emphasised the need to encourage parental involvement, so it is ironic that all this is now at risk. Can the Minister comment?
Child health is key to counteracting deprivation. In 2012, the Chief Medical Officer called her report Our Children Deserve Better. It stated that—an obvious point—what happens in early life is a predictor of what happens throughout life and that outcomes in the UK are poorer than in other developed countries in relation to morbidity, mortality and well-being. This carries enormous costs, both financially and to child development. The long-term costs of obesity and mental health in England are simply enormous.
An initiative in Scotland called the Early Years Collaborative, which was begun in 2013, is the world’s first national multiagency quality improvement programme for children and families. Its stated commitment is to ensure that every baby, child and parent has access to the best possible support available. It seeks to shift the balance of public services towards early intervention and prevention by 2016. It is a coalition of community planning that involves all 32 community planning partnerships, including organisations such as social services, health, educators, the police and the third sector. Training of professionals and parents is a cornerstone. It involves children and families in testing ideas for improvement. The initiative has been described as a shift in culture and a social movement focused on early intervention. Results so far are promising in relation to the health, well-being and confidence of parents and children. The model has much to offer. Will the Minister look at this model and encourage his colleagues in government to do so as well?
In order to break the cycle of deprivation and improve social mobility, there are some obvious priorities: improve parenting skills; make childcare simpler to manage, with clear standards and assessment measures; ensure that services such as health, education and social services work together at community level; and ensure that the Government provide clear leadership, with a stated emphasis on the prevention of problems rather than attempted cures for the consequences of problems later on. We have a fractured early years system that is a tangle of clumsy structures—that is not a criticism of those dedicated professionals who work in those structures, with whom I sympathise. Early intervention is absolutely key to improving health, well-being, learning and social competence; neglecting it is disastrous. I hope to receive assurances that the Government understand the problem. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness. She has tremendous experience, she has already made a great contribution and I hope that she will continue with her hard work.
I would like to complement what the noble Baroness has said by concentrating on the nine to 11 year-olds—and, indeed, right up to school-leaving age at 16—because child poverty, in my humble judgment, is not to be defined simply in terms of the very early years. The impacts of economic poverty, and the poverty of guidance by parents, the local community and brothers and sisters, can last a lifetime and has to be addressed at different stages. The noble Baroness has aptly, and in a very clear way, concentrated in part on the very early years.
My limited experience, when compared with the noble Baroness, dates back to the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s excellent initiative in commencing what became known as SkillForce when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Subsequently, the Ministry of Defence, and now the Department for Education, took up sponsorship, initially financially and now in terms of model support, for the work that SkillForce does. It is largely staffed by ex-service men and women, some of whom suffered injuries, and now works with 180 schools in the United Kingdom with 4,000 children. The children are aged between nine and 16. They are identified as disruptive children in school by head teachers.
In part, they are disruptive because of child poverty. Very often they come from single-parent families. If a mother has to go to work in a supermarket, and has to leave very early and does not come back until late at night, one can imagine the depressing effect that that has on a child who is bussed back from school, particularly in rural areas such as East Anglia which I know very well. The child may travel long distances and go back to an empty home. Almost by definition, it will be a poor home. The experience of that type of poverty sometimes leads to disruption in class. That might affect only 5% of a class but it can affect the academic and social education, guidance and achievement of the rest of the class. That is where our staff, who, as I say, are mainly ex-service men and women, work very hard.
The situation is excellently set out in your Lordships’ briefing pack, The Case for Early Years Intervention in Breaking the Cycle of Deprivation and Promoting Social Mobility, prepared by Heather Evennett. I commend it to noble Lords who wish to follow up this debate. The study makes the point that attention should not be age limited to the very early years but has to be given right through to age 16. I have been chairman of the trustees of SkillForce for more than 10 years. I am glad to say that it has had a dramatic impact on reducing the NEET—not in employment, education or training—figures for those who are under-privileged and, in the early years, in economic as well as social and parental poverty. I strongly support the achievements of SkillForce.
I ask the Minister to comment on the likelihood of the United Kingdom receiving a substantial portion of the European fund that has been set aside by the European Union to deal with youth unemployment. The European Union Committee, on which I have had the pleasure to serve, has been monitoring progress, which seems remarkably slow. Any funds from Europe to help, in particular, 14 to 16 year-olds into employment—young people who might have no social skills and no background of employment—would be very helpful.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for introducing this extremely important debate. I have the good fortune to be a member of the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, from whom we shall hear shortly. That experience has caused me to think about the subject of today’s debate.
I have been surprised at the complexity of the issues surrounding the case for government intervention in early childhood education. Within that complexity are the varying approaches of hundreds of academics, think tanks and other organisations. It is an extremely complex issue. However, through all that complexity, what I have learnt is quite simple. In order to help break the cycle of deprivation and to promote greater social mobility, intervention in the home/learning environment at the earliest possible opportunity is absolutely essential. That includes the development of early speech, language and vocabulary, and recognition by professionals and parents that working with the young to stimulate early learning is both socially advantageous and deeply rewarding for parents, professionals and children. That is the number one thing that needs to be considered and promoted.
I have also learnt that, in nursery and child-minding settings, getting the highest quality staff possible on the front line working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds is essential. That means accepting fully the recommendations of the Nutbrown review and investing in a better trained and qualified workforce, many of whom will need to work with disadvantaged children. The Government should target and champion the expansion of high-quality provision in the most deprived areas.
I spoke this week to the head teacher at Abingdon primary school in the centre of Middlesbrough, a town which has provided excellent nursery education, who is experiencing great difficulty in coping with an expansion of parent-led demand in the inner city. She is unable to meet the demand because there are physical space requirements which she cannot afford. This means widening the gap between the children in the more affluent parts of the town and the inner core and increasing the cycle of underachievement and deprivation. That is the sort of thing that the Government could help with because targeted funding would have a major impact and effect on helping children in the inner city areas. If we do not do this we create differences in ambition and achievement at a very early age which will never be recovered.
Government recognition of the problem and intervention will probably never be enough and the problems of the poor can never be resolved without the support of the better off. Although we received evidence in our committee that the cost of childcare in the UK is 33% of net household income compared to an OECD average of 15%, something tells me that there is not a lot of room for increased parental contribution from the better off. To get a better contribution from wealthier parents, we need to look more carefully at the way in which we organise work and at how we can enhance the lives of the more affluent. This means that employers should think a lot more about how professionals can do the job they are paid to do and also manage childcare at the same time. Good work is being done on this. Some companies are working more flexibly, with greater agility and sensitivity, so that people can fulfil their roles at work and also their family responsibilities. We all know about job sharing and reduced hours flexibility, but a culture where the success of a business is recognised by its having successful employees at work and at home is very important.
I stopped being a trade union official 20 years ago. At that time I started to think about these kinds of issues but not in the fully-developed way in which I think about them now. Today, in unionised and other workplaces, childcare and early education should be at the top of the bargaining agenda. I thought about it a little 20 years ago but now I am fully full steam behind it. As with sickness, health and safety, pensions and all the other things that enhance the lifestyle of people at work, the bargaining agenda, with or without unions, should involve the quality of their lives. That is very important. For the almost 7 million lone working parents with dependent children, it is almost a necessity. A recent survey showed that half of these parents are unable to leave work on time and cannot eat with their children, so for them this is a necessity, and for the growing number of young fathers who are resentful about their work/life balance, it is also a necessity.
We have a lot of work to do with employers, businesses and Government to try to get people to think a lot more about how they can be successful in their careers and also take full responsibility—men and women—for childcare.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, not only for securing this debate but also for all her work with young people and on education. We know from almost every report which has looked at the issue of how to deal with the problem of social mobility—in my day we called it “life chances”—that there are two main things that we can do. One is about poverty and the other is about early years provision and the opportunities for intervention at a very young age. Children who are exposed to quality childcare and early years provision have improved outcomes. There is no argument about that, and those outcomes are also better in their adult life. Most important, the positive impact of high-quality childcare is more pronounced in those who start out behind their peers; that is, those with less educated parents, from lower income groups or with English as a second language. We know that as a fact.
What can we do? We have to make sure that we get early years education right. The social benefits for individuals and for society as a whole mean that it is of paramount importance to do that. All political parties sing from the same hymn sheet on this, while successive Governments have done their bit. The last Labour Government brought in the hugely successful Sure Start centres, the early years foundation curriculum in 2006, and free entitlement to part-time provision. This Government brought forward through the Children and Families Act 2014 early years educator and teaching qualifications, plus 15 hours a week of free pre-school care and education for the most disadvantaged. I will come back to that in a moment, if time permits.
I have six steps that we should take now. They are not controversial or difficult and they do not cost a lot of money, but they would enhance what we do. The first is this. Every indicator in reports and from practice overseas shows that the presence of high-quality staff boosts the quality of the care delivered, and the impact is greatest when staff spend a substantial amount of their time interacting directly with children and they are responsible for the curriculum. We do not want to see graduates working in early years education filling in forms but working with children so that their passion can be shared with other staff.
Secondly, from the perspective of child development alone, it is better to prioritise access to high-quality care from an early age. There should be more provision at 18 months to two years and increased hours for three to four year-olds. If we get it right for younger ages, it has more of an impact. If resources are limited, we know where they should be spent.
Thirdly, early years provision needs to resist “schoolification”. We do not want the early years to be a carbon copy of primary and secondary school. Yes, get children ready for school, but they should be able to learn through discovery and exploration and by using their imaginations. Those are all hugely important in the early years. We should resist any move to dress up our little tots in school uniforms, give them pens and paper and sit them down to learn to read and write. That is not for the early years, and actually it is very damaging indeed.
