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Education: Nursery and Early Years

Volume 782: debated on Thursday 23 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the level of annual funding required for nursery and early years provision, in order to ensure quality of service.

My Lords, we will be investing an additional £1 billion per year in the free early years entitlement by 2019-20, including over £300 million per year to raise hourly average funding rates. Our record level of investment was based on our review of childcare costs, which was described by the National Audit Office as thorough and wide-ranging. More children than ever now benefit from high-quality early education: 93% of settings are now rated good or outstanding.

I am very grateful for the Minister’s reply. He may know that UK and international research shows that high-quality early years education, led by a graduate teacher, is one of the most decisive interventions for tackling poor preschool attainment and has the biggest impact on children, particularly those from deprived communities. What are the Government doing to make this a reality?

The noble Lord is extremely accurate in this, and I know he has great experience in this area from his career in the primary school sector. Of course the early years workforce is the sector’s greatest asset in ensuring that we continue to maintain such a high standard, with 93% of providers rated good or outstanding, in the future. The proportion of staff in group-based providers with a level 6 qualification, degree level or higher, is 10%; and 79% of staff in group-based providers and 69% of child minders have at least a level 3 qualification. Earlier this month we published the workforce strategy, which outlines a range of activities to help employers attract, retain and develop high-quality staff.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that, and I am pleased that he mentioned the development of staff in his reply. I wonder if he could be more precise. Surely he will agree with me that the quality of service in education of any kind depends on the quality of the staff. Can he say something further about the notion of the qualified status of nursery school teachers and what the Government are doing to develop it?

We are investing heavily in improving the quality of the status of nursery teachers, and increasing the funding rate will help with recruiting more high-quality staff. A lot of details on that are set out in our workforce strategy.

Will the resources that the Government make available cover the particular requirements and needs of those with special needs?

Yes. Our recently published workforce strategy sets out how we will support staff to offer good-quality provision for children with SEND. We are funding a range of training and development opportunities in this regard, working with organisations that specialise in SEND. We have a new targeted £12.5 million disability access fund and a requirement for local authorities to set up a local inclusion fund to support providers for better outcomes for children with SEND.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to look at research into high-quality preschool experience combined with adult education for children who fail later in life? Will he look at the Midwinter experiment in Liverpool, which did so much many years ago to demonstrate that the most important investment is high-quality nursery education combined with help for parents who sometimes have difficulty themselves in helping their children unless there is high-quality adult education for them?

The noble Baroness is quite right in her remarks. We all appreciate that helping children at an early age, particularly those who have a difficult home life, is absolutely essential. The payback on that for both those children and our society is massive. I certainly would be delighted to look at the research to which she refers, and I would be happy to discuss it with her because I know that she has experience in relation to this.

My Lords, the early years sector is very diverse in relation to types of governance. We have the state-funded sector, private settings, and not-for-profit and voluntary settings. Can the Minister ensure that the money to employ qualified early years teachers is easily available to all kinds of settings?

Yes, I think that that is the aim. As the noble Baroness says, there is a mixed range of providers and we must ensure that they all have access to the appropriate funding. As I have said, the quality of provision speaks for itself.

Does my noble friend have confidence in the inspection arrangements that exist for these sectors of education and in the part that they can play in helping to raise standards?

The inspection arrangements are absolutely essential and Ofsted’s role in this is crucial, so I agree entirely—we have confidence in it.

My Lords, leaving aside the tragic demise of the Sure Start local programmes, can the Minister comment on how we can implement better the report by Sense, the organisation for deafblind men, women and children, which was published last year, in terms of early years settings and the training not just of professional staff but of volunteers, which is absolutely crucial in ensuring that those with the severest disabilities have the best possible start in life?

I agree entirely with the noble Lord in this regard. I am not familiar with that report but I will look at it and, I hope, have the opportunity to discuss it with him.

My Lords, if the Government really are serious about social mobility, then children’s first four years is where they should be concentrating—and doing so relentlessly. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, early years teachers are crucial to the development and effectiveness of childcare. In the workforce strategy, launched earlier this month and to which the Minister referred earlier, the Early Years Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said that if we are to prepare “the best” for our children,

“in their earliest and most formative years, we must … value”,

and train adequate staff to ensure their development. That is fine—that is as it should be—but the Family and Childcare Trust recently reported that one in 10 nursery workers do not receive the national minimum wage. Will the Minister work with Ms Dinenage and other Ministers to ensure that all childcare workers are properly and fairly paid and that public, taxpayers’ money does not go to employers that are breaking the law?

That is an extremely good point. Nurseries are of course legally required to pay the national minimum wage and, just as any other organisation or business, they risk fines or even prosecution if they do not. We will be vigilant in this regard.