Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to introduce this debate, which involves a variety of interesting and knowledgeable speakers. I hope noble Lords will not get excited when I get to 10 minutes, as on the list, because I have 15 minutes in which to speak; I thank the Clerk for clarifying that. I look forward to hearing the views of this knowledgeable group today, and I think they will say what I hope they will say. I thank them and the many organisations concerned with children and young people which have supplied briefings. The House of Lords Library has also given us valuable insights.
Every day, in the press and on the media, we see stories of knife crime, young people self-harming, levels of obesity and depression, and only yesterday a headline saying “Alarm over the rise in early deaths of northerners”. These deaths were particularly among 25 to 44 year-olds and were related to accidents, suicide, alcohol misuse, smoking, cancer and drug addiction. All this relates to early intervention. We have had the evidence for years. We have statistics on how much could be saved from the public purse by prevention or alleviation measures relating to youth justice, health and educational dysfunction and how much human misery might be avoided.
Of course there are always social determinates of health, achievement and social mobility. Some areas in the UK are under stress: inequality is rife and poverty is not being resolved. Homelessness is a stain on our society. Social mobility will be limited or simply not possible if young people, in particular, are not physically and mentally healthy, have poor education, poor literacy skills or end up in the criminal justice system. Tinkering with tax and benefit systems will not, I am afraid, solve these problems.
I want today to propose some ideas for addressing core elements of early intervention. The first is to propose that there is a life course aspect to this for all of us. Intervention must come in early childhood—indeed before birth—and continue at each phase of life: adolescence, adulthood and old age. There needs to be emphasis on those phases of life when prevention of poor outcomes may be best achieved and lives turned round. These phases are early childhood and adolescence.
I propose further that real intervention takes place best at a local level when communities—including families, schools, local authorities, the police, social services and NGOs working on the ground—work with local populations, involving them in solutions and strategies for improvement and support. This implies, of course, organisations working not in isolation but in collaboration. Communities are where the impact of an initiative can best be assessed. Governments can pass Bills, issue guidance and publish reports; and international organisations can produce conventions, declarations and recommendations, such as the excellent UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. All this is helpful in raising awareness and inspiring action. However, real action—implementation at a local level—is what ultimately counts.
Let me suggest ways in which this might play out. I begin with early childhood. Many reports—including Sir Michael Marmot’s review, those from NGOs and articles in the Lancet—over a number of years have linked early mortality, obesity, mental health problems, low school readiness and the ability to relate and communicate to lack of intervention in children. The recent report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health refers to,
“the risks over the next decade for child health if urgent, coordinated and holistic action is not taken”.
The Early Years Foundation has underlined the importance of early intervention. As Graham Allen, the former MP, said in his report:
“Many of the costly and damaging social problems in society are created because we are not giving children the right kind of support in their earliest years when they should achieve their most rapid development”.
This development includes language development, social and behavioural development and intellectual curiosity. Research indicates that there can be a six-month developmental gap between higher and lower-income toddlers by the age of two, and children from low to middle-income families start school with skills five months behind those of more affluent children.
A primary school in a deprived area where I was a governor reported children starting without the basic skills to function with other children and adults. They had never handled a book. The school worked mightily to redress those deficits but it was difficult. I recognise and applaud the Government’s efforts to help families to be more skilled in child-rearing. Initiatives such as health visitor services and the Family Nurse Partnerships programme help families at the grass-roots level—the key to successful intervention, as I said. At the same time, we know that there are not enough of such excellent staff, and school nurses and counsellors are thin on the ground.
This morning, I saw in the Guardian a letter to the Public Accounts Committee from the Chief Inspector of Schools. She said that some schools have,
“an endemic pattern of prioritising data and performance results, ahead of the real substance of education”.
We should all stand up and applaud that statement. How very sad it is that pupils and teachers are being put through this. Data is being put above child development. It is crushing the arts, sport and positive relationships in schools. There is good evidence that schools with good pastoral systems, which emphasise personal relationships and put sport and the arts in their curriculum, do better than schools without those things. Schools are obsessed with academic results and data above all else.
Outside schools, between 2012 and 2016, around 600 youth centres closed and one children’s centre closed every week. The Sure Start programme, known for its work with families in neighbourhoods, has been decimated in favour of family hubs that are not necessarily in neighbourhoods; certainly they are not within pram-pushing distance, as they were designed to be. This is a false economy. Research assessment indicates that investment in the early years and adolescents saves billions of pounds a year. For example, one figure indicates that an investment of £428 billion in universal childcare and paid parental leave would deliver a net return of £612 billion. Apart from the main benefits to child and family welfare, do the Government not appreciate the economics of early intervention?
Let me move on to interventions regarding adolescents. Adolescents are sometimes regarded as a bit of a nuisance. We demonise and medicalise them too readily. However, the Lancet commission on adolescent health states that,
“we have come to new understandings of adolescence as a critical phase in life for achieving human potential”.
I should declare an interest. I am writing a report on the health needs of adolescents for the Council of Europe, where I chair the sub-committee on children. Adolescents can certainly be challenging but they can also be creative, enthusiastic and passionate about issues that engage them. They can enjoy being engaged in their own health and social issues.
Recent research indicates that the influence of brain development, together with emotional and physical changes, can be harnessed in adolescents to encourage what UNICEF has called a “second window of opportunity”, where more early intervention is needed. This can encourage thoughtfulness, resilience and a desire to be in control of the physical and emotional world. The key is respecting the views of young people, asking their opinions and genuinely engaging them in decision-making.
It is heartening to see so many organisations now with youth panels: NGOs, Children’s Commissioners, sports clubs and the police. I remember being involved a few years ago with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children in an inquiry on relationships between young people and the police. Some local forces had youth advisers; often they were young people who had been in trouble earlier. Many of these youngsters were now running mentoring schemes for their peer group. I do not know how much money would be saved by cutting down on youth crime and its consequences. The figure must be enormous. My research for the Council of Europe report indicates that large savings can be achieved by appropriate interventions in mental health, sexual health and obesity—the topics I chose to explore. This is in adolescence.
Let me give a couple of examples. The very successful 10-year teenage pregnancy strategy involved young people and their communities in discussion, examining options, supporting educational initiatives and support. Teen pregnancy rates—very high in England—fell by half in 10 years, saving the costs of dependency on welfare and the potential risks of children having children. City Year has written to me with examples of social action by young people: volunteering programmes in school, communities and hospitals. These programmes encourage confidence, ambition and resilience in young people. Adolescence is a time where there can be different kinds of intervention, but it is still early intervention to benefit young people.
Early intervention means we catch the problem before it starts or tackle it promptly when it appears; use all resources possible, including the involvement of those deemed to be at risk or who have developed a problem; use community-based models to deal with local issues; ensure enough qualified and trained professionals to work alongside communities; monitor and evaluate impact; and share good practice. We have a duty to do all this as a society, not only for the vast sums of money that early intervention would save, but for the benefits it can produce for children, young people, families, communities and, ultimately, society.
I propose a respectful model, inviting the Government to put more effort and cash into approaches which involve people, including young people, in creative problem avoidance and problem solving. Such an approach would prove financially beneficial and raise the confidence and resilience of those involved. Social mobility would follow. The Minister knows about schools. Does he agree that such an approach is valuable and would deliver social mobility and a more rounded and grounded society? I look forward to his response.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on initiating this debate on the impact of education on social mobility. She is quite right to emphasise that if we are to improve social mobility it must start in nursery schools and primary schools. They do a good job of it, but it runs into the sand at later stages, particularly when youngsters transfer from primary to secondary at age 11. The 11 to 14 age range in schools is known as key stage 3. Quite frankly, it is a mess and recognised as one. We have a lot of enthusiastic primary school children at the age of 11; by 13 or 14 a lot are disenchanted, disengaged and fed up. They are not learning anything that will help them get a job. What do they do? They have high absentee rates and unruly behaviour. Some get expelled by their heads. The capacity of heads to expel has now grown out of all proportion. There will be a report on this to the Government, who will have to restrain the capacity of heads to expel children because an expelled child is on the road to a culture of gangland. There is no question about that at all.
There is a very real problem with what to do with this key stage from age 11 to 14. This is one of the reasons why, for the past 10 years, I have been pioneering UTCs. These children are disengaged because they are following the Gove curriculum—a highly concentrated academic curriculum called Progress 8 and EBacc, which is a disaster. It is word for word the exact curriculum announced by the Secretary of State for Education in 1904, except he had one technical subject, drawing. Technical work is being extruded. If you visit your secondary schools you will find that they are not learning any technical skills at all. That is down by 57%. If you stay longer you will find that dance is down by 45%, drama down 29%, media and film studies down 34%, music down 23% and performing or expressive arts by 63%.
The well-rounded curriculum which I tried to devise in the late 1980s is now disappearing from our schools. It is one of the reasons why the young are so disenchanted and disengaged. The curriculum in the UTCs is quite different. For two days of the week, a student at a UTC will make things with their hands and design things on computers. Local businesspeople come in and teach, and bring in projects for the students to work on in teams. Students will get work experience and visit other companies. It is one reason why, although we have a very difficult intake, we have little disruption and, as I will show in a moment, the best destination data of any schools in the country.