Fourthly, early years provision should engage with parents because they are the other side of the coin. That is why the Sure Start centres were so important; they engaged with parents. Early years provision that engages with parents has a positive influence on the home learning environment. Early years settings that encourage parents to read stories to their children and sing songs and encourage the children to paint and to play with friends have hugely important developmental benefits for children.
Fifthly, we need to ensure that the provision is of the highest quality. Yes, Ofsted is there to monitor and to judge, but it is not best placed to improve standards. That has to be done by others. Local authorities have a huge role to play in improving standards in early years, for example in training and development, which is really crucial.
My last point, the sixth of my six steps, is for children from 18 to 36 months. Cognitive development for older toddlers is best supported in lower-ratio formal group provision. More hours in centre-based care for two to three year-olds is associated with better language skills and better maths, leading to higher academic outcomes in primary schools.
Those are the six steps, but I will add one other point, which I think another noble Lord mentioned. This is very complicated for parents. We need to make sure that it is very simple and that parents know how to access early years—it needs to be clearly signposted, but we use all these different phrases and words. I went to the launch of Ofsted’s last early years report, which made the very same point: we use different terms for early years. Let us use one term so that we can be clear about it and make sure that parents can access it.
My final point is that I would like somebody to come up with a different term from “childminders”, because “minding” a child is not what early years should be about. Perhaps the Minister could find a different term from “childminding”.
My Lords, I would suggest “child carer” as an alternative to “childminder”, but that is for further discussion. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing the debate on this very important topic. I also pay tribute to her for what she does in this area, which is much appreciated, in this House and far beyond.
Just for the avoidance of doubt, I have the privilege of chairing the Select Committee which will report on this—we hope in good time in February—but my remarks today will not specifically be related to that report. There is another theme, or hobby-horse, that I want to ride, which is what I shall do today. To give your Lordships forewarning, that is the hobby-horse of language. The focus of what I have to say will inevitably be on early years intervention related to education in some way, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, made plain, there are many elements to early intervention which have to come together, such as health, sociability and so on. I shall focus on the provision for issues related to language.
There has been good progress in school education over the last two years in relation to STEM subjects, which has been very welcome and much appreciated across the community. There is a growing awareness of the importance of language in the sense of learning a second language, be it Mandarin or Spanish. That is progress and should be encouraged. However, my focus today is to add language in the broader sense to that list where there has been progress. If you talk to primary school teachers, particularly those in reception classes and certainly those who are now dealing with three and four year-olds, you will discover very quickly that they have a distinctive set of issues and problems to face. Their work is very rewarding, and some of them are exceptionally good and patient at it—I stress the word patient—but they face difficulties which are not so apparent later in the system. I do not just mean toilet training or teaching children to tie their shoelaces or button their coats, although all that is part of early intervention at an educational level.
At the core of all this, I argue, is language. That includes, but should not simply focus on, second-language families. That is part of it and is an additional issue today, but this is about the question of learning the basic skills of communication, being sociable, asking and answering questions, making interventions or comments and securing the attention of the teacher when one is in difficulty. It has to do with commenting on and responding to what goes on in the classroom and what other pupils say. It has to do, basically, with getting away from the law of the jungle, which by and large most two year-olds inhabit, and if you have not got out of it by the time you start formal education you are in difficulty, as are your teachers and fellow pupils. It has to do with being part of a community or a tribe, not living just on the basis of what you can grab.
This is a very subtle issue. For many children, this is not a problem. For many children, this is what they learn in the rough and tumble of the family, from having siblings and from playing with the kids next door. For many, it develops in due course through education. But I ask the Minister whether he perhaps might return to the department and ask questions about how we are focusing on the acquisition of the ability to communicate—language in that broad sense.
The ways in which I think progress should be made were spelt out more than 250 years ago by David Hume and Adam Smith. Your Lordships might find this a bit esoteric and think, “Well, he did teach philosophy and we have to restrain him”, but Hume saw this process of socialisation as fundamental. It is not an add-on for as many human beings as you can manage; it is part of being a human being—being able to socialise, communicate, share and understand what others say but also what they desire and what they can reasonably expect. I will quote from one of the recent commentators on Hume’s close friend, Adam Smith. Nicholas Phillipson writes that Smith,
“held that all our sentiments”—
that is, emotions and beliefs—
“– moral, political, intellectual and aesthetic – were acquired, developed and refined in the process of learning to communicate with others”.
You do not learn language and then learn how to feel; the two go hand in hand, and unless adequate attention is paid to the development of communication, these things will also fail.
This may seem very fluffy. It is not. It is fundamental. Look further up the system. In terms of social mobility, if you measure the number of people in prison who have deficient literary and mathematical skills, that is what you will find. It starts at this age.
I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for pressing this very important issue. It is, as has already been noted, an extremely complex one. We are talking about nothing less than a profound culture change in many local communities if we are to break the cycle of deprivation and increase social mobility.
For some years I worked in two parts of the West Midlands—wonderful places to live and work; I have many friends there still—but they were both characterised as areas that had extremely low aspirations. It was one thing to change the school but if the child went home and was told repeatedly, “Actually, that sort of thing does not make any difference to us. You are wasting your time”, all the work was undone. There needs to be a profound social and cultural change in the family as well.
That was one of the things that struck me when I was reading the comments in the interim report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, which reported back in 2012. It summarised its conclusions into seven “key truths”. I will pick out just the first four, which show precisely this connection. The first key truth was:
“The point of greatest leverage for social mobility is what happens between ages 0 and 3, primarily in the home”.
The second and third were:
“You can also break the cycle through education … the most important controllable factor being the quality of your teaching”.
Then it flips back to the family in the fourth one:
“But it’s also about what happens after the school bell rings”,
and the child goes home.
That same point was made very eloquently in the excellent cross-party report The 1001 Critical Days: The Importance of the Conception to Age Two Period, which was published last June. In other words, any approach needs to work not only with our schools but with everybody in the home—a parent or parents, and siblings—and every place in which the child and their family will find themselves in seeking to change that culture and that level of aspiration.
We have some collaborative holistic models; for example, the outstanding work done in the Troubled Families programme. Louise Casey, who heads up the programme, was quoted in a report published last October. She said:
“This programme is working so effectively because it deals with the whole family and all of their problems, with 1 key worker going in through the front door and getting to grips with an average of 9 different problems, rather than a series of services failing to engage or get the family to change”.
We need some imagination about the practical ways that we can get holistic approaches working at every level of the family and the child’s life if we are going to break these cycles of deprivation and increase social mobility. It will need significant resources and people with first-class skills focused over the long term. I hope that, with a general election coming up, we will steady ourselves with some of the programmes that are now beginning to bear fruit and not simply ditch them and reinvent new ones all the time.
I also plead that we work hard on establishing partnerships and close working relationships with the statutory and, more importantly, the voluntary and charitable sectors. I shall pick up on a couple of them. I have recently been in touch with the Stefanou Foundation, which is based in Welwyn Garden City, in my diocese. A major part of its work is entitled “Healthy Relationships: Healthy Baby”. It includes training in parenting. It has taken the lead in working with the police, local government, and health and probation services. It is about to launch a programme this April in Stevenage and in Westminster. It is a fascinating example of a group taking a lead on this and building on these connections, drawing in everybody to try to get this holistic approach so that we are getting some synergy, which seems fundamental.
However, we should not forget the quiet, unsung work that is going on that probably never gets on anybody’s radar. I shall give an example. I was recently in one of my churches, Christ Church in Bedford. That parish church employs a full-time families worker called Monica Cooper. It has raised the money to do this. Most people in the area probably do not know what is going on. It is long-term work. Much of it is about teaching parenting skills. The result is that Monica has been able to support a number of families. The results have been quite notable for a small number of families. It is very intensive work. It means that some children who had more or less dropped out of school are now regularly attending school. The work has been commended by a local head teacher. It is long-term and costly. If we are to find a way forward, we need local authorities to deliver clearly focused work and to act as co-ordinating bodies, engaging with national and local charities, all pulling together in the same direction.
My Lords, when a technical concept in social sciences is imported into political discourse there are often problems. This has happened with the notion of social mobility. We must distinguish between what sociologists call absolute mobility on one hand and relative mobility on the other. Absolute mobility refers to changes in the labour market and occupational system that creates jobs for people to move into. Relative social mobility is the movement of individuals up and down the social scale. In principle, these two things are completely different. If we do not recognise this, we will never get appropriate policy in this area.
Almost all the social mobility experienced between the 1960s and the early 2000s was absolute social mobility; that is, it depended on the expansion of white collar and professional jobs as deindustrialisation took hold. The number of blue collar jobs shrank dramatically. Rates of relative mobility—that is, individuals supplanting others who move up and down—remained low throughout this period and remain very low today. With relative social mobility, it is crucial to understand that for those at the bottom to rise up, others above them must experience downward social mobility. This does not happen very much, because privileged groups are normally able to deploy strategies to ensure that it does not happen and to keep ahead—that has important policy implications that I will come back to.
For this reason, interventionist policies, no matter how well intentioned and designed to help individuals in a direct way, whether in early years or not, will never be more than of limited effectiveness. We have an awful lot of evidence on this: it comes especially from the Head Start programme in the United States, which was initiated as long ago as 1965 as part of the war on poverty. I can assure noble Lords that those results are immediately and directly consequential for and relevant to this country. Sure Start here was based on Head Start—one could say that the Americans had a big head start over Sure Start and put a lot more resources into it.
