Of course, this is not a new issue; we are simply shining a light on it. We recently published extensive data showing the poor educational outcomes for children in need. A call for evidence has been launched to develop our understanding. My Department is also working with three What Works centres to build our national evidence base on improving those outcomes.
That was a bit of a poor answer. The number of children’s centres has halved since 2010, 350 Sure Start centres have closed, children’s services departments in local authorities are struggling with budgets and getting enough staff, and more children are being taken into care, so that answer is quite frankly not good enough. What are the Government going to do to ensure that we have more early intervention to prevent those problems from happening in the first place?
We are determined to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. The early years are crucial to getting that right. The gap continues to narrow, having gone from 19 to 17 percentage points. In our ambitious £800 million plan, “Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential”, we committed £100 million of investment to help close the gap further. Councils decide how they use children’s centres in the overall provision, and I have seen great work being done in Wigan, Hackney and Staffordshire. It is not simply about bricks and mortar.
I would like to associate myself and the Liberal Democrats with the tributes paid to Dame Tessa Jowell. She was an inspiration, particularly in the area of early-years provision.
Looked-after children in Oxfordshire could have to wait for up to six months to get into the secondary school that they need to, primarily because local authorities do not have the directive powers over academies that they do over maintained schools. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the most vulnerable children do not miss a day of school?
I also pay my own tribute to Dame Tessa Jowell, who was a constituent of mine and helped me in this place when I arrived here as a young novice.
Those most disadvantaged children, to whom the hon. Lady referred, are actually given priority during the admissions process.