As we have 50 such schools and 14,000 students, we are now producing a lot of data. Last year, we looked at what 4,000 students did before they joined us at 14. It is a shocking record. We found that 6% had been expelled by their previous school—in a normal school, the figure is 0.1% for such children. Another 6% had had long, fixed-term exclusions. We found that 3.5% had come from home education. When home education is good, it is good; when it is bad, it is horrid, and we get quite a lot of the horrid cases. In all, if we include those on pupil premium, our proportion of challenging students is 30% to 40%. No other secondary schools have that level of challenge. We face up to that challenge; we are very reluctant to expel. We immediately start teaching those children by giving them practical skills. We find that, half way through the first term, they suddenly realise that they are at an entirely different college. What is more, we treat those youngsters at 14 as adults, which they recognise: there is mutual respect.
We are therefore major agents of social mobility. I am proud that our destination data—what happens to the children when they leave—is the best in the country. Last July, we had 2,000 leavers. The head of each school has to identify what has happened to each child who has left. We have shown that that very few are unemployed—between 1% and 3%. A normal school would have 8% to 11% unemployed. We have 30% who become apprentices; in a normal school, the figure is only 7%. We find that 43% go to university, which is a bit lower than for a normal school, but of those, three-quarters do STEM subjects. They do not the S and M of STEM but the T and E—technology and engineering, which has disappeared from ordinary schools. Can you believe this? I hope that you do, because it is true. That is extraordinary. When an ordinary secondary school says, “We do a lot of STEM subjects”, they are teaching science and maths; they are not teaching technology and engineering.
Every year, we produce employable engineers at 16 and 18. We are also proud that we get some into Russell group universities. We now recruit at 14 and 16. As an experiment, we have a feeder school of 11 to 14 in Dartford, where we teach a different curriculum from that taught by schoolteachers at 11 to 14. It is heavily oversubscribed, and those students will go straight into the UTC beside it.
We have to recognise that the fourth industrial revolution in which we are living will destroy a massive number of unskilled jobs: driverless cars, driverless lorries, warehouses and all the rest of it—if you get anything from Amazon any time, your hand first touches it when he knocks on your door. All that is going to happen in spades. It will also cut swathes through middle management because of artificial intelligence. The career of a bank manager has disappeared. My local bank has two girls at a desk instead of 10 clerks and two or three people in the background as managers. That has all gone, but we do not quite know what jobs will emerge. It is therefore the duty of our education system to provide skills for youngsters which are very adaptable. The skill that our youngsters have when they leave at 18 is that they have made things with their hands; they have fixed things. Neither of those happens in schools today. Our students have designed things—again, that hardly happens in other schools; and they have done problem solving and worked in teams, which does not happen in our schools at all today. We are trying to equip our youngsters with skills which will improve their choices in life.
I know my time is almost up but I want to end with one statistic. Toxteth had race riots in 1981. I was the Minister; I had to go and help and I established technology centres. If you are a student in Toxteth today you have an 11% chance of going to university. We have a UTC at the edge of Toxteth which took 30 students from Toxteth last year—11%? 20%? 40%? 50%? 60%? No, 86% of those students have gone to university. Among their brothers down the road it is 11%; in our college it is 86%. That is what social mobility is all about.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Massey on setting out the issues for this debate so clearly. I also hope the Minister will heed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about the impoverishment of the curriculum, both at primary and secondary school level. When he speaks, he speaks with authority and I really hope the Government are listening.
Sometimes the stars align: travelling on the Victoria line is not always a pleasure but it gives you a chance to read and I, like my noble friend Lady Massey, was reading the Guardian this morning, where I found a very long article by Jake Anderson which I recommend to the Minister. Although it is very long—I very much doubt that he has had a chance to read it yet—it perfectly exemplifies why early intervention is so important. It is the story of parents trying to get support for an adopted child who, at the age of five or six, began to exhibit signs of special needs. She has now reached late adolescence and has only just secured the kind of help that it appears she needs. Through that period she and her parents, more particularly, have experienced a really dismaying catalogue of approaching services for help, getting assessments, being told that they would receive help and then not getting it. The consequence has been that an early intervention has turned into a late crisis.
Hard cases make bad law, so I do not ignore the fact one family’s experience is not, and cannot be, the whole story. However, this story exemplifies that good intentions and established protocols are undermined far too often by severe lack of capacity and resource in the services that are trying to do their job. Schools, the NHS and local authorities are all struggling with the obligations that have been placed upon them without the resource to deliver the outcomes that are required. This is almost inevitably going to result in some of the early intervention work that my noble friend was speaking of earlier simply not happening. No matter how clear it is that it is necessary, it will not be delivered because the resources are not there. I can say from the experience of my own family that this is particularly true of child and adolescent mental health services.
I do not complain about the experience my own family had, but what I know from having observed that experience, admittedly from a bit of a distance, is that this is a service under very severe pressure. Consequently, it is almost inevitable that it will be forced to reduce the eligibility criteria, making it ever more difficult for young children who are exhibiting signs of mental health problems to get access to the kinds of help that will stop those problems becoming acute. I hope that the Minister will accept that warm words and good intentions, as much as we like to hear them, are not enough. We have heard a lot of them but we have not seen the outcomes they are intended to deliver.
My second point is one that I have made very often before in this House, so I apologise for the stuck record element. It is about the impact of the arts and creative education. I apologise for my voice—I think it comes from singing in a rather cold Westminster Hall last night. Primary schools and secondary schools are currently forced by the way the curriculum is organised to undervalue the arts and other forms of creative education. The pressure on them to deliver against criteria that do not include those things is very strong. As my noble friend Lady Massey has already said, and as he noble Lord, Lord Baker, implied, children who engage with the arts have the opportunity, through that, to learn not only to express whatever creative potential they may have, but to collaborate with each other, to develop critical thinking skills, teamwork, and many other skills that—considering the noble Lord’s point about jobs of the future—will be extremely valuable to these young people in the job markets into which they will eventually go.
I know that when the Minister comes to address this point—if he does, and I hope he will—he will say that the system fully endorses the value of arts subjects. It does not—that is simply a fact. We had some Girl Guides in here yesterday, and some of us were given the very pleasant task of mentoring them one to one. The young woman I was working with told me, in terms, that her school was very focused on the subjects that the Russell Group has decided are facilitating subjects. This is terribly restrictive. It means that all the creative opportunities that the adolescents whom my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to might have access to—opportunities that might help them get through a difficult stage in their own development—are simply not available to them. This is wasting potential, and I really hope the Government will finally start to listen.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this vital debate. Early intervention has the potential to drastically improve the social mobility of disadvantaged children. We are at a time in our country’s history where social inequality is being felt very keenly. The Sutton Trust has found the proportion of people believing that we have truly equal opportunities in this country has decreased very substantially since 2008. We need to be building a society in which opportunities are more equally distributed and all are socially mobile. It is a goal that would improve not only the health and well-being of individuals but the economy as a whole. According to the Sutton Trust, raising the UK’s social mobility to the average level in western Europe would boost the economy by 2%.
As we have already heard, early intervention really does matter for social mobility. It matters because these disparities, between the most disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers, emerge before the first day of primary school. More worryingly, when not addressed, they affect a child’s social mobility throughout their adult life. It was back in 2012, when the All-Party Group on Social Mobility, of which I am co-chair, in its report 7 Key Truths about Social Mobility, noted that the greatest leverage point for social mobility is between the ages of zero and three. During this time, children are developing in all sorts of ways; not only are they learning key verbal and vocabulary skills, but also developing incredibly important emotional well-being and resilience skills which will shape the rest of their life. A child with a poor vocabulary at the age of five, is twice as likely to be unemployed aged 34.
I could go on, but I hope I have really emphasised the point that early intervention and social mobility go hand in hand. What happens in the classroom is undeniably very important, but so is what happens before. Parenting and the home environment play a huge role in driving inequalities in a child’s early cognitive development. Parenting has often been viewed by politicians and policymakers as no-go territory. I firmly believe that a successful strategy to early intervention must take into account the home environment. That is why, in 2015, the All-Party Group on Social Mobility held an inquiry into parenting and social mobility, and it recommended both the development and implementation of a national parenting support campaign. That would be designed to help support and empower parents, not preach to them, and fully recognise that the vast majority are trying to do the very best job they can, but do need some support.
Given all of this, it is unfortunate that the current policy and fiscal landscape has shifted from a focus on preventive schemes. An obvious example is the closure of children’s centres, which we have already heard about. In 2009, there were over 1,000 centres open nationwide and in previous years they have been vital in providing early intervention and preventing poor childhood outcomes, not only for the children but for the parents themselves. Sometimes that support began even before the child was born. But since 2009, over a third of these centres have closed and those which have not have often broadened their age range and shifted away from early intervention towards high-need families.
This shift in focus has been echoed in other areas of children’s services, particularly children’s social care, where there has been a clear move away from working with families who need some help to being able to work with only very high-risk families who are reaching crisis point. This picture was painted in stark relief in the All-Party Group for Children’s recent report, Storing up Trouble: A Postcode Lottery of Children’s Social Care. When the Minister responds, I would be grateful if he could indicate when the Government will be in a position to reply to the recommendations in that report.
The reasons for this shift are pretty obvious: financial pressures, which are huge, are having a major effect. Cuts to children’s services have come at a time of unprecedented demand, forcing many local authorities to deliver children’s services which can focus only on that smaller number of very high-risk cases. Since 2010, over £2.4 billion has been cut from central government funding for local authority children’s services, and local authorities now face an estimated £3 billion funding gap by 2025. Important as it is, however, funding is not the only issue; quality is incredibly important as well. While I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to early years education and childcare, it is a real concern that one-third of staff involved in group-based childcare lack English or maths GCSEs. We really need to have the staff involved in this important work moving towards qualified teacher status, wherever possible.