I shall mention three conclusions, based on an awful lot of research—good intentions are not enough in this area. First, amazingly, as a result of many studies, there is no real consensus among academics on how effective the Head Start programme has been. Some studies show improvement in cognitive and behavioural skills; others find no correlation at all. A lot of money has been spent, but the level of feedback and the implicational consequences have been relatively low. It is really important to bear this in mind: as I have said, all policy must be evidence-based; it is not enough to be based just on good intentions.
Secondly, where positive results are found, they tend to fade after a few years. This is known in the literature as Head Start “fade” and is a well established phenomenon. It means that you cannot just depend on early intervention. As at least one noble Lord mentioned, there must be subsequent interventions at other ages for these policies to work. This is clearly, plainly and empirically demonstrated; such policies have to stretch across the school years as a whole.
Thirdly, the old idea that early years are somehow a magic phase of child development, decisive for later years, has to be abandoned, at least in the case of social mobility. They are not. The Government’s social mobility and child poverty strategy is therefore quite inadequate as it is set out.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, active policies are needed to counter the strategies of affluent parents who try to ensure that their advantages are passed on to their children. This is a crucial mechanism whereby relative mobility is kept limited. The Prime Minister referred to such parents as the “sharp-elbowed middle classes”. Dare the Government stand up to the sharp-elbowed middle classes? You will not improve social mobility for people from poor backgrounds unless there is some kind of strategy along these lines.
Secondly and finally, does the Minister agree that active intervention at the level of the labour market will be crucial to ensure that dead-end jobs do not produce an underclass where there is virtually no mobility at all? Inequality always trumps mobility, and it is intervention in the area of absolute mobility that will really make the difference.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for getting this debate and for the wonderful work that she does for children in all sorts of other contexts. I also congratulate the Government on recognising the crucial importance of each child’s early years and on introducing the early years programme, which I fully support.
My contribution this afternoon is on one issue that your Lordships might think tangential—but it is fundamental. I do not believe that the early years programme alone as it is designed today will be enough to make a confident, committed and supportive parent out of a young person who has never known life in a secure and supportive family. We have a cycle of disadvantage to break.
All secondary schools, especially those serving disadvantaged communities, should work towards a policy that helps as many teenagers as possible to develop not only their academic skills but also their self-confidence and personal, interpersonal and emotional skills—sometimes called the soft skills—to give them the character and resilience that they need in both the workplace and raising a family as they grow up. Such a policy, alongside appropriate academic education, could be a powerful agent to increase social mobility and justice in our society—concerns about which have been so clearly expressed by noble Lords already. We know that secondary schools can do this because the best ones are doing it today. Alas, too many are not. On the same issue of supporting young people as they grow up to become parents, weekly boarding for children from severely disadvantaged families can be immensely effective.
These issues are touched on in two recent government reports published in November which I happened to find. The first is Social Justice: Transforming Lives—Progress Report. It says:
“The family is the most important influence in a child’s life”,
and that families are,
“the bedrock of our society”.
It goes on to discuss support for families but makes little or no reference to preparing young people in school for the responsibilities of adult life and parenting.
The second report is the Government’s response to the second annual report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. It says:
“Children’s development in their early years provides the crucial building blocks for later life”.
The recommendation was that the Government should give,
“more focus to preparing children for the world beyond schools”.
The Government said in their response:
“We absolutely agree that preparing children for the world beyond education should be a key focus for all schools”.
However, they gave no indication of how they will do that.
I suggest a wider remit for secondary schools so that they provide opportunities for pupils. This is done in the best schools through team games, a cadet force, athletics, challenges, adventure and opportunities in drama, art, music and dancing, as well as debates and appropriate involvement in the running and discipline of the school—everywhere and always there are opportunities for belonging and to succeed. Not only secondary schools but youth movements and cadets should also participate in developing and helping tomorrow’s parents.
I expect noble Lords will think that this will be very expensive and difficult to do. It will of course cost more, and it will need more teachers and teacher training, as well as money for facilities. But if noble Lords are worried about cost, I ask them to think about the cost of dysfunctional families today, recently estimated at more than £40 billion a year. We live today in a society where disadvantage is passed down from generation to generation. Our policy should be that that must stop.
My Lords, I will refer to two groups of experiments. First, in the 1960s, there was a classic neuroscientific experiment where newborn kittens were blindfolded for various lengths of time. After a short time of complete darkness, once the blindfold was removed, there were permanent changes in the visual cortex of the brain. That could not be fully corrected by any subsequent exposure to light. Although I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Giddens about the early years not being a special part, none the less, there are key experiences that we need during development which are not entirely ruled out by the arguments being made.
Secondly, I point out that that is exactly why I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Storey. I do not believe that it is as simple as he makes out. This is a very competitive area. I think that I can demonstrate that by the most amazing report done in 2001 by Lars Bygren of Sweden, who looked at a village in the far north of Sweden, near the Gulf of Bothnia. He showed that of males aged nine who were subjected to a good harvest during the period that he studied in the late 1800s and early 1900s, their paternal grandchildren, the sons, had a shorter longevity than any other members of the family. That is an extraordinary finding and suggests that there is programming. At the time, the report was not taken seriously, but since then a number of interesting epigenetic experiments have been carried out which show that many things that we inherit not directly through our DNA but through the way that the genes function make a massive difference.
For example, Gregory Dunn, in Pennsylvania, has recently published a study in which he shows that an obese great-grandmother mouse passes on a trait through only her male children which causes their grandchildren, if they are female, to be obese. Obesity is a very complicated issue. This will apply to all sorts of areas of inheritance—it could well apply to cognition as well. The field of epigenetics is extremely confusing. That is why we need to be very careful not to make snap judgments about the complexity of early childhood learning. That is borne out by all sorts of other experiments which I do not have time to address.
With regard to environment, I am surprised that the millennium cohort study has not been mentioned already; your Lordships will be aware of it, I am sure. It has looked at 19,000 children born since 2000-01. That study, funded by the ESRC, and a very good example of British cohort studies—one of the reasons why we want to support British research—has been a mine for all sorts of overseas investigators in France and elsewhere who have used those data. For example, it looked at parenting, childcare, school choice, behaviour, cognitive development and health. It looked at those children at nine months, three years, five years, seven years and nine years. It bears out some of the things that my noble friend Lord Giddens said. Although there may be serious evidence of undoubted changes in cognition in early years—certainly between three and five—by the age of seven, that can often be adjusted by other factors.
I thought that in a time-limited debate the noble Lord would not interrupt me, but I forgive him as he is a noble friend.
My point is that a whole range of claims are made by all sorts of authorities about maternal health and how it affects cognition, breastfeeding, socialisation, social recognition and play. Undoubtedly, when there is severe deprivation—for example, in Romania—there is clear evidence of massive changes. Nelson and his group at Harvard University have shown clearly that good fostering makes a massive difference when a child has been in institutional care for a long period but, sadly, most of those children never recover completely—certainly, in their ability to deal with emotion, stress, some aspects of cognition and so on.
Although I argue that we certainly need to do more about early years learning, it is very important that successive Governments focus this work in the best possible way to have the key access to those most at risk. That is one reason why the Sure Start programme was a good start in trying to do that.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for giving me this opportunity to speak about preventing the abuse and neglect of children. Scientific and social research have proved that the development of a baby during the first two to three years has an enormous effect on the personality, happiness and achievement of the adult, and thus on the whole of society. National and local government policy can and should be mobilised to ensure that all babies can have good, healthy physical and mental growth and develop resilience. These matters affect their social mobility and, consequently, are the very foundation of progress towards social justice.
International experts have shown the effects of stress, violence, poor parental attachment, neglect and poverty on babies’ brains. We now know that during the first two years, new synapses are being added at a rate of more than a million per second and that the nature of these pathways is affected by the treatment that the child receives. We also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the child’s brain can be damaged irrevocably by violence and maltreatment.
Politicians have played their part, too, but there is one organisation that has played a greater part than any other in bringing these matters to the attention of government and in developing policies and strategies to address them. It is the WAVE Trust, of which I am honoured to be a patron, led by its founder and CEO George Hosking. WAVE began in 1995 when George realised that the levels of child abuse in this country had not reduced in 60 years and that the majority of the policies and the money spent were reactive, simply cleaning up the mess which was left in individuals and society. He realised that unless we develop effective preventive strategies we will never be able to improve the situation, so he began researching worldwide for strategies that worked. One of the most outstanding was the family nurse partnership in the USA, and George managed to persuade the Blair Labour Government to start one up here. It has since been expanded by the coalition Government.
It is vital that we work with young mothers who are at risk in order to ensure the physical and mental health of their babies. Despite its success, however, the FNP deals with only the tip of the iceberg and is expensive, so we need other strategies to help more parents who are struggling to do the best for their babies. WAVE’s report, Conception to Age 2—The Age of Opportunity, sets out a blueprint for local authorities. It has been widely used in the UK and recommended by UNICEF for use by countries across the world. WAVE is now leading a campaign to reduce child abuse and neglect by 70% by 2030. Responding to the challenge of providing hard evidence of how results can be achieved cost effectively during the normal life of a Government, it designed the Pioneer Communities project to test the effect of a comprehensive approach to preventing harm to children before it happens. The aim is to do this in six communities in the UK between this year and 2020. A pilot in four small areas is being supported by a £15 million grant from the Treasury. I am confident that the project will prove the case for prevention as a cost-effective approach to individual child well-being and social justice but it needs more financial support. We need a general national shift to primary prevention, not just a test in four small areas.