What can be done with this rather unhappy picture that I have painted? We need key improvements in the areas of funding, focus and strategy. I am currently much involved in finalising the All-Party Group on Social Mobility’s report which looks at tackling the regional attainment gap. We will shortly publish our report, so watch this space. I can assure your Lordships that we will have a fair amount to say about the importance of early intervention, particularly the need for a reinvigorated national strategy for children’s centres, and much to say about how children’s centres are funded and the need for Ofsted to be involved in inspecting them.
I call upon the Government to use the upcoming spending review to address the ever-growing funding gap for children’s services. Any financial settlement must incentivise local authorities to invest in early help. That is why I support calls for a new, cross-government taskforce on intervention to feed into the spending review. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I too must begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen for initiating this important debate. She has, of course, a record over the years of caring for children’s well-being and her speech today brings into sharp focus many of the problems that youngsters are facing.
It is abundantly clear that early intervention to combat some of these problems that children face should be taken as a top priority by this Government. One of those problems is the alarming growth of obesity in our young. Although the Government seem belatedly to be taking that more seriously, they are not giving the necessary resources to tackle that growth—certainly not with the vigour that it warrants.
The school curriculum is the obvious place to start with early intervention. When Labour was in government, we introduced school partnerships. But there have been savage cuts in the education budget starting with the reign of Michael Gove, who clearly had little understanding of the correlation—among other obvious factors—between good physical health and academic achievement, which is well-documented in respected educational research journals.
Recent figures show high levels of severe obesity among our children, which is mind-blowing. In July, Ofsted reported in Obesity, Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in Primary Schools that obesity was at an alarmingly high level, and highlighted the things schools should do to tackle it, including a high-quality physical education programme. Time does not allow me to go into the detail of that report, but suffice it to say that it recommended that all primary schools should spend two hours per week on PE in line with the policy of the Labour Government of 1997 to bring participation in PE to that level. The coalition Government ended that strategy, and we may have to wait for the next Government to recognise the pressing need to restore Labour’s approach to physical education in schools.
In the meantime, some impressive schemes are being undertaken by non-governmental bodies, notably from the world of football. The football authorities are doing a great job. They often get a bashing from the public, but clearly not for their policy of participation in sport and recreation at all levels. That should be put on the record. Many of these schemes are developed by the Premier League and other football leagues for youngsters right across the country.
The Football Foundation, of which I am president, continues to fund sites and to deliver schemes for exercise, healthy eating, physical and mental well-being, targeting 40% of its investment into the 20% most deprived areas of the country. All this work is very worth while, but so much more needs to be done by this Government. With their boast that austerity is coming to an end, this growing problem for our youngsters and their futures must be one of the Government’s most urgent tasks.
In the few minutes available to me, I turn to another area of urgent need for government intervention, namely mental health—especially its impact among our young. The lack of research in this vital area is well documented and is yet another growing problem. Mental health is a condition that does not begin only in old age. As far back as 2012, the annual report of the Chief Medical Officer stated that 75% of mental illness starts in children—before their 18th birthday and often before the age of 15. One could go on and on with these frightening statistics. For example, suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK.
Intervention by the Government, therefore, is urgent. That need has been spelt out graphically by the MQ mental health charity, which states that less than 30% of mental health research is donated for children and the young, despite—I repeat—the fact that 75% of mental health illness starts before the age of 18.
These figures, and others quoted during this debate, justify the needs raised by my noble friend in moving this Motion. I saw no evidence in the Budget that anything is likely to change. If this Government fail to respond positively to the messages of today’s debate, they have no right to call themselves a caring Government and should give way to one that will be.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this debate, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to focus on this critical issue through the lens of arts and creativity in the early years.
There is a mass of evidence to support the idea that high-quality early years arts interventions have long-lasting effects on children’s development. I am grateful to Ruth Churchill Dower, who has done so much work in this area, for pointing me towards the significant body of research that now exists across multiple disciplines— neuroscience, cognitive science and developmental psychology—in the UK and internationally. This evidence supports the contention that engagement with arts and culture at the earliest stage of a child’s development, which I will refer to as “early arts”, can significantly enhance the child’s educational readiness and overall life chances.
Yet it seems clear to me that these concepts have been neglected in educational early years and even arts policies. King’s College London—an institution in which I declare my interest as an employee—undertook an investigation into 70 years of arts policy directed at young people. It found a surprising lack of any attention to the early years, despite clear evidence from other areas of policy that early intervention is crucial in shaping later outcomes in life.
I shall focus on the ways in which early arts engagement contributes to young children’s preparedness to enter school, but I will also touch on the contribution it makes towards a child’s personal and social development and the consequential long-term benefits for society.
The early years foundation stage includes expressive arts and design as a subject, but the framework is designed so that the learning areas can be taught predominantly through games and play. This misses the potential of arts not as a subject but as a means of learning—a means that research shows may have a clear advantage over other methods in that arts are already a major form of play for children, who naturally sing, dance and make things up. Therefore, the arts represent motivating and interesting activities and contribute to deep, lasting learning experiences.
Some nursery schools have taken advantage of this and are actively supporting delivery of all the early years learning goals through arts activities. For example, problem solving and numeracy are addressed though concepts of space and shape in visual arts or dance; knowledge and understanding of the world can be developed through exploring different national cultures; and physical development is supported through playing with materials—sculpting—to develop fine motor skills and through music, dance and movement to develop gross motor skills. Communication, language and literacy are supported through storytelling and shared dances, and dancing helps to develop the fine motor skills which are needed in writing. All of the above encourage social interaction, positive group behaviours and critical thinking skills.
The Government’s 2017 report Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential highlighted the importance of young children arriving at school with strong foundations in place, yet we know that in areas of high deprivation between 40% and 60% of children start school with levels of speech, interaction and communication that are of sufficient concern for a child not to be considered school-ready.
A US study published in January this year suggests that early arts can help to address these challenges. The research focused on 265 children between the ages of three and five in the Philadelphia area, all of whom were engaged in the Head Start programme. Noble Lords contributing to this debate will no doubt be aware of the Head Start programme, which promotes school readiness in young children from low-income families in the United States. Some 197 of the children took part in a pre-school arts-enrichment programme alongside the regular Head Start offer. Both groups’ programmes included arts-based activities, but the important thing is that the arts-enriched group took part in 12 additional 45-minute arts sessions every week. School readiness was evaluated at the beginning and end of the pre-school year and, not surprisingly, the results showed that, compared to their counterparts, the arts-enriched group demonstrated greater growth in school readiness and greater gains in self and social awareness.
That second finding is consistent with existing evidence that early arts programmes enhance social and emotional development. This may be because children are not only introduced to the concept of self-expression through art but are also encouraged to explore and communicate their feelings and ideas through painting, stories or creative movement. That stimulates them to articulate their thoughts and practise communication skills, and we know that this has significant value in the early years, when young children need the chance to express themselves without fear of failure or feeling that they are going to be judged.
Given all that, it is surprising not to see more government policy directed towards achieving these aims. The default policy lever has always been to build arts into the school curriculum—as we have heard, this is a good thing in and of itself—but that is too late to generate the specific benefits that would derive from early-years engagement. A robust network of Sure Start centres would offer a ready-made infrastructure to support this kind of arts-integrated early education.
So I ask the Minister: what are the Government doing to support early engagement with the arts, not just as a subject to be explored in its own right, although that is important, but as a way of generating the educational benefits that I have described—benefits that will increase the welfare, social mobility and life chances of young people throughout the UK?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing this debate to the House today. I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part.
Interventions that tackle inequalities while children are young have the potential for the most lasting effect, so a delayed intervention increases the cost of providing a remedy for these problems. The cycle continues and it is difficult to break. The pressing question is about why it is taking so long to find a lasting solution. We know that early interventions are key, given that most of the gap in education attainment is created by the age of five, but evidence of the need of an early intervention agenda is stronger than ever.
Local authorities know their communities and understand local need, so they can commission the most vital services to improve their children’s health and well-being, but they too have limited resources. Where a child is identified as vulnerable, local authorities have a wide range of investigative and supportive powers available. They of course have a duty to investigate even if they have only reasonable cause to suspect, in a case involving a child identified as vulnerable.
There should be support too for effective local parenting initiatives for less advantaged pupils, through a richer programme of extra activities. We know only too well that children living in poverty are at greater risk of behavioural and emotional problems linked to poor social and emotional outcomes In some cases intervention happens too late when health, social and behavioural problems have become deeply entrenched in children’s and young people’s lives. Social mobility plays into several different themes, including educational equality, child poverty and unemployment levels. Gaining employment for our young people gains aspirations as well as quality and length of life. Crucially, we know how a safe, stimulating and loving family environment can make a positive difference to our young people.
Other issues come into play too, such as good housing—we need more housing and to bring empty properties back into occupation—in a safe and pleasant neighbourhood without the threat of gang culture and bullying on a day-to-day basis. Unsafe neighbourhoods can and do expose low-income children to violence, which can cause a number of psychosocial difficulties, so we must not forget how important good housing is and how it is intrinsically linked to providing a quality home life. Good transport links and connectivity are often flagged up as vital, particularly in our rural areas.
It is regrettable that many youth centres have closed —we have witnessed a reduction in youth services of 62%—because they offer meeting places where our young people can support each other, learn from each other and have good social interaction. In our schools, too, we need a first-class career advice and mentoring service, as schools are part of the wider community, and to work harder to prevent absenteeism and exclusions. I must say that the careers service presents a mixed picture across the UK.
As I mentioned, conception to early adulthood is about not just early years but preventing adolescents and young adults from developing problems. It is argued that children who grow up in a disadvantaged family are more likely to experience poor health outcomes and unemployment.
I welcome the Government’s focus on higher and advanced apprenticeships, with a commitment to increase the number of apprenticeships to 3 million by 2020. I was also particularly pleased to hear in the Chancellor’s Budget the announcement of a £695 million package to support apprenticeships, with particular emphasis on SMEs, by halving the amount they have to contribute from 10% to 5%. I hope that this will stimulate better take-up, because they have been widely criticised for complexity and the unavailability of suitable courses, so more needs to be done.
We also need to incentivise and reward those companies which want to work with schools and, as my noble friend Lord Baker mentioned, UTCs, because it is the wealth creators who can offer those opportunities. We need to encourage more collaboration between schools, charities and businesses to give back to their community as part of that mix.
We all want young people to be given the opportunity to make the most of their talents and create a better life for themselves: to empower young people to be the guardians of social mobility. Social mobility has rarely been far from the top of the political agenda in the UK in recent years. Weak social mobility and lost potential is the biggest drag on this country’s productivity.
Everyone deserves a fair shot in life and a chance to go as far as their hard work and talent can take them. It is often said that talent is everywhere, but that opportunity is not.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for prompting this debate. We have heard how many factors shape the life chances, welfare and social mobility of young people. Poverty alleviation, parenting and early educational intervention all have proven impacts, but austerity over the past eight years has had major adverse effects.
The Local Government Association told us that, after core reductions of £16 billion, local authorities have largely managed to protect social care, but there has been a substantial increase in demand. For example, there has been a 158% increase in demand for child protection services in serious cases where a child is suffering significant harm. Spend has tended to move away from preventive and early help work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm. Councils predict a further funding gap for children’s services of at least £3 billion by 2025, and that does not take account of any further rise in demand.
Early intervention services face particular pressures, with demand rising but funding falling by 40% in real terms between 2010 and 2016. The Chancellor’s £84 million in the Budget to help a measly 20 local authorities reduce the number of children entering the care system is a drop in a bucket.
In addition to service cuts, recent tax and welfare reforms have meant difficult parenting situations for many of the most vulnerable families. I find it difficult to reconcile the Government’s “You’ve never had it so good” statements on the lowest-ever levels of unemployment and more people than ever in employment with the rising reliance on food banks. I see stagnant wages and people having to juggle several part-time or zero-hours jobs to survive, with resulting impacts on parenting. As is always the case, austerity has fallen heavily on our children. I, for one, am not convinced that its ongoing impact is over.
Let us be less gloomy. Removal from poverty, good parenting and early educational intervention can have demonstrable effects on both life chances and indeed, as has already been said, on future health. I commend to the House and to the Government the benefits of outdoor education and encouragement of children to connect with green spaces and trees. I should declare an interest as the chairman of the Woodland Trust.
Our children are the fattest and run the risk of being the sickest for many years—for generations, in fact—with life-shortening conditions such as type 2 diabetes being diagnosed in children at earlier and earlier ages. That will have a lifelong impact on not just their physical health but their mental health and life chances. A Sutton Trust review of research evidence identified four key dimensions of good-quality pedagogy for all children under three. Two of these are a focus on play-based activities and routines which allow children to take the lead in their own learning and opportunities to move and be physically active, as we have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. A study of adults has shown that walking in green open space with trees for 13 and a half minutes a day reduces the risks of depression by 50%.
I commend to your Lordships and the Minister the work of the growing network of schools that have signed up as forest schools. These are schools where much of the teaching is based on outdoor activities and woods and offer a unique activity-based way of building independence, self-esteem and a positive attitude towards learning in children and young people as they explore and experience the natural world for themselves. The little beasts go out to learn in their local woods in all weathers and are encouraged to explore their thoughts, feelings and relationships through the use of emotions, imagination and senses. At the same time they improve their physical activity, health and mental health. The experience of a combination of freedom and responsibility is beneficial, especially to children with little confidence or challenging behaviours. The Woodland Trust is delighted to provide local woods and profuse quantities of mud for many forest schools.
In a spirit of total self-promotion, I commend the Woodland Trust Green Tree Schools Award, which has rewarded 10,000 schools for competing in environmental projects and encouraging outdoor learning. I should say, of course, that other green school and educational initiatives are available. Can the Minister tell us what support the Government can give to these sorts of outdoor education initiatives? In Wales, every child born receives two trees funded by the Welsh Government. One is planted by the Woodland Trust in Wales and the family is sent the co-ordinates so that they can visit their trees. The other is planted in Uganda to help create a sustainable future for Ugandan forests and indeed, the planet. The scheme is rather confusingly called Plant!, which does not mean what noble Lords think; it is Welsh for “children”. This reinforces early in the family’s formation the importance of green open spaces and trees and encourages them to take their toddler, although we have had babes in arms as well, into the woods. Perhaps the Minister might introduce such a scheme for children in England and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to the importance of outdoor education.
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen for her excellent introduction to the debate today. Her experience of and commitment to the subject is well known and widely admired around the House. I draw attention to my educational interests in the register, specifically as an adviser to ARC, chair of Ambition School Leadership and a trustee of the Educational Policy Institute.
I want to talk briefly about the vital importance, especially for disadvantaged children of high-quality nurseries in the early years. We have talked about this many times in this House and there is a degree of consensus about its importance. The art of political policy-making is in thinking through properly the implications of often well-meaning policies and the interaction of those decisions. In the early years policy areas, I fear that the wrong priorities, perhaps even unconsciously, have been drawn. Disadvantaged children, and therefore their families—and, in the end, all of us— will lose out as a result. It is well known that the tail of underperformance is a significant drag on productivity, and that is before we factor in well-being—or the lack thereof—and costs in the care and criminal justice systems. The OECD and others have documented this well.
Before the 2015 general election, there was a sort of manifesto arms race on the offer of free childcare hours—frankly, in much the same way as the fabled 3 million apprenticeships were imposed on the system. All the political parties engaged, but the Conservatives ended up promising 30 hours of free childcare to three and four year-olds of working parents. I have a suspicion that they never thought they would have to deliver it, because they did not think they would get an absolute majority, but there we go. My understanding is that this provision now includes free provision for a family where two parents earn up to £100,000 each. I am the first to recognise that childcare is expensive, and necessary for both parents to have the chance of work and to contribute to the family income, but I cannot understand how the relative priorities were discussed—perhaps they were not—that led directly to this policy. In a period of public spending cuts, this has effectively led to government support being moved from vulnerable children to more affluent families. Disadvantaged families—that is, those earning under £16,000 and those on income support with looked-after children, children with an education, health or care plan or children with a disability living allowance—are entitled to 15 hours a week, rather than 30. Part-time places are being converted to full-time in many nurseries to meet the demand for full-time provision, meaning that inadequate part-time places exist.
Closing the achievement gap that opens up before children reach school is key to educational equality and social mobility. Over half of children on free school meals are not school-ready by the age of five. The EPI research shows that 40% of the attainment gap between poor and wealthy pupils at the end of school is already visible before children start school. Moreover, according to the IFS, one in three children in the UK live in poverty, two-thirds of whom are from working families, and this is set to increase over the next five years. There is a significant body of evidence—and consensus among academics and practitioners—on how we should close this gap. The Effective Pre-school and Primary Education study, along with the highest-impact international programmes, such as HighScope in the US and Preparing for Life in Ireland, have proved that the gap can be closed through: first, teacher-led pre-school education, as outcomes improve when children have access to 15 hours a week with a trained teacher; secondly, a focus on improving the home learning environment, as working with families through home visits and other interventions to improve the home environment improves children’s outcomes; and, thirdly, a strong partnership with health providers, supporting families from before they are entitled to a government-funded nursery place, as educational outcomes in very young children are closely entwined—as we know—with health outcomes, which are deteriorating in parts of the UK.
Around a quarter of children, mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are missing the two-year check, meaning that special educational needs and speech and language difficulties are not being picked up early enough, with nursery and reception teachers often the ones left to fill the gap and children missing out on additional support. Put bluntly, at schools that I know well, there are children starting reception classes in nappies.
There is also significant evidence of the economic and social value of investing in the early years. Spending money earlier in a child’s life saves money. The HighScope Perry Preschool programme in the US delivered a long-term social return rate of between 7% and 10% by the time the participants were 40, mainly through improved employment and earnings and reduced crime. There is significant political support for early years and its potential to drive social mobility. We have seen that across both Houses, in Select Committees and in APPGs—and, indeed, from the department.
Before the 2015 general election, it was already apparent that quality providers were less likely to operate in poorer neighbourhoods, which was reflected in the educational levels of staff delivering the service and the standard of provision. The effect of the policy changes since 2015 have made this situation worse. The increase from a universal 15 hours a week for all to an offer for working parents from 15 to 30 hours a week, up to a total income of £100,000 per parent, has, bluntly, taken the money. Early-years policy is now weighted towards providing an incentive for parents to work, including support for those on high salaries, rather than focusing on closing the pre-school achievement gap and promoting school-readiness and social mobility.
The Minister has shown a personal commitment to delivering high-quality education for disadvantaged children. Does he think that the current priorities for early years are right, does he think that proper provision can be delivered for children currently entitled to only 15 hours of provision, and how can the quality of provision for the most disadvantaged—who have most to gain—be improved? In particular, we need to look at early years work being teacher-led.