WAVE has also led a consortium of organisations which helped the Scottish Government to improve their Children and Young People (Scotland) Act to deliver that Government’s aims. One of the ways that it has done this is through the Scottish Early Years Collaborative, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. This could be done on a regional basis in England. Will the Government consider this collaborative approach which has been so beneficial in Scotland?
Finally, the WHO recently called for a public health prevention approach: specifically, a national action plan to reduce child maltreatment by 20% by 2020. Last October, Luciana Berger MP asked a Written Question of the DfE asking if it would respond positively to this. The Minister, Edward Timpson, answered:
“Responsibility for action to tackle child maltreatment and respond to the needs of vulnerable children rests primarily with local government … health services and the police … co-ordinated by local safeguarding children boards”.
I fear that I find this answer extremely disappointing. It smacks of passing the buck. We need a nationally co-ordinated primary prevention plan, supported by the Government. Can the Minister do better than his colleague in another place? The evidence is there, the experts have spoken and the financial case is currently being made. It is time that this country was a leader in this matter, not a follower, and we could start by introducing a complete ban on hitting children and by introducing the mandatory reporting of child abuse.
My Lords, I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in raising this serious issue, which is causing harm to the most vulnerable children in our society. I have been involved in early childhood education for over 50 years in east Africa, from where I come, in the United Kingdom and in Michigan in the USA.
I was a board member of one of the most eminent early childhood foundations, the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Michigan. HighScope’s Perry preschool research study examined the lives of 123 children born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school. The study found that adults at age 40 who had the preschool programme had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool education. It was estimated that when the US Government spent $1 on preschool education, it saved $7 in the long run as it cost more to deal with the crime and delinquency of the children who did not receive preschool education.
In a report that I read a few years ago, I found the following information:
“A wealth of evidence shows that education is a key determinant of life chances. As well as being a right in itself”,
“individuals to develop the skills, capacity and confidence to secure other rights and economic opportunities”.
We need to constantly remember and remind ourselves that education starts at the age of two, which is why early years education, free for all, is an imperative. By the time the child reaches school age, most key brain wiring, language ability and cognitive foundations have been set in place. The early years are critical in the formation of intelligence, personality, social behaviour and physical development.
Investment in the early years offers outstanding returns in both human and financial terms. If children become confident and enthusiastic for learning early on in life, they are more likely to be better students. Children who get a good start do better in school, are healthier and function better as adults. Recent studies, including those by the Nobel laureate James Heckman, have shown that investment in childhood education is more efficient and cost effective than remedial programmes for adults. A 2007 UNESCO paper suggests that one of the compelling arguments for investment in early childhood education is that the failure to do so perpetuates social and economic disparity and the waste of social and human potential.
There is a business case, as well as an educational case, for the Government making early years education free and mandatory. It is sad to see that early years education provision suffers every time there are economic crises, which ends up hitting the most vulnerable children and their families.
Will the Minister tell the House whether free preschool education for children of two to four years can be made available, with trained teachers and facilities, over the next five years? What would be the estimated cost of such a five-year programme? Would the estimated cost be ring-fenced in the national budget?
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing this extremely important subject to our attention by securing this debate.
Children in the earliest years of life are so vulnerable and so dependent on their parents that our focus has to be on strengthening families. Giving a child the best possible chance to avoid succumbing to an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage very often gives both the mother and the father a vital second chance to turn their lives around. They are frequently the product of a broken, fatherless or dysfunctional family themselves.
Too often, fathers are unjustifiably ruled out of the picture and considered to be surplus to requirement, yet they can make a significant contribution to children’s development of identity and self-esteem and can bring vital material and less tangible resources into the family. When fathers play with, read to, and help care for their children, the children have fewer behavioural problems, both in the early school years and in adolescence, and have higher IQs at age three than children from otherwise similar social backgrounds whose fathers are not involved. The public understands this: a recent YouGov poll found that 95% of adults believe that fathers are important to a child’s well-being. Yet around a million children today have no meaningful contact with their fathers.
The section in the Welfare Reform Act 2009 which made fathers’ inclusion on birth certificates compulsory unless grounds for exemption were met was never brought into force, but I urge the Government to do so. If fathers fail to register on the birth certificate, that predicts less involvement and low or non-payment of child maintenance.
Early years provision, particularly based in Sure Start children’s centres, has a vital role to play by drawing in fathers. Sure Start has evolved greatly from its beginnings, but it needs to keep on doing so. Various organisations such as the Centre for Social Justice, 4Children and others are pressing all the political parties to make the development of family hubs, particularly out of existing children’s centres, a manifesto promise. What would those family hubs do? They would be local “nerve centres”, co-ordinating all family-related support, including universal and specialist services, to help both parents.
Given the very high levels of family breakdown in this country, Sure Start family hubs would include couple relationship support and education as part of their core offer to families before, during and after separation. Local health commissioners would ensure that all ante and post-natal services are co-located within or co-ordinated from family hubs. Father engagement would be part of family hubs’ reformed core purpose and would be included in Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspections and local authorities’ payment by results frameworks. All birth registrations would take place within family hubs; if new parents were able to register births in these family-focused settings they would see from the outset the help that is available.
Concerns about the prevalence of domestic abuse are often raised to argue against making efforts to involve fathers. Children’s safety is obviously of paramount concern, so we urgently need more effective projects which work with male perpetrators of domestic abuse where they are genuinely desperate to change. I am not minimising perpetrators’ responsibility for harm inflicted, but we have to recognise that, even if they are absent, fathers still exist in the mind of the child and can influence little ones’ behaviour, self-worth and sense of identity.
I support the right reverend Prelate’s enthusiasm for “Healthy Relationships: Healthy Baby”, a project supported by the Stefanou Foundation. In the pilots in Westminster and Stevenage, both parents receive the therapeutic help they need, whether they are the abuser or the abused, to stop perpetrating and overcome the impact of abuse and to address difficulties arising from their own childhoods. Crucially, and with safety as the overriding consideration, they are helped to co-parent the baby and other children, even if they decide not to remain together as a couple. Getting to the roots of why parents are unable to provide the consistent love upon which their children’s well-being is so dependent has to be prioritised.
We are, as a society, never going to reverse the tide of family breakdown and dysfunction that tends to affect children’s life chances so gravely unless we help parents address the drivers of their own disadvantage. This requires difficult and careful work that draws in expertise and funding from the public, private and social sectors, but also community goodwill. Behind very many grass-roots organisations is a well of resource and friendship based, perhaps, in a local church or other faith community. This is a classic area in which the welfare society has to stand four-square alongside the welfare state.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for creating the opportunity to debate what has become a perennially important issue.
We are by now familiar with the research showing that, by 22 months, a bright child from a disadvantaged background begins to be overtaken in key abilities by a less bright but privileged child. We are told that a child’s development score at 22 months is an accurate predictor of educational outcomes at age 26, yet still the public debate about life chances and social mobility seems to focus on 18 year-olds and what university they should go to rather than on whether our under-fours are receiving the best possible early years education to give them the opportunities in life that they deserve.
Graham Allen MP argues passionately for a shift from our late reaction culture to one of early intervention. His 2011 report, Early Intervention: Smart Investment, Massive Savings, is persuasive that early intervention has the power to,
“forestall many persistent social problems and end their transmission from one generation to the next”.
His views and findings are supported by many others working in the field.
The previous Labour Government had an impressive record of investment in preventive policies targeted at children, families and disadvantaged communities. The coalition Government have pulled back on many of those reforms, but they have sustained a commitment to early intervention, particularly through the work of voluntary organisations and the private sector—and here I should declare an interest, as my sister is an early years professional and has two nurseries in Nottingham. There is a clear consensus that early intervention is needed to ensure that all our children get the best possible start in life. We know that high-quality early education is one of the most important determinants of every child’s life chances.
The Government’s child poverty strategy made a welcome commitment to 15 hours of free childcare for all three and four year-olds, and for two year-olds from low-income families. The introduction of an early years pupil premium to help three and four year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from April this year is also welcome, but it is still considerably below the help given through the older children’s pupil premium. The National Day Nurseries Association independent research for the Pre-school Learning Alliance showed that 70% of local authorities have never updated costs since the introduction of the funding formula, and that providers are losing an average £900 per child per 15-hour nursery place per year, making many unsustainable and pushing up the fees that parents have to pay for extra hours of childcare. Given the coalition’s avowed commitment to high-quality early years education, will the Minister commit to a review of the level of funding at least for two year-olds if not for under-fives?
The Family and Childcare Trust believes that, while the introduction of universal credit and tax-free childcare gives welcome extra support with childcare costs, there will be at least 335,000 families who may miss out on this vital support because of the complexity and overlap between the two systems. We know that those at the most risk of poverty are the least likely to take up their entitlement to free early learning and childcare places. The trust argues that the Government need to review childcare funding to simplify the system for parents. Can the Minister give any assurance that this will be considered?
Like my noble friend Lord Sawyer, I am also concerned about how we ensure the quality of this provision, and particularly high-quality staff. Low wages and the lack of career structure among nursery staff is an ongoing concern and will not change at all if provision is underfunded.
I have just one last point about the importance of early years education for a particularly disadvantaged group, children in care. A 2012 report from the APPG on Looked After Children and Care Leavers, Education Matters in Care, noted that despite the best efforts of social services, schools, carers and government, looked-after children remained,
“disproportionately destined to a life of academic underachievement”.