I believe there is a willingness among noble Lords around the House who are interested in this to get stuck in and sort out some of the maybe unintended consequences of current policies. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that progress is made? Without a real focus on better early years provision, the gap in achievement will not be reduced, let alone closed.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on initiating this debate on the importance of early intervention in children’s lives. I find myself often supporting her in her debates. Today I wish to highlight a promising measure to prevent children being removed from their parents and brought into local authority care.
Outcomes for care leavers remain poor, with Home Office reports finding that a quarter of the male prison population and 70% of sex workers have been in care. A key driver of such awful trajectories is that being in care often has detrimental effects on a child’s ability to build strong relationships, the consequences of which can stay with them for the rest of their lives. So, with education department statistics showing that 90 children a day are being taken into care, successful measures to divert young people away from the system are desperately needed.
I bring to the attention of the House once again a scheme with proven effectiveness in diverting children at risk of going into care—away from the system and into the boarding school estate. As I mentioned in my maiden speech, I myself greatly benefited from a place in a boarding house at a local state grammar school. The opportunity to form dependable relationships was invaluable. I still often recall one master who was a huge encouragement to me at a time when my family circumstances and educational attainment—two aspects which were not unrelated—were both pretty dire. Of course, boarding will not be suitable for all children, but many would benefit.
The issue of boarding school partnerships has arisen in this House before, and I will highlight three areas in which the expansion of such schemes can boost a council’s ability to help children form stable and enduring relationships and improve prospects for both social and academic achievement. First, the provision of a place in a state or private boarding school can be a game-changer in the risk levels children are facing. The Boarding School Partnerships report found that 71% of looked-after children who were given a place at a boarding school showed a reduction in their individual risk profile—a measure which determines the level of support needed to keep a child safe—and 63% of them moved off the risk register completely. The report gave a powerful example of the scheme’s success: a child who was taken into foster care at the highest risk level and given a placement at an independent school in order to support a difficult family situation. After nine years of boarding he was appointed head boy and, a high achiever both academically and in sports, was applying for university. This intervention genuinely transformed his life.
Secondly, for councils to improve the welfare and life chances of children on the edge of care, the provision of consistent relationships, a stable routine and a good education are key. Norfolk County Council has placed 52 vulnerable children in 11 state and independent boarding schools over the last decade, and its results have proved that this works. Achievement in education improved as, on average, children who took the placements attained higher results in their GCSEs than children in care nationally. These provisions can also make a significant difference to the whole family: a boarding school placement can help build a family’s resilience and ability to cope. Nine of the 17 children who had been in care were able to return to their biological families.
Thirdly, the scheme is also cost-effective. Norfolk County Council spends an average of £56,200 per year on children in its care. The highest boarding school fees paid were £35,000, making the scheme financially, as well as educationally, beneficial. This intervention is therefore a sustainable model that does not ask local authorities to increase spending from already stretched budgets. The effectiveness of the intervention is commended by the 40 independent schools—including some of the UK’s top-performing schools—taking part in the government-backed scheme. The Department for Education should also be commended for taking note of these results and launching the Boarding School Partnerships information service to link local authorities with boarding schools, to identify more young people on the edge of care who would be eligible for bursaries and scholarships.
The results show that these interventions are socially, educationally and financially viable; the provision of boarding school places for children at risk must become a mainstream solution to improve the life chances and social mobility of the most vulnerable children. Can the Minister update the House on the progress local authorities have been able to make in providing more boarding school placements for children on the edge of care, as a result of the Boarding School Partnerships information service?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing this debate to the House; it has already attracted a swathe of impressive expertise. In deference to her status as a published novelist, I will take a different point of view. Tolstoy’s opening sentence of Anna Karenina is this:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.
Happy families, as we know, are characterised by enduring relationships, security of emotional feelings, stability, affection and concern; we can all enumerate these. But what makes unhappy families? Each unhappy family is a mystery. It has in its inner life a unique story behind its failure, one often charted by novelists: damaged relationships, with their consequences in society.
Unhappiness is not new, and neither is intervention. In fiction, it is quite prevalent. Pip enjoyed “great expectations” which changed his life; Oliver Twist had his life ruined by Fagin. Interventions—relationships with the real world—damage people and always have. However, in the 20th century we saw major changes, which are exemplified in different ways today. We have seen the growth of state intervention in the lives of the wretched. We have seen an increase in expertise in child psychology and child development, which intensifies and proliferates; again, we have had evidence of this today. We have also seen the development of parenting as a studied skill which people learn about and acquire from each other. I grew up with Spock, which is rather out of date these days—each generation has its shelf of advice on parenting.
However, suffering persists. All the different components have not resolved the problems of our society. We still have neglect, deprivation, educational stress in young people, ill health and malnutrition. What is going on? I suggest that today we are going backwards.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, whom I think of as my noble friend. We are both members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I can speak from direct experience of how highly regarded she is there for the wide range of work that she does. People listen to her very carefully. I should also declare an interest as a governor of the children’s charity Coram.
What a pleasant change it is not to talk about Brexit and to focus on something that, frankly, is of equal importance: our children and giving them the best possible future. As I thought about this subject and researched it, I suddenly felt myself morphing into a male version of Doctor Who entering the TARDIS. I emerged 30 years ago, when, amazingly, I was a rather younger and more hirsute Member of your Lordships’ House. I was actively involved with the all-party parliamentary group on drugs misuse and had become involved with a charity called Life Education Centres—now part of Coram and the largest provider of health education in primary schools in the United Kingdom.
The environment that we were navigating through was very complex in terms of delivery. There were far too many interested parties, lots of fragmentation, and three often competing and divergent government departments—education, health and the Home Office—apparently following a policy of “divide and despair”, “accept limited responsibility”, “avoid any blame”, “try to avoid the difficult subjects” and, above all, “keep your head down”.
The end of that impasse came with a demonstration of genuine leadership and courage from the then Prime Minister, John Major, who I personally very much regret is not a Member of your Lordships’ House, as I think that his counsel would be of great use at this time. He initiated the first ever joined-up holistic review of all aspects of drugs policy. He identified an outstanding civil servant, Dame Sue Street, who in 1995 produced Tackling Drugs Together, a landmark publication that recognised the problem and accepted joint responsibility for a joined-up and properly thought-through and funded approach to trying to do something about the issue.
What is the lesson for us today from that experience? The Early Intervention Foundation, in a very timely publication this week called Realising the Potential of Early Intervention, has essentially said that there are great similarities with the situation of 30 years ago that I described, and it proposes a very clear holistic review of the whole situation. We know that there are four key areas of focus. We know that there is the physical aspect, and we know that we have to look at social and emotional needs, cognitive needs and behaviour. We also know that there are three key red-flag areas that indicate potential problems for the future: substance misuse, risky sexual behaviour and child maltreatment.
We also know that late or ineffective intervention is costing us a staggering estimated £17 billion per annum. There has been a huge reduction in Sure Start centres. The following local authorities have closed more than 70% of their centres: West Berkshire, Camden, Stockport, Bromley, Oxfordshire—a flagship example of a leading Conservative local authority—and Staffordshire. I am afraid that it is not a great list to be on. Our poorest children are already 11 months behind their peers when they start primary school.
There are five key flaws in our current approach, including inadequate and inconsistent funding; short-termism—a besetting political disease; and a fragmented approach across no less than five departments of state: education, health and social care, work and pensions, housing, communities and local government, and that graveyard of political reputations, the Home Office. We need to deliver only what works and, above all, we need to use evidence, evidence and more evidence. So what can and must we do?
First, we need someone to emulate John Major’s leadership and courage, and that needs to come from the top. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, suggested, we need a cross-government task force under Sue Street mark 2 and an initiative that will join the dots and provide clarity of understanding, direction, long-term intent and commitment to resource allocation. I suggest that the report it produces should be called “Working Together for our Future, our Children”. Secondly, we need to create an independent expert panel to advise the Government and to develop and refine strategy and best practice. Thirdly, we need to accelerate concerted support for local areas to deliver effective and timely intervention. Fourthly, we need long-term investment backed by cross-party commitment.
I have three specific questions for the Minister, two of which he already knows about. First, will he identify the John Major of today, with the courage and leadership to put children first, and put the case to him or her with all the force he can muster? Secondly, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to explore proposals to impose a legal duty on local authorities and other statutory deliverers to provide effective early intervention? How do they propose to ensure that sufficient funds are available, particularly for those areas that have been most impacted by severe reductions. Lastly, do the Government agree that a key performance indicator must be to measure early intervention’s ability to improve social mobility—and, if so, how are they going to measure it?
I would like to put on the record my admiration for and gratitude to the Sutton Trust and Sir Peter Lampl, who would be a great Member of this House, for setting an example to us all and reminding us of the talent we possess and what young people are capable of.
My Lords, I rarely trouble the House with my views on young people’s welfare; I usually give the House my views on much easier and simpler matters, such as the economy, technology and business. However, when I read my noble friend’s note about her debate, her comments about a second bite at the cherry struck a chord with me, as it probably did with many of us who are parents and grandparents. A second bite often works—maybe because we do it better—and I agree with my noble friend Lady Massey that it is best provided locally.
I live in Richmond, a fairly prosperous place to the west of London, but, even so, we have our problems. The Richmond child mental health needs assessment in 2012 estimated that nearly a third of 16 to 19 year- olds have some form of mental health issue, and so we certainly have a local need.
In Richmond we have an excellent small theatre, which started in the Orange Tree pub and then expanded by taking over a chapel, which is virtually next door. It produces excellent theatre. However, in addition, for some 30 years now, it has run an education and participatory programme based on theatre: Shakespeare for primary and secondary schools, both at the school and at the theatre, frequently to coincide with the exam curriculum; six participatory groups for young people to perform for friends and families; weekly youth theatre classes; and participatory theatre for young people on the autism spectrum and their families. These all provide opportunities to learn, to be creative, and to participate. These are the kind of activities that many noble Lords have emphasised.
At this point I ought to declare that I put my money where my mouth is in that my family charity has been a supporter of this project for many years. It will probably continue to be so because I have no doubt that these activities give children and young people the opportunities to develop communication skills and aspiration and to become more resilient.
You do not have to take it from me. I asked the Orange Tree for some feedback it had received and I am grateful to Alex Jones and Emma Kendall for their briefing. One parent recently said that her daughter is out of school and struggling with chronic social anxiety but wants to keep attending one of the youth theatre groups, and she hopes that this will be the key to getting her back to school. Others speak of how the opportunity to build confidence, to work collaboratively and to challenge themselves and their view of the world helps with aspiration. Another spoke of how learning to express themselves creatively using body and voice gave their child confidence where there was none. This is just the kind of thing that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, spoke about. Several spoke of the positive outcomes that have lasted beyond engagement with the project.
My noble friend is right to move this Motion. The value of engaging with the arts and creative learning, especially as a second bite at the cherry, is certainly rewarding, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said—he told us how much—and research from the Cultural Learning Alliance confirms this. Indeed, its research shows that this is particularly helpful to students from low-income families. Our own All-Party Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing was given evidence on how participatory arts activities help to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress, thereby improving health, well-being and happiness.
Many noble Lords spoke of funding for early intervention. We have just had a Budget and the Red Book tells us that youth services will remain in the scope of the welfare cap. This means that there is no prospect of more funding; indeed, the prospect is for further cuts. Yes, local authorities have a duty to provide leisure time activities for young people, but the requirement is vague and therefore near the bottom of the priority list. While some councils continue to provide good quality youth services, the All-Party Group on Youth Affairs was told that 600 council youth centres have gone since 2012, as my noble friend said.
The task of providing for these young people will continue to fall more and more on charities, voluntary groups and local projects such as the Orange Tree theatre. I hope my noble friend’s debate today will inspire us all to support these programmes in kind and in spirit. However, I say to the Minister that this should be in addition to, not instead of, local services. Ben Bradley MP, a Conservative member of the All-Party Group on Youth Affairs, said:
“When you look at the preventive element of youth work you see how good quality youth work intervention early on can save you further down the line. I think it should be a big priority”.
He is certainly right and I hope the Government are listening.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this important debate, which seeks to emphasise the importance of helping children at an early stage in their development and ensuring that their life chances are not limited by a lack of support and knowledge. It is a humanitarian cause very close to my heart.
Much has been said about early interventions by many speakers before me and in the other place last year. However, I should like to focus on the effects on children and young people of a lack of early intervention. Some of these are brought about by poor parenting, which can affect a child’s development and lead to their falling behind their peers in education and social mobility. Indeed, it is well recognised that poor parenting is a risk factor in mental health problems.
We also know that, for children from more advantaged backgrounds, parents are able to support their children in their schooling. From choosing the best school to attend, to paying for out-of-school activities, better-off parents continue to have the upper hand in navigating the education system and preventing their children falling behind in school. Many commentators on early intervention note that the educational gap that starts in the early years for children at risk of poor outcomes gets wider as they get older. Often, they cannot achieve their true potential and become locked in a vicious cycle of deprivation.
A lot of the commendable work is done by Barnardo’s, the UK’s leading children’s charity—I declare an interest as a vice-president—which picks up the pieces when things have gone wrong and children are suffering. From problems such as abuse, through to truancy and neglect, these factors all have an impact on a child’s well-being as they navigate the choppy waters of growing up. Indeed, a well-respected report by Graham Allen MP in 2011 showed that,
“children assessed as ‘at risk’ at age three, on reaching age 21, had two and a half times as many criminal convictions as the group deemed not to be at risk”.
Now, Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, has said that excluded children who are not receiving education are more likely to fall victim to exploitation by criminal gangs, especially with a shortage of places at pupil referral units. We are all aware of the terrible toll of knife crime, particularly in London, and we need to ensure that vulnerable young people are not left to their own devices and do not become prey to manipulative criminals. This echoes Graham Allen’s report, which concluded that “intervention happens too late”.
The Government have put a lot of money into helping children receive good education, such as 15 hours of free childcare for two year-olds whose parents meet certain benefit-related criteria, and 30 hours of free childcare for three to four year-olds of certain working parents. However, Barnardo’s is calling for an increase in ring-fenced funding for early intervention services to make up the present shortfall. It is also asking for a national strategy, consulting with charities, children and families, with a better focus on the long term. Does the Minister agree that prevention is very important? If the Government, as suggested out by Barnardo’s, were to ring-fence more money for early intervention initiatives, we would see our children—our future generation—growing up better both socially and mentally, thus committing less or no crime and contributing much more to our society. I am sure the benefits would outweigh the cost of the Government’s early intervention and investment. Prevention is better than cure.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Massey deserves credit for securing this debate as it allows us to reflect on, consider and share best practice on the important issue of intervention in a young person’s life that can make a positive difference.
We have known for decades that the impact of bad things that happen in a child’s early years will be devastating in adult life. Physical and sexual abuse, deprivation and poverty, school exclusions and drug abuse make it inevitable that these young people will face a grim life and a bad future without support and intervention. Noble Lords have already given many examples of the consequences for young adults of enduring adverse childhood experiences. I want to look at the problem from the point of view of children for whom early intervention is particularly relevant: children with special educational needs. I am here referring to children who are on the autism spectrum.
Autism is a lifelong condition that affects more than one in 100 children and young people. Intervening early in these children’s lives to support their communication, learning and development increases the chances that they will succeed at school and make good progress with their education.
I will come back to this in a moment, but first I would like to share with the House the views, comments and experiences of one such autistic child. He is Japanese, his name is Naoki Higashida and five years ago he published a book, The Reason I Jump. It is one young person’s voice from the silence of autism. He was just 13 when he wrote it. When he was small, he said, he did not know that he had special needs; he only discovered this when other people told him that he was different from everyone else and this was a problem. He wrote:
“True enough. It was hard for me to act like a normal person. … I have no problem reading books … and singing, but as soon as I try to speak with someone, my words just vanish … Sure, sometimes I manage a few words – but even these can come out the complete opposite to what I want to say … I can’t respond appropriately when I’m told to do something, and whenever I get nervous I run off from wherever I happen to be”.
During what he describes as his,
“frustrating, miserable, helpless days”,
Naoki imagined what it would be like if everyone in the world was autistic. If autism was regarded simply as a personality type, things would be much easier and happier. That was his view, but in truth, it is not that way, and that is why early intervention in the lives of those on the spectrum is so very important.
One such early intervention for young people on the autism spectrum is the EarlyBird programme, run by the National Autistic Society. Here I should declare an interest as a vice-president of the NAS. EarlyBird is a three-month programme of group training and individual home visits for families of pre-school children. Its aim is to help parents understand their child better and how to support them, how to get into their child’s world, find ways to develop their interaction and communication skills and understand how the child behaves and reacts.
Children on the autism spectrum do not experience the world in the same way that we expect of most children who are in the early years stage of development and learning. Early intervention programmes can help these children learn and develop the skills they need, understand their environment, and reduce their levels of stress and anxiety. However, children might be able to access this intervention only if they have a diagnosis, and the length of time that many families wait for an autism diagnosis means that too few autistic children are able to benefit from the intervention of the EarlyBird programme.
I have first-hand experience of this. A family I knew waited four years for a diagnosis for their child. Their family GP really did not show a lot of interest. It just so happened that I discovered that I knew a senior partner in the practice and asked him for help. That started the progress to getting a diagnosis. That was chance happening; no one should have to depend on chance for a diagnosis of autism.
Research by the National Autistic Society found that children wait, on average, three and a half years from the point at which their parents first seek help to the point at which they receive a diagnosis of autism. This is despite NHS guidelines stating that children and adults who might be on the autism spectrum should be assessed within three months.
Diagnosis matters. It enables a child on the autism spectrum to be better understood by their parents, teachers and others. It should also open up access to crucial help and support. The failure in many parts of our country to diagnose children promptly enough means that they miss out on early years interventions that could have long-term benefits for them. Will the Government commit to implementing the guidelines on waiting times for diagnosis so that no child has to wait years to access the help and support they need and deserve?
My Lords, we are all indebted to my noble friend Lady Massey, so long a champion of the disadvantaged, for securing this debate, which has produced some very high-quality contributions.
Social mobility is a term thrown around rather too loosely these days for my liking. We all imagine we know what it means—basically, each individual being afforded the opportunity to maximise their abilities and to move up the social ladder, achieving a standard of living and perhaps a status above that of their parents. That at least has been the theory, but now millennials are set to become the first generation since records began to have a standard of living likely to be lower than that of their parents, with house ownership often not a realistic aim. I am clear that the most crucial stage of life is early years. It is not so much concerned with social mobility, but more about social justice, a term I prefer when we talk about social mobility in its wider sense.