Evidence to the APPG inquiry showed that interventions in the early years can have a tremendous and long-lasting impact on the future outcomes of children in care, particularly in relation to their education. I should add that research has also shown that early intervention before the age of four can be critical for children with disabilities where language is impaired or for those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia.
Finally, I do not underestimate the complexity of the task. I endorse what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said about whole-system change. All agencies, local authorities, health and early years professionals, schools and parents need to work together if success is to be sustained. But in all this early years education is crucial to our attempts to improve the later life chances of younger children. Early intervention and its funding—sustainable funding—must become a key priority if we are to transform both the economic and the social potential of future generations.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and thank her for obtaining the debate. I also pay tribute to her for the informed, determined and far-sighted way in which she chairs the all-party children group. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, in paying tribute to Heather Evennett for her excellent Library Note. Finally, I pay tribute to the Minister who, ever since he has taken up his post, has made himself available to those of us who wish to discuss developments with him. I am particularly grateful for the provision of education, health and care plans for those in young offender institutions, which I know he is responsible for.
I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, mentioned SkillForce, with which I have been associated ever since it began as a project in the MoD. While observing the children looked after by SkillForce, and during my time as Chief Inspector of Prisons, I began to wonder how the children who appeared in the criminal justice system had got there, and what could be done to prevent them entering it. That led me on to the two hobby-horses which I intend to ride for the remainder of my contribution.
First, communication skills were referred to persuasively by my noble friend Lord Sutherland. I discovered that an awful lot of people in young offender institutions were simply unable to communicate and, of course, if they failed to communicate, you did not know what was wrong with them. By trialling the use of speech and language therapists in those institutions, we discovered that a great deal could be done. However, that in turn led to the conclusion that if this process had been started far earlier in these young people’s lives, they would not face the prospect of entering the criminal justice system at the age of 15.
I chair the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, which published a report on the link between speech, language and communication needs and social deprivation, which is the subject of this debate. Some of our conclusions have already been referred to in the debate—for example, a talented child from a poor background will be overtaken by a less talented child from a privileged background unless something is done to identify, nurture and develop their talents. We strongly recommended that every child’s communication needs should be assessed before the age of two. Indeed, that is happening in some parts of the country. It is being done by health visitors who are trained by speech, language and communication therapists. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, what is needed is co-ordination so that this happens across the country. Good practice needs to be identified and become common practice everywhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, mentioned, people change and therefore an assessment is needed not just at the age of two; rather, a programme of assessments is needed throughout these young people’s childhoods because their circumstances and conditions will change.
The second thing I want to say links up with what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about the adolescent brain. I have been fascinated by the question of nutrition, and declare an interest as the vice-chairman of the Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour. We have done work in schools and prisons that found that correct nutrition leads to a reduction in bad behaviour. More than that, Professor Michael Crawford has carried out a great deal of work on the importance of nutrition on the unborn. If I have one request to the Minister, it is for education on nutrition, particularly for girls, to be included in schools and young offender and other institutions so that they may prevent some of the problems that we have been talking about being developed by the as yet unborn.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Massey is to be congratulated on securing this debate, and she has most powerfully set out her case highlighting the range of interventions that would help in early years. I agree with much of what she has said and share her ambitions, although I come to this issue from a different point of view. This is because, in my experience, the common factor that has influenced and failed so many people today is the lack of a role model, support, guidance and someone going that extra mile during their early years.
A year or so before I retired from the Commons, I visited a village school in my constituency and the headmaster said to me, “Do you know, Don, when I came here to this school no one expected anything from me because no one in this village has been to university? Not because they are dull or stupid but simply because they never had the opportunity”. He said that he had had a conversation with a mother a week previously, and said to her, “Work with me. Your son is going to university”. She said, “University? You’re off your head. That’s not for the likes of us”. This story illustrates what I call the poverty of ambition—“College and university is not for the likes of us”. It is to our shame this view is widespread, especially in the south Wales valleys where I come from.
That was not always the case. I grew up in a small mining village called Abersychan. Education there was seen as a pathway out of poverty. People consumed learning and the opportunities to learn as if their lives depended on it and, if they were miners trying to get out of the pit, their lives would certainly depend on their success in learning. Education and learning were breathed as if they were oxygen. What the state or the county council failed to provide, the miners’ welfare at the top of High Street certainly provided. The Abersychan miners’ welfare was not just a place to have a game of billiards or a Friday dance, it was a library—newspapers were there. It was the centre of debate and argument; all sorts of societies met within its walls, and there were classes on every subject one could imagine. Most of the students attending the classes were miners looking to education to give them a better life—a chance to get out of the pit. There was certainly no poverty of ambition among these lads. On top of that—this might not be seen as the measure of success or achievement by today’s standards—five lads from the small village of Abersychan got to the House of Commons. Two even managed to get into your Lordships’ House. It is important to bear in mind that such effort is crucial.
Now, not everyone wants to, or should, go to college or university, but everyone should have the best possible chance. Ambition should not be seen as a sin. Social mobility is not something that should be shunned or despised. Perhaps those of us like me who are moving on a little in years and have seen many great changes in our lives should be at the forefront of encouraging those younger to reach out and achieve, and be ambitious, bold and confident. We have to be role models drawing on our varied experiences and backgrounds. We can do all the things that noble Lords have spoken of in this debate, but one thing we must make sure that we do is have an open system of education in this country that continues throughout it.
Just because we close most of our schools at 4 pm from Monday to Friday and entirely at weekends, and thus deny the public access to wonderful facilities that they have spent millions of pounds providing, it does not mean that we have to shut down education at 16, 18 or 20-plus. I had a constituent living in the village of Markham who got a university degree at 82. When I called on him, he set up a new challenge: “Parlez-vous Français?” he said. He had started to learn French. These opportunities have to be grasped. If I had one opportunity to do something positive to help the early years, I would start with the parents and grandparents, making sure that they were the role models and pushed ahead to give those following them a good chance.
Almost 20 years ago, I came across an extraordinary statistic and was shaken by it. In the United States, 80% of people in work have been back in a learning situation or classroom since leaving school. The figure was 56% in Germany and Japan, and 30% in the UK. That is the measure of how far we have to go. We have to invest in upskilling and training our people. That is the best way to ensure that young people, in their early years in particular, have role models on whom they can focus and who can say that they can achieve these things, too. This is the best medicine that can cure the sickness of poverty of ambition. Invest in upskilling and training our people to ensure that they have opportunities to use the liberation that education and learning can bring to their lives. Will this make a difference for young people? I bet it will. I have never been more certain of anything in my life.
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.
As many other noble Lords have said, action to promote social mobility must start early. The gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged children emerges by the age of three and, as the work of the Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman demonstrates, the earlier the intervention, the greater the effect will be in the long term. Indeed, I was pleased to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans quote the Seven Key Truths report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, which I have the honour to chair. It clearly indicated:
“The point of greatest leverage for social mobility is what happens between ages 0 and 3, primarily in the home”.
The link between early intervention and social mobility is well established. We have the evidence by the bucketload. Many noble Lords will be familiar with the effective preschool, primary and secondary education study, which stated that children who attended preschool education performed better in their GCSEs and were more likely to be on track for a university degree—with all the attendant benefits in terms of lifetime earnings. These effects are even stronger for children of parents with low qualifications, indicating that early education provision is a key intervention to help disadvantaged children get a much-needed leg up.
The October 2014 State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission recently re-emphasised the link, stating:
“The early years matter profoundly to child poverty and social mobility. It is here that children learn basic skills such as language and communication, which are the foundations of their future learning”.
That report noted that poor children are nine months behind those from more advantaged backgrounds at age three, have smaller vocabularies and are slower to learn new words. That, of course, is why various language development programmes aimed at under-threes—such as the Born to Learn programme, which works with parents and toddlers identified by health visitors as being at risk—are so valuable.
I, too, have the privilege to be a member of the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare. From the mass of evidence we have received, one particular lesson stands out. Yes, early education can be a powerful tool in enhancing social mobility, but only if we deliver it effectively. In short, early education can have the most positive benefits only if it is of high quality. It is ironic that disadvantaged children, who have the most to gain from access to quality early education, currently often have the worst access to such provision. This is where we should be focusing a lot of our attention, and I hope that it is an area where the Select Committee can have powerful things to say when we report shortly.
Having highlighted some of the pressing concerns, I want to make clear how much has been done in this Parliament to enable more children to benefit from high-quality early years education. I applaud the policies of this Government to expand the free early education entitlement to three and four year-olds and to extend it to 40% of the most disadvantaged two year-olds. Like others, I consider the recent introduction of an early years premium to be very much welcomed.
However, what more could and should be done? First, it is clear that affordable and high-quality childcare and early education will feature predominantly in all parties’ manifestos. One could say that there may be a bidding war. I do not mind; it is a good thing that it is there. Secondly, I should like to see manifesto commitments to other things, such as the introduction of children and family hubs—the sort being developed by the charity for children which we have already heard about this morning. These are building on and extending existing children’s centres, and I, too, pay real tribute to the previous Government for introducing them. They bring together a broad range of local services, including health, childcare and social care, into a single place in a non-stigmatising way, and they provide a really excellent model of cost-effective joint working.
Finally, we need to see action to raise the quality of the early education workforce. As Cathy Nutbrown wrote in her review, not much matters more for the quality of early years education than the quality of the staff who provide it. I should like to see more action taken in that area.