Of course, it is possible to effect that wider social mobility at later stages of life by improving the quality of primary education, through the UTCs—again nobly espoused by the noble Lord, Lord Baker—increasing the availability of high-quality apprenticeships for key jobs, or increasing equality of access to higher education. But, for any Government, prioritising investment in early years early intervention should be an obvious step, not purely for the benefit it brings to disadvantaged children and their families. Studies have shown that early preventive interventions prove much more cost effective than later reactive ones.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell, rightly commended the work of the Sutton Trust, which produced an excellent mobility manifesto in 2017. It has brought to noble Lords’ attention that increasing the UK’s social mobility to the average level across western Europe would increase annual GDP by 2%. That, at 2016 values, equated to around £39 billion—by coincidence, almost exactly the same as that year’s entire education budget. Even increasing social mobility to the level of the next best-performing country, the Netherlands, could produce an increase of around 1.3% in GDP. I believe that this is what my noble friend Lady Massey had in mind when she talked about the economics of early intervention. These are huge sums that could make a huge difference to the resources available to Government to improve the lives of not just the most disadvantaged.
A year ago, the Department for Education published its plan to improve social mobility through education, Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, referred. It contained a pledge to form a partnership with Public Health England to enable health visitors and other early years practitioners to identify and support children’s early speech, language and communication needs. The plan stated:
“We will develop training and guidance to support these professionals in targeted areas. And we will also develop an effective early language assessment tool for health visitors and early years practitioners to help to check children’s early language development”.
That is a worthy aim, but where does that pledge stand today in terms of its rollout?
Many noble Lords have highlighted that how children develop at an early stage in their lives is crucial for their future health and well-being. The parent-child relationship is vital to children’s development, learning, achievement and wider well-being. Poor parenting is a risk factor for mental health problems, while good parent-child relationships reduce the risk of children adopting unhealthy lifestyle choices. It is impossible to overemphasise the impact on the youngest children that high-quality early intervention can have on later life chances. A child’s development score at just 22 months can serve as an accurate predictor of educational outcomes at 26 years.
Of course, the main aim of the Sure Start programme, introduced by the Labour Government 20 years ago, was to help parents to provide children with the best possible start in life through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development. When Labour left office there were over 3,600 children’s centres, reaching 2.8 million children and their families. It was a remarkable achievement for families, providing parenting support, childcare for children and job training for adults, as well as healthcare and advice.
Under coalition and Conservative Governments, 1,200 Sure Start centres have been lost. The charity Action for Children found that budgets for children’s centres across England have dropped by £450 million in the last five years—a decrease of 42%. The Sure Start programme was hugely successful in integrating early learning and childcare for a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year. It is deeply depressing to see it withering on the vine under this Government—a symbol of their failure to support disadvantaged families. As my noble friend Lady Massey said, the Government’s alternative of family hubs is a much less-focused offering, often outwith the community in which a family is based, which naturally restricts the extent to which they are used. The policy driving these hubs is cost saving—the austerity to which my noble friend Lady Young referred—not early intervention.
Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential contained five core ambitions, the first of which was addressing early years and closing the “word gap”. That is a crucial task, because children who are behind in language development at five or six are less likely to reach the expected standard in English at 11. They are much less likely to achieve the expected level in maths. Children who arrive at school in a strong position in terms of their development will find it easier to learn, while those already behind often find it impossible to narrow, far less close, the gap.
In that document, a commitment to a £100 million investment to help close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers was set out. That is a very modest sum. In fact, it is merely a quarter of the amount the Chancellor announced, some might think rather patronisingly, three days ago for “little extras” in schools. Does the Minister seriously believe that £100 million will have any appreciable effect on closing that gap? If so, it would be enlightening to hear what little extras he envisages that money might fund.
Getting the right workforce is key to the delivery of childcare in early years, to provide the interventions that can make a real difference to a child’s development. Earlier this year, a report by the Education Policy Institute found that there are risks to the quality, capacity and sustainability of providers in that sector, where pay is typically lower than in other sectors of the economy and much lower in PVIs—the private sector—than in school-based settings. The workforce still suffers from low status in society and in the education system itself, making it difficult to attract qualified staff.
We certainly endorse the Sutton Trust’s recommendation that the Government should move towards early years teachers having qualified teacher status, with the increase in pay, conditions and status that would entail. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. Labour believes that the workforce will need to be expanded if we are to move to a system that offers not just childcare but high-quality early years education, a workforce with high qualification levels, and graduate leadership in settings. Our aim is to bring about a transformation in the early years workforce, with all staff qualified to level 3 or working towards that level of qualification, and a strengthened role for level 4 and level 5 qualifications to create clear progression routes for staff. The target is a ratio of one graduate per 10 children for two year-olds and under, and one graduate per 17 three and four year-olds. A Labour Government will introduce a national education service, with one of its key developments a focus on early intervention, with a funding rate allowing childcare providers to invest gradually in upskilling their workforce as more staff gain the necessary qualifications.
As my noble friend Lady McIntosh said, warm words and good intentions are not enough from the Government. As far as Labour is concerned, it is a question of political ambition. We state clearly that we have that ambition; if the Government have it, they do a passable job of keeping it hidden. The Minister’s Government like to talk the talk on social mobility and early intervention. It is long past time they began to walk the walk. I am happy to echo the words of my noble friend Lord Pendry, who said that if they cannot demonstrate that they are a caring Government, they should make way for one that will.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on securing this important debate. I am grateful for this opportunity to set out the Government’s actions to improve children’s social mobility and life chances through early intervention. We have had many serious contributions today and I will attempt to answer the many questions that have been raised, but if I am not able to answer them all I will, of course, write to any noble Lords I have missed.
The Government are committed to early intervention and building the evidence base to underpin it. Early intervention means effective prevention, identification and evidence-based intervention across multiple professions, which places the child at the centre. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, are right that early intervention saves money and saves wasted lives. We can all agree on that. I welcome my right honourable friend Andrea Leadsom’s ministerial working group, which will review how to improve the support available to families in the first two years of a child’s life. Early intervention is a cross-government concern.
Research suggests that there are short and long-term educational and socioemotional benefits of attending early childhood education and care. This Government have prioritised investment in early education. This includes 15 hours of free early education per week for all three and four year-olds and an additional 15 hours per week for three and four year-olds of working parents. Since 2013 we have invested over £2 billion in early education for disadvantaged two year-olds and nearly 750,000 children have benefited from this. I take on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, about the high salary entitlement that can trigger this support and I will certainly refer this to the Treasury for the next spending review.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Russell, asked questions on early years and I hope I will be able to address their points. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, asked what assessment will be made of whether new spending on preschool children is improving social mobility. The free entitlements are just one part of the overall package for social mobility in the early years. We announced a range of initiatives to support disadvantaged children in our social mobility action plan, Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, investing £100 million across early years programmes, and we will be evaluating the impact. To answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, we are in the process of raising a tender exercise for that at the moment.
We are determined to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers and the early years are crucial to getting this right. The gap for children achieving a good level of development continues to narrow, from 19 percentage points in 2013 to 17 percentage points in 2017. We continue to monitor the progress of children in early years through the publication of the early years foundation stage profile. The study of early education and development also began in 2013 and is following almost 6,000 children between the ages of two and seven to understand the benefits of early education and care in England.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked that we ensure that nursery settings are led by someone with a relevant degree-level qualification. We recognise the importance of having a highly skilled early years workforce. Recruiting graduate early years teachers into the private, voluntary and independent early years sector remains a challenge, despite significant investment by successive Governments since 2006. It is therefore important that we consider complementary approaches to developing the skills of the early years workforce. This is why, as announced in the social mobility action plan, we will be investing £20 million in early years professional development activity in disadvantaged areas. We remain committed to ensuring that there are routes to graduate-level qualifications into the early years sector, as well as the existing early years initial teacher training programme that offers funded places and bursaries. We will also be developing apprenticeship pathways, enabling those in the early years workforce to progress up to a graduate-level qualification.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, asked how we will prioritise the potential for the early arts as a method of learning. Expressive arts and design is one of the seven areas of learning in the early years foundation stage. It provides a framework for teachers to assess how children’s artistic, creative and imaginative development is progressing, reflecting the importance of creativity in the early years. Expressive art and design is one of the most important ways for a young person’s mind to develop. I reassure all speakers today that the Government are focused on that.
The evidence is clear that the home learning environment is one of the biggest influences on a child’s vocabulary at the age of three and that its quality varies depending on socioeconomic and other factors. We are committed to supporting parents to improve the quality and quantity of adult-child interactions to help unlock the power of learning in the home. That is why we are holding a summit this month where we will convene businesses, broadcasters and a broad range of other organisations to launch a coalition to explore innovative ways to boost early language development and reading in the home. We recognise the importance of growing the evidence base and are working with the Education Endowment Foundation on a £5 million trial of evidence-based home learning support programmes in the North of England.
Local authorities sit at the heart of delivering effective early intervention services. We want to support this, which is why we are working with the Local Government Association to develop our early years local government programme, which is worth £8.5 million. The programme focuses on improving how the local services that work together to improve children’s outcomes in the early years are delivered, with a particular focus on early language. Children’s centres have an important role to play, but it is right that local councils continue to decide how to use them as part of their wider system of local services.
The noble Lords, Lord Loomba and Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, all mentioned the importance of early intervention. Good-quality relationships between parents are critical for child outcomes. The reducing parental conflict programme will support all local areas to embed parental-conflict support into wider services for children and will work to ensure that evidence-based interventions are more widely available. We know that alcohol misuse can severely impact on parental conflict, which is why we are investing £6 million to improve the outcomes of children of alcohol-dependent parents.