Having made those points, I want to go back to where I started. Promoting good child development has to start at home. Research shows that parenting is the single strongest factor in shaping children’s development. We also know that good parenting has a particularly large impact on character and resilience. Good parenting practices can be taught and promoted through relatively simple interventions. That is one reason why the all-party groups on both social mobility and parents and families are about to embark on a short joint inquiry into some of the most effective non-stigmatising approaches to parenting support. The inquiry will report in March and I look forward to reporting its conclusions to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, like others, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on having secured this debate and on attracting a large number of speakers.
I want to focus on the development of the brain. Without our brains, we cannot learn, we cannot learn language and we cannot interact. If in the next generation we do not ensure that brains are developed property, we will not break the cycle of maltreatment and failure within the social environment and every other environment in society.
It is worth noting that 90% of brain size has been acquired by the age of three, so the focus on the first 1,001 days—that is, from conception to the age of two—which has already been alluded to by other speakers, is critical. The Wave Trust has done a lot to raise awareness and to pull together the evidence in this area. The long-lasting effects of maltreatment are in the physical, socioemotional, cognitive and behavioural domains.
The consequences and costs of such maltreatment are phenomenal. As has already been said, managing it costs about £15 billion a year. As well as the physical and mental suffering of the individual and the damage to educational prospects, there are also high levels of aggression, which damages others in society. It is of note that 68% of those in the prison population have been abused or neglected in childhood. The Christie commission in Scotland estimated that 40% of public spending is necessary only because of our failure to intervene early enough. We are accumulating huge future expenditure by not looking at this very important area.
It is also worth noting that about one in five children is maltreated, the peak time being in the first year of life. Sixty-two per cent of those entering care in 2013 had been subject to abuse and neglect. In March of that year, more than 68,000 children were in care, so it is a very big problem. Five per cent of children have a diagnosable mental health condition, and 15% to 20% of behavioural problems are severe enough to cause concern. This is costing about a quarter of a million pounds per child. Interventions on parenting programmes that cover the period from birth onwards cost less than £2,000 per case. The difference in cost is phenomenal, and it seems almost madness that we have not addressed this issue on economic terms alone.
About 1 million children in the UK are suffering the long-term effects of maltreatment, with all kinds of behavioural disorders, but it is worth noting that the greatest predictor of prenatal depression is that the mother was herself abused. She has a tenfold likelihood of becoming an abuser. A third of abuse occurs when under the influence of alcohol. I urge the Government to get to grips with alcohol policy, particularly pricing and so on, because it may have a huge effect. In families with a history of domestic violence, there is a 23 times greater likelihood of abuse being perpetrated against children under the age of five. I stress the importance of domestic violence as a contributory factor.
It is worth considering briefly why this happens. As the brain develops, areas that are stimulated develop more. Those that do not receive stimulation, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, has already pointed out, do not develop to the same extent. Therefore, even in the womb the child subject to stress develops a stress reaction, and the brain develops the ability to respond to stress. Children who have not experienced a calm environment do not develop the ability to have empathy and they cannot be expected to feel remorse for later hurting or killing somebody, because that part of their brain is not properly developed. Nor can they develop communication skills. Therefore, the child subject to hyperarousal all through those very early days and weeks will develop a state of permanent hyperarousal and response within the brain. That plasticity of the brain carries on throughout the child’s development until the age of 16, so the other educational interventions referred to by noble Lords all help in developing the areas of the brain that have not developed well.
In my last seconds I would just stress that cutting back on mental health services in the perinatal period may be the most serious adverse disinvestment that the NHS is currently undertaking.
My Lords, my noble friend has stimulated an excellent debate, for which we should all congratulate her. Coming nearly at the end of the speakers list, the temptation is to spend your time saying how much you agree with everybody else. I would like to do that but I shall not, although I would like to say that I was particularly struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, which I hope I shall be able to reflect on by implication in some of what I say. The House will not be surprised to know that I want to talk about the arts in early years provision, but I am afraid that I am going to start on a slightly sour note, which I hope the House will forgive.
On 10 November last year, the Secretary of State for Education made a speech at the launch of the Your Life campaign in which she said the following:
“Even a decade ago, young people were told that maths and the sciences were simply the subjects you took if you wanted to go into a mathematical or scientific career, if you wanted to be a doctor, or a pharmacist, or an engineer”.
I am not absolutely sure that that is true but that is what she said. She went on:
“But if you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, and let’s be honest—it takes a pretty confident 16-year-old to have their whole life mapped out ahead of them—then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful for all kinds of jobs”.
So far, so good, you might think, but then she went on:
“Of course now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths”.
Those remarks are deeply disappointing and wrong on so many counts and in ways which go directly to the heart of this debate. As we know and as we have heard, children are capable, if they are encouraged, supported and educated thoughtfully from early on, of learning many different things in many different ways. The flexibility of mind that comes from a broadly based education is exactly what employers look for in all fields. I thought that we had left the idea of two cultures far behind but apparently not. It is profoundly unhelpful for such simplistic distinctions to be made.
Many of your Lordships—perhaps most in this House—are parents. Some of us are lucky enough also to be grandparents. Over the past few weeks lots of us will have had the pleasure, albeit occasionally a mixed one, of taking young children to arts events and/or of just sitting on the sofa with them reading, or watching, for example, “Frozen”—a cultural reference for those of your Lordships who have very young daughters or granddaughters in particular. We will have observed their joy and their absorption, and the way in which that kind of experience moves them on. They find new language, new questions to ask and new ways of thinking about the world—even the very little ones do. However, as we have heard, not all children are lucky enough to get this kind of stimulation as a natural part of their family lives, which is why it is so important that we understand and value how it can be incorporated into other areas, particularly school.
I want to mention briefly one organisation which is contributing magnificently to this important work. Artis Education has been in business for 10 years. I stress the word business for it is not a charity. Schools have to pay for its services, which they do. Nearly all its schools are in the maintained sector. I was until recently a director and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, who is not able to be in his place today, was involved in setting it up. Artis trains specialists from performance backgrounds to deliver inspirational cultural enrichment which can be, and often is, directly related to national curriculum requirements. Its programmes are of particular benefit in raising levels of confidence and self-esteem in young children, and are recognised by head teachers and other educationalists for contributing to increased concentration, improved behaviour and overall eagerness to learn.
I recommend the Artis website to your Lordships and especially to the noble Lord the Minister. It is an inspiring read. On it you will find, for example, a wonderful blog from the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, entitled “I am not an artist”, which gives 10 excellent, evidence-based reasons why arts education is so important for young children, for society and for the economy. You will also find details of Artis’s 10 tools for transforming the new science curriculum, which set out how teachers can use arts-based techniques to address science topics. Artis says:
“This sense of wonder and fascination with the surrounding world is as important in performing arts as it is in science, and the two disciplines have many points in common”.
Well, who knew? How very true and how very obvious, but not, apparently, to the Secretary of State. Perhaps her noble friend the Minister will put her straight after this debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for introducing this debate and for the immense work that she has done over many decades for young people and children. It has been inspirational to all of us who have known the noble Baroness and her work for many years. I also thank all those who work with children. Many people across the country do tremendous work for our young people, particularly in their early years. In acknowledging that, it is important to understand the importance of that to the society in which we live.
Listening to this debate, I have been fascinated. I almost think that we are talking about children who are the same and are looking for the same outcomes. Although we have had a wide range of expert, fascinating and very important contributions, the most important contribution that links to what I want to say was made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who talked about language and communication in the broadest sense. The spoken word is so important in influencing attitudes and behaviour. I would say that if, as has been said in this debate, the predictor in the early years leads to the outcome in later years, when one thinks of someone like Ched Evans and what he is facing now, I should like to know what his early years were like. Upbringing in the early years may help us to understand how men behave towards women later in life.
I want to talk about what we are educating our children for, what the interventions are about and the society in which we live. When we talk about language and communication, in areas such as London where in parts we have 300 languages being spoken, the spoken word is very important in how we influence very fertile minds. Creating a future in which every child really matters, has a realistic prospect of genuine social mobility and well-being, achieves their full potential, and is equipped for a diverse, fair, less prejudiced and hateful society, is the outcome for which we are looking. That is the context in which we need to consider these interventions.
For me, three strands are interlinked. One is the role of the state and everything that has been spoken about in terms of health, education, housing and the environment, and how we achieve free or affordable childcare and support for the involvement and the work of voluntary organisations working with children and families. Support for families is very important and I offer my congratulations to the Government on the programme that they support for troubled families, led by Louise Casey, and the way in which it brings all those contributors together to help families break through the cycle of deprivation.
My primary points are about how we face up to the dangers of bias and prejudice in the home, in early years settings and in the wider society; how we are preparing our children to flourish in a diverse, fair and prejudice-free society; how we identify the extent of prejudice, bias and discrimination in our society and how it affects attitudes at all ages; and how we understand that early on children are adversely affected and influenced by biased opinions, views and attitudes. We know that the only time any of us is free of bias and prejudice is when we are born. Bias and prejudice comes from our parents, family members, friends, nursery and care settings, the media and wider society. All these things must be addressed as part of early interventions in order that in later life we have adults who can contribute to bringing about a fair and just society from which children will benefit in their early years.
All children matter in this context, not just those from deprived backgrounds. We all carry those biases which lead to discrimination. The early years are the most intensive period of learning. We want to influence attitudes most profoundly in the home and in the early years settings to make sure that our children have a beginning that, as far as possible, is influenced by positive attitudes. The opportunity to learn in settings with children from different backgrounds is the opportunity to learn about each other, with each other and from each other, and about oneself. Bearing in mind that I am now at the five-minute point, I will sit down.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for tabling this debate and I add my tribute to her consistent record of championing children’s issues in this House. The issues that she and other noble Lords have raised encompass a wide sweep of social policy. We have heard about some impressive initiatives that are taking place on this issue—but that does not take away from the scale of the challenge that remains ahead.
As the latest Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report says, Britain is on the brink of becoming a permanently divided nation, with rising living standards bypassing the poorest in society. It concludes that there is little chance of the Government meeting the current statutory target of eradicating child poverty by 2020, which has clear and damaging consequences. As we have heard in this debate, what starts as a scandal of children being born into poverty, holds them back for a lifetime. Their education will suffer compared to their peers; they will end up in less well paid jobs; they will live in more overcrowded housing; and their health will suffer. Their children will be born into poverty and the cycle will begin again.
Sadly, what is missing is a coherent and ambitious government plan to break this cycle. The truth is that different departments are pulling in different directions, with disadvantaged children losing out. For example, a recent report of the Children’s Commissioner into the tax and social security measures of this Government since 2010 shows that families with children lost out and that the greatest losses were for the poorest 10% of families. It also shows that the most vulnerable children, such as those with a disability or being raised in a single-parent family, lose out the most. This is the result of a deliberate government fiscal policy.
Similarly, the Government’s independent adviser on health reports that the impact of this poverty can already be seen among five year-olds, with those on free school meals lagging behind their peers in being “school ready”. This includes being able to listen to stories, pay attention, use the toilet, dress themselves, and begin to read, write and do sums. As we know, this educational attainment gap widens as these children progress through schools. His report concludes that this disadvantage will be accompanied by poorer health, higher teenage pregnancy, higher numbers out of education, employment and training, and finally lower life expectancy.
Breaking this destructive cycle is not only a challenge for one department or one term of government: it requires a different mindset with a longer-term vision about the kind of society we would like to see in the 21st century. Certainly on these Benches we would argue for a fairer, more equal society where those deep divisions were addressed. We took this approach in the last Government and would do so again.
We would also hope to create a wider political consensus on the measures needed. This is why I join with my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Warwick in paying particular tribute to my honourable friend Graham Allen, who has not only championed the case for early intervention as a solution to breaking the cycle but has managed to win support from across the political spectrum for his approach.
Crucial to Graham Allen’s approach is a belief that we need evidence-based solutions. We need to collate the very best research about which interventions work, share this best practice and refresh our learning as we progress. Inherent in this approach is the understanding that this is a long game and that policy initiatives cannot be instantly evaluated. This point was eloquently made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and my noble friends Lord Giddens and Lord Winston. For us, of course, as policymakers, this is incredibly frustrating as we like instant solutions. Nevertheless, we have to face the fact that it is true.
I pay tribute to the Government for funding the Early Intervention Foundation to do just that. It is not as much as we would like but it is a start. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm his continued support for this programme. After all, we all hope that we can prove the ultimate goal, which is that effective early intervention will not only improve the life chances of young children but will save the state money in the longer term.
Arguably, when we talk about early intervention, we need to talk about the earliest intervention. To make a real difference we need to intervene while the child is still in the womb, or even before conception, to make sure that it is a planned birth. Young people, who may not have had strong role models of their own, need education and support to understand the social and emotional, as well as the practical, challenges of bringing up a child. I very much echo the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland and Lord Ramsbotham, about investing in speech and language therapy in early years as part of that important development.
Research from Joseph Rowntree and others has confirmed the point—made by a number of noble Lords in this debate—that early interventions which focus on parenting skills are some of the most effective in improving the child’s educational outcomes and thereby their future employment prospects.
This is exactly what the Sure Start programme introduced by the previous Government was intended to do, which is why it is so sad that David Cameron has reneged on his promise to protect the service. A recent local authority survey by 4Children showed that one-third of the remaining children’s centres are at risk of being shut down, on top of the 600 or so that have closed or merged since the coalition came to power. Conservative-run Swindon Council has this year cut the budget to children’s centres by £770,000, leading to the closure of seven out of the 12 centres, despite a promise to local parents that the service would be protected from further cutbacks. This is not only a broken promise to families in Swindon but is incredibly short-sighted and leaves many of the city’s most vulnerable children without a place to go.
This is why our approach will be to renew Sure Start by opening up the centres to other local family services, such as health and childcare, to maximise the use of buildings when money is tight. By collocating family services in the centres we can create family hubs in localities which can focus on effective learning, provide help and outreach and become more responsive to the communities they serve. These family hubs are exactly those proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and I pay tribute to his contribution. Perhaps when the Minister replies he can clarify what plans his Government have for revitalising the Sure Start network and give some reassurance to all those families who rely on the service currently or would want to do so in future.
It was interesting to hear from a number of noble Lords who are members of the Affordable Childcare Select Committee, and we look forward to their report. We believe that our policy to expand free childcare for three and four year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for working families will help guarantee quality childcare in safe settings while avoiding the risk of driving up childcare prices for parents. This is in contrast to the Government’s childcare policies—some of which, of course, are welcome—which fail to address the fundamental problem of supply.
There has been a reduction of more than 35,000 in early years places since the Government came to office, so it is not surprising that the cost of childcare for those who pay is continuing to ratchet up, to an extent that even the proposals in the Government’s Childcare Payments Act cannot hope to alleviate or match. Perhaps the Minister can explain what steps they are proposing to take to increase the supply of quality trained nursery nurses and quality places to meet this additional demand. Can they make a commitment to implement the Nutbrown recommendations to ensure that that quality and training is underpinned?
Our approach is based on a holistic model that works with families and communities. Our mission is to reform public services, to shift from crisis intervention to early intervention. We believe that our intervention model will reduce inequality, boost social mobility and narrow the gap between the most vulnerable and the rest. I look forward to hearing whether the Minister is able to match our vision and provide a persuasive programme for tackling these issues in the future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this important debate, and all noble Lords for their speeches. The noble Baroness referred in her eloquent opening speech to the terrible state of relative social mobility in this country—or, rather, our dreadful social immobility—and to the importance of early intervention in that regard. At the end of this Parliament, as at the start, the coalition Government remain fully committed to breaking the cycle of deprivation, promoting social mobility and a more equal society.
Central to this is the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020 and reducing inequalities. Despite the challenging economic circumstances and fiscal restraint imposed on us by the state of the public finances that we inherited, we are making significant progress, with 300,000 fewer children living in relative poverty under this Government. The evidence is clear that work remains the best route out of poverty. We know that children are three times as likely to be in poverty if they live in a workless family. Therefore, at the centre of our child poverty strategy is a commitment to tackling worklessness, and it is clear that our reforms are making a real difference. Thanks to this Government’s jobs miracle, employment is up by nearly 1.75 million since 2010 and there are now nearly 400,000 fewer children in workless households. Both the number and the proportion of children in workless households are at the lowest levels on record.
Through our structural reforms to welfare we are lifting people out of poverty, putting in the right incentives to get people into work and to make work pay. As for action before they reach the workplace, this Government’s commitment to improving educational outcomes has seen poorer children do better than ever at school. Since 2010 the proportion of children on free school meals getting five good GCSEs has increased by more than 20%, from 31% to 38%. These are substantial leaps in educational attainment which will make a real and lasting difference to children’s lives as they develop.
Evidence strongly shows that good-quality early years provision, especially from age two upwards, has benefits for children’s all-round attainment and behaviour, particularly for disadvantaged children, and that these endure all the way through to GCSE and future earnings. Attending preschool has led to young people getting higher total GCSE scores and higher grades. They are more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs. The benefits of going to a preschool translate into an extra 41 points, which is the difference between getting, for example, seven grade Bs versus seven grade Cs. In addition, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that children who have attended preschool will be substantially financially better off over their lifetimes.
We know that early education matters and we have already increased the free early education entitlement for all three and four year-olds to 15 hours as compared with 12.5 hours under the previous Government. However, we know that the poorest children are less likely to take part and benefit from early years education, and it remains a concern that children from poorer backgrounds continue to start school having achieved less than their richer peers. Our new entitlement to early education for around 40% of the most disadvantaged two year-olds aims to address this gap, and already more than 150,000 children are benefiting from this. We have supported the aim with an investment of £100 million. I have to say that when I first heard about this requirement for a massive increase in places, I thought that it was a very challenging delivery task, so I would like to congratulate both the sector and the officials in my department on managing this increase in provision. The has clearly been a great success, as has been acknowledged by many people, including Alan Milburn.
The gap in participation and achievement between the poorest and others is also why we are encouraging more schools to offer nursery provision, either themselves or in partnership with others. Schools are trusted and convenient, particularly if an older sibling is already attending. Nurseries attached to primaries have higher-qualified staff, which has clearly been shown to improve outcomes, and this kind of provision can improve the transition from nursery to primary because it enables schools to get to know the families earlier.
We are increasing accountability. From 2015, the reception baseline will be introduced, and from 2016 this will be used to hold schools to account for the progress from reception right through to key stage 2. The reception baseline will provide a snapshot of each child’s starting point in reception and means that the progress schools make with all children, including those from a low starting point, will be recognised. However, we cannot and will not be complacent. While the attainment gap is narrowing at the age of 11, data show that a persistent attainment gap of some 19 percentage points remains at the age of five between the poorest children and their better-off peers. Our reforms are intended to tackle that, and the early signs are good, but we must continue to apply every effort.