We have committed over £920 million to the troubled families programme from 2015 and 2020. This focuses on preventive services and aims to achieve significant and sustained improvement for up to 400,000 families with multiple high-cost problems by 2020. The programme, delivered through local authorities and their partners, advocates a whole-family integrated approach across multiple services.
In addition to targeted work, we have national health programmes that support early intervention. These include the healthy child programme, which aims to identify issues early. It is led by health visitors and includes five mandated health reviews, advice, guidance and support to improve outcomes and to support the families of children from birth to five years. Building on this, my department is working in partnership with Public Health England to equip health visitors to support families with early language in the home and ensure that any speech delays are picked up early and the right support put in place.
Engagement with maternity services may be the first time that a woman experiences regular and in-depth interaction with the health and care system. The maternity workforce is well placed to support the long-term health and well-being of women and their babies. In March 2018 we announced a pledge to give the majority of women continuity of care from the same midwives throughout their pregnancy, labour and birth by 2021. The maternity transformation programme led by NHS England is leading system-wide activity to improve well-being, reduce risk and tackle inequalities from the preconception period through to eight weeks after birth. The Government are also investing £365 million between 2015 and 2021 in perinatal mental health services to improve outcomes for mothers and children.
There has been a tremendous focus on children’s mental health from speakers today. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Touhig, all raised this important area. One important initiative is Public Health England promoting local adoption of what is known as the prevention concordat for better mental health, which focuses on galvanising action to prevent mental health problems and promote good mental health in all local areas. The design is consciously cross-sector so that professionals from a diverse spectrum of organisations can engage and play their part.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked about the amount of financial capacity in the system. We have announced a package of some £300 million for children and young people’s mental health: £215 million from the Department of Health and Social Care for mental health support teams and £95 million in DfE funding for training designated senior leads for mental health in schools.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked about the impact of outdoor schools on mental health. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her involvement in this area. There is no doubt that exposure to open countryside has an enormously positive impact on young people. The early years foundation stage picks up elements of attachment through personal, social and emotional development. As part of this stage, providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and undertaken daily. On a personal note, I am the Minister who deals with any application for disposal of land in schools, and I have made it very clear to all schools that apply to me that disposals are conditional on improvement of sporting facilities in those schools.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, asked about obesity. I have to express a slight conflict of interest here: as a farmer who grows 3,500 tonnes of sugar beet a year I am slightly on the other side, but I absolutely support the obesity strategy, through which we aim to take 45 million kilograms of sugar out of the food system every year. It is absolutely clear to me that sugar is highly addictive: I am certainly one of its victims and I fight the addiction every day. The more we can do in the early stages for children, to remove that dependency on sugar, the better. It astonishes me that you can buy fizzy drinks in supermarkets for less than you pay for bottled water.
We want to support all young people to be happy, healthy and safe. This is why we are making relationships education compulsory in all primary schools, relationships and sex education compulsory in all secondary schools, and health education compulsory for primary and secondary state-funded schools. In health education, there is a focus on avoiding the damaging effects and risks of drugs and excessive alcohol. The Government are committed to supporting the life chances of children who need particular support from the state. Children in need and looked-after children fall behind from the early years, and these poor outcomes are entrenched throughout childhood and adolescence.
Since the Munro review of child protection in England, which highlighted that the use of evidence is fundamental to social work, the Government have prioritised innovation, learning from evidence and best practice. We have invested almost £200 million since 2014 in the children’s social care innovation programme to develop, test and spread innovative new ways of supporting vulnerable children and improving their outcomes. Through the children in need review, we are building the evidence on what works to improve the educational outcomes of children in need, both in and out of school. We are seeking to understand why their educational outcomes are so poor and what needs to be in place to achieve consistently better educational outcomes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked about the impact of funding on social care demand. The drivers of demand are complex: for example, the sector-led care crisis review found many overlapping factors contributing to the rise in care proceedings and children entering care. There is not a uniform picture but instead, significant variation. We have invested almost £270 million since 2014 to help local authorities learn from what works and to support improvements. We have invested in the Early Intervention Foundation to help build evidence in early intervention strategies. We have invested £10 million since 2014 in the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care to improve the evidence base in children’s social care, with the aim of translating this into better practice. In the autumn Budget the Government announced £84 million in targeted, evidence-based interventions, with the aim of reducing demand and saving money for local authorities. Most importantly, this is about improving the quality of services for our most vulnerable children.
Through our partners in practice programme, we are working with 20 of the best local authorities to deepen our understanding of what excellent children’s social care looks like and working with other local authorities to improve their practice through sector improvement support. A number of speakers asked about this. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, asked about the APPG. I give recognition to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, as co-chair of the APPG for Children’s report, Storing Up Trouble. Since 2010, 45 of what were previously inadequate local authorities in which we have intervened have left inadequacy behind and not returned. This is not intervention for intervention’s sake but improving the lives of children and families. Recently we have gone further, investing £20 million in regional improvement to get ahead of failure.
Our partners in practice programme, which, by the way, has now grown to include 20 of our best authorities, is sharing and spreading excellence across the country. The APPG report recommends that the department works with the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care and sector partners to evaluate new and developing approaches to meeting the needs of children and families. I am pleased to say that this is already happening. An early priority for the What Works Centre is to understand what works to safely reduce the need for children to enter care and to build our confidence that children are entering care only when that is the best option for them. There are promising signs emerging from our £200 million innovation programme.
On the question from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about the lack of capacity, since the 2015 spending review we have made more than £200 billion available up to 2020 for councils to deliver local services. This includes children’s services. Funding is important but so is how it is used.
My noble friend Lord Farmer mentioned the boarding school partnerships initiative. I am a huge supporter of this and tried very hard to raise its profile across government and, more importantly, across local authorities. Like my noble friend, I too was in a boarding school. My parents’ marriage collapsed and it was that stability and continuity that gave me the courage to continue my education. My noble friend raised the statistics that came out of the report, albeit a small one, from Norfolk. The figures are very powerful, particularly on outcomes—the percentage of children who came off the register as well as the overall cost. I am endeavouring to increase local authorities’ awareness of this. Almost 60 boarding schools have now committed to bursaries and to helping vulnerable children. My particular focus here is looked-after children who, as we know, get a very raw deal in life.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, asked whether I agree that the school system is vital in preparing the whole child, as I would describe a young person. The Government have invested more than £12 billion in pupil premium over the last seven years, particularly aimed at the most vulnerable members of society. The Progress 8 measure is aimed very much at encouraging schools to lift up lesser-attaining pupils when they enter school. I accept that data can be somewhat dry, but from my business experience, what gets measured gets done. We are seeing some tremendous improvements in these areas.
I commend my noble friend Lord Baker for his passion for education and for everything he has done in his long career in politics. No Peer in this Chamber has spent more time in my office in the last year than my noble friend. I share his passion for technical education. We cannot always agree on everything, but I have tried very hard to help as much as I can. The UTC programme is important, dealing with a cohort of children who are clearly more suited to a technical education. I do not believe that the picture is as bleak as he paints: we now have the T-level programme, to which we are committing some £500 million a year. The EBacc programme, which I know is controversial in this House, is aimed particularly at those from less advantaged backgrounds whose ability to go to good universities is restricted.
My Lords, I know the noble Lord is coming to the end of his remarks, but I hope we have enough time for me just to say that it is not controversial in this House only; it is controversial at large. There are very many people who believe that the EBacc is misguided in the narrowness of its base.
I accept that the noble Baroness says that it is controversial; we will have to agree to differ at this time. I would like to pick up on a slightly more positive issue that she raised in the debate on music and facilitating subjects the other day. I have spoken to two Ministers in the Department since, and have agreed that we will write to some universities to test their appetite for adding music A-level to the facilitating subject range.
I apologise, I am running out of time, but I want to say I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken today. All of you have shown great passion and expertise in this area. We all agree that early intervention is vital to promote children’s attainment, health and well-being through their lives. The Government, across departments, will continue to make progress on this agenda, to improve the life chances of this nation’s children, particularly those in most need of support.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response and for his sincerity. He will recognise that too much is not working for families and young people, and that what gets measured does not necessarily get done. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I will not focus on any single noble Lord; they know who they are and they have helped me to develop some conclusions. I said at the beginning of this debate that I thought—rather selfishly—that noble Lords would say what I wanted them to say. Well, they have, and they have done more: they have been brilliant. They have provided many examples and anecdotes of which we should take note. The debate has been thoughtful and powerful. I wish it had been a seminar, rather than a series of speeches. We may have got a lot out of talking to each other.
I have a number of things to say to the Minister; one is a request. First, we should tackle the social determinants of health and education, such as poverty and homelessness, as a matter of priority.
Secondly, we should ensure that young people’s education, at every stage, is broad and balanced—many people have said this—recognising that an over-emphasis on drilling pupils to pass tests is counterproductive and may result in mental health deficiencies. Young people do better all round, including academically, when their education contains, yes, intellectual challenge, but also when it focuses on the arts, physical activity and social skills.
Thirdly, the Minister has touched on how we have loads of measurements and analyses. Can we look please look more at what works. The Minister did mention this— I do not think we do enough of it. We have many brilliant and successful examples at a local level of people working with children and parents. Let us look locally seriously; we cannot keep depriving local authorities of funding. They are where it happens. They are currently unable to support young people and their development. They are forced to focus on crisis, rather than creativity and action.
Finally, would the Minister be prepared to talk to me and others about developing a national holistic policy for children and youth, which would be cross-governmental and involve our many excellent NGOs and other stakeholders? Such a policy might provide a holistic focus on action, rather than just words. With that, I beg to move.