As the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Sutherland and Lord Ouseley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, have said, language is extremely important. We know that particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds can struggle with language and will hear literally millions fewer words during the course of their childhood than their more advantaged peers. Improving the assessment of children’s early language and communication is important. The healthy child programme review and the early years foundation stage progress check at around the age of two provide the means to do this. Through the early language development programme, more than 12,000 practitioners have been helped to support early language development. Moreover, we have reformed the early years curriculum to be more focused on literacy and our phonics programme has been a huge success.
After 12 years of consistently rising prices, the costs of childcare in England have stabilised for the first time. Once inflation is taken into account, costs for some of the most popular types of childcare have actually fallen. This means that more parents are able to access affordable childcare and support their families. However, we are going further. We will provide up to 85% of childcare costs through universal credit. Tax-free childcare, which is being introduced this year, will be accessible to many more families than the current employer-supported childcare scheme, which is offered by only a minority of employers. Tax-free childcare will also be available to self-employed parents.
The Government are also improving children’s outcomes through other key reforms, including additional funding for disadvantaged children through the early years pupil premium, which will help to close the gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. Today, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children is announcing the names of seven local authorities that are implementing the new support this term, which will be available throughout England from April.
My noble friends Lord Storey and Lady Tyler and the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, mentioned issues around the early education workforce. We know that the qualifications of the workforce directly impact on the quality of provision, and it is very pleasing to see that the proportion of staff in early years education with level 3 qualifications continues to increase, as does the proportion qualified to at least degree level. We also recognise that health is closely tied to achievement, and we are working with colleagues across government to ensure that children get effective and joined-up support. There is a significant body of evidence which demonstrates the importance of sensitive, attuned parenting for promoting secure attachment and bonding, especially during pregnancy and the early weeks following childbirth. The earliest experiences shape a baby’s brain development and have a lifelong impact on its mental and emotional health. This is a period of great opportunity, but also of great vulnerability. There is clear cross-party support for early intervention, and the Government have made significant progress in this area through strengthening the health visiting service, delivering the healthy child programme, launching the Early Intervention Foundation, and working with various stakeholders to ensure that all children have the best possible start in life.
While there is widespread agreement that the activities which take place during the early years are very important, the challenge is working out precisely how to invest money most effectively, thus targeting the right children in the right way in order to get the best outcomes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned. Stronger evidence is needed to help local authorities make the best funding decisions for the long term in order to complement the work of the Early Intervention Foundation and link closely to other activities such as the healthy child programme, the troubled families programme and family learning provision. That is why the Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement a zero to two year-old early intervention pilot to be run jointly by the Department for Education and the Department of Health to prevent avoidable problems later in life. The Government will work with pilot local authorities to draw on the success of the troubled families programme, and I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, for their kind words about its achievements.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned the report, The 1001 Critical Days. This sets out the particular importance of perinatal and maternal mental health. The Department of Health is already working on a number of measures in this area. Furthermore, the evidence-based healthy child programme, the key universal public health service for improving the health and well-being of children, aims to prevent problems in child health and development and to contribute to a reduction in health inequalities. In November, the Department for Education and the Department of Health jointly published the findings of a year-long study of pilots run in 10 local authorities looking at ways to get health visitors and early education practitioners working closely together to give parents a coherent and useful assessment of their child’s development at the age of two. This should help to identify as early as possible any areas where a child needs additional support to get them on the right road to success. We expect health and education practitioners to work together to deliver integrated reviews from September this year. Both departments have also been working on the CANparent pilot, which was introduced to offer high-quality, stigma-free, universal parenting classes to enhance the skills and confidence of mothers and fathers, and ultimately to improve outcomes for families. Almost 3,000 parents in total have now taken part in the two CANparent trials across the four trial areas, and a new one-year trial is being set up.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley all mentioned, domestic and child abuse are also important issues. In December, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced an intention to create a separate offence of domestic abuse. This demonstrates our commitment to tackling all forms of this terrible crime. Furthermore, we are providing nearly £1.4 million to support young victims of domestic abuse, and have supported health visitors to help them identify and respond to such abuse.
As my noble friend Lord Farmer and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, both mentioned, children’s centres have an important role in supporting families through accessing universal services and targeting those at risk of poor outcomes. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about the closure of Sure Start centres, but the important point to make is that an independent survey has shown that a record number of parents, more than 1 million, are now using children’s centres. The noble Baroness also asked about increasing provision from 15 to 25 hours. It is very important to have a balance between childcare and family provision. We understand that this has been costed at £800 million and would be funded by the bank levy—which I am told that the Labour Party has pledged 11 times already. However, we believe that it will actually cost £1.6 billion, and providers tell us that they will struggle to provide this level of extra provision and maintain the quality without increasing costs, which means that the £1.6 billion is likely to increase. If people want more support, this can be provided through the working tax credit, the coming universal credit and tax-free childcare.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred to a Scottish programme, which I will certainly look at. My noble friend Lord Freeman referred to SkillForce, of which he is chairman, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I am well aware of this excellent organisation and the very good work that it does. This Government are very keen to engage ex-service personnel in schools through organisations such as SkillForce, Challenger Troop and Commando Joe’s, and we have an active programme of expanding cadet units in schools. My noble friend Lord Freeman asked whether we will get access to a Euro fund on youth unemployment. I will write to him about that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and my noble friend Lady Tyler talked about the importance of family. Of course, it is a question of balance between childcare and the importance of children forming a close attachment with their parents, or at least with one parent.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, made some extremely interesting points about relative social mobility, as did the noble Lord, Lord Winston, about epigenetics and the importance of continuing support throughout a child’s life. I agree entirely with those comments and can assure them that this Government, and this Minister in particular, are heavily focused on relative social mobility. Some 7% of children in this country go to private schools, and they get over 50% of the top jobs, while just under 5% go to grammar schools, and they get over 20% of the top jobs, which leaves the other 90% of students in this country getting, at best, between 20% and 30% of those jobs. That is why this Government have been so focused on improving the quality in particular of what we used to call comprehensive education. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, referred to what he talked of as an underclass, and I would just mention the success of our troubled families programme in this regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to schools having a wider offer of facilities and extra-curricular activities, including cadet programmes. He also talked about weekly boarding, something of which I am a great fan and which, when I finish this job, I intend to introduce at the secondary school I support. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, made some very interesting points about fathers and absent fathers. I know from my work in schools the damaging effects suffered by so many children who have no male role models. This can be so damaging for both boys and girls, which again is why engagement with organisations such as SkillForce can be so important.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Jones, talked about overall funding for early education. We have increased this from £2.6 billion last year to £2.9 billion this year. The Family and Childcare Trust costs survey in 2014 gave an average cost of £4.25 per hour for children aged two and over, which compares favourably with the government funding rate of £4.51 per hour, or £5.09 for two year-olds.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made some interesting points about nutrition, which of course is so important in schools. Good schools focus on it heavily, and it is also about engaging with parents. Quite a lot of advice is available from the Department of Health for new parents on this but I will look at what more we can do in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about poverty of ambition. When I was at university—I was only the second person from my school ever to go to university—it was with a lot of Welshmen from whom I learnt a great deal, including some interesting tactics on the rugby field. Sadly, the schools from which those young men came no longer send many, if any, children to that university. We need to turn this round.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about the importance of the arts. Pupils in this country, on average, take more than 11 GCSEs or equivalents, so there is plenty of scope up to 16 for a very balanced curriculum, with plenty of room for arts subjects. All children should have a broad, balanced and fully rounded education, and I shall certainly look at the website that she referred to. We need to encourage more pupils, particularly girls, to consider taking more STEM subjects.
This Government are committed to tackling deprivation and promoting social mobility. We have introduced a number of key measures to tackle health inequalities, to support parenting and to provide high-quality early education to children from low-income families. We have a strong record of success: relative child poverty is at the lowest level for 30 years, there are 300,000 fewer children in relative poverty since the election and nearly 400,000 fewer grow up in workless families. At the same time, we have had a massive programme of improvements to the education system, particularly for less advantaged children. The quality of education is improving, with more children doing better at school. This is a record of which we can be proud. I again thank all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for their contribution to this debate.
My Lords, this has indeed been a splendid debate, as I thought it would be. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which have been well informed and based on research and experience. I also thank the Minister for his very thoughtful response. I may challenge some of his precepts but I thank him for his concerns. Surely all of us, whichever political party we belong to, want to see better and more confident parents, happy and active children, better citizens, and greater prosperity. I just want to comment on four or five points, as I cannot possibly comment on the whole debate,.
First, we should beware the tips of icebergs. I will not sing the song from “Frozen” at this point—I think it is called “Let it Go”, which is what I am about to do. However, we should really get down to the grass roots and, as many noble Lords have said, co-ordinate agencies and initiatives to target children and families so that they do not get a mass of things coming at them without any co-ordination or without key workers. Neither we nor children come in pieces; therefore nor should services. That co-ordination needs leadership and vision. It also needs, as has been said, continuous intervention; this is not just about early intervention but about intervening along the whole children’s pathway. Children do not come either in age-related bits, so we need cohort studies to show how we are doing in a more protracted way.
A lot has been said about the costs of not using early intervention as a tool. We should be dismayed by the costs, certainly of health and education issues. I hope that whichever Government—or Governments—come into power in May, they will take this by the scruff of the neck and say, “We will co-ordinate services, we will provide leadership and vision, and we will get to grips with this issue of children’s achievements and performance”.