HL Deb 08 March 2005 vol 670 cc617-9
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to ensure adequate provision of training in childcare to enable the expansion of Sure Start and other childcare initiatives.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, we are providing £129 million to local authorities in England over the two years 2004–06 for developing the early years and childcare workforce. We are also working closely with the Learning and Skills Council and nationally to raise the profile of the childcare sector and help to ensure that training provision meets demand. All local LSCs and local authorities now have shared targets for training childcare workers.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that welcome information on International Women's Day. Does he agree that the expansion of high quality childcare places is not only essential for the health and well-being of our children but is also economically important in that it provides additional jobs for childcare workers—the majority of whom are women—and enables many mothers to work with peace of mind? Will he assure me that, in addition to providing the good training about which he spoke earlier, the Government will ensure that the expansion of Sure Start and other childcare initiatives will be underpinned by sound quality standards?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I can categorically assure my noble friend on the last part of her question. We plan to expand from the 500 Sure Start centres to some 2,500 by 2008 and embedded in those will be the principles that have proved so successful in the Sure Start programme to date. Of course, as she said, Sure Start has demonstrated the ability to give women more choice over their own lives in ways that they think appropriate and to help the development of children so that they are able to live more fulfilled lives in the future.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, in view of the specialised nature of the work with young children, will the Government establish a new qualification of qualified early years teacher as we on these Benches propose? Secondly, will he assure the House that all the new workers for the expansion of Sure Start will have adequate training in how to spot the early signs of child abuse?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is absolutely right. Part of the common core training for all those who work with children is the identification of harm and risk, as it should be. The answer to her earlier question is that we are seeking to ensure that all people who work with children have that common core as part of their developmental training, so increasingly there is a convergence of training across sectors. That allows people who go in as childcare workers to progress to more senior positions and to other parts of the childcare workforce. That is what they want and what we need to ensure that we do not lose talented people from the children's workforce.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, having succeeded the late Lady Brigstocke last year as chairman of Home-Start International, may I thank the Minister for the help that the charity and our voluntary schemes around the world, particularly in Africa, are receiving both from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and from the Department for International Development? Will the Minister please convey our thanks to those departments?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I very much appreciate those words. When I met Home-Start recently I was, like the noble Lord, very impressed indeed with the work that it has done. I shall be delighted to pass on his compliments in the courteous way that he has expressed them.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, the Sure Start guidance states: By March 2004, 400,000 children will have access to 524 Sure Start programmes". Will the Minister confirm that that has actually happened and, if it has not, did training difficulties cause part of the problem?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I am virtually certain that it has happened because we know that we already have more than 500 Sure Start schemes. There has been an amazing growth of the Sure Start workforce and of the childcare workforce over recent years. Local authorities have responded well to the growing childcare workforce and to growing early years education, which is equally important. Just to give that focus, we have created 1.6 million new childcare places over the past seven years and, of course, a workforce that goes behind that to make those places a reality.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, the Government have recently emphasised the importance of local consultation with parents. Will the Minister give an assurance about the long-term funding strategy? If that is to develop, there must be some kind of long-term plan.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the long-term funding for Sure Start could not be stronger. What started off as a 10-year pilot has now been accepted by the Government to be a permanent part of the infrastructure for children. That is instanced by the figure that I gave earlier that we will expand to 2,500 Sure Start centres embedded in children's centres by 2008 and 3,500 by 2010. There are realistic implementation plans to deliver that and make it a reality. Of course, the involvement of parents, which has been such a critical part of the success of Sure Start, must be embedded into the development of Sure Start into children's centres.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I appreciate the final sentence of the Minister's reply to the right reverend Prelate about the involvement of parents, but does he have any statistics on the number of adults working in childcare now who lack the necessary qualifications and therefore will have to be trained? How many more will be needed to fulfil the Government's programme for the expansion of Sure Start into children's centres?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, as ever the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has challenged me on the specifics of the detail. I can say for certain that when we publish the children's workforce strategy in the near future, we expect to set out very clearly how the whole workforce needs to develop. As he knows, we set out for the first time in 2001 clear national standards for the training and development of childcare workers where there had previously not been any standards. However, he is right to raise a wider issue about the extent to which the children's workforce will need, over time, to develop its richness and skills to meet the pedagogic goals set by the Every Child Matters agenda.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's aspirations and what has been achieved through Sure Start. Does he recognise that much of current nursery provision is of a poor quality? Does he have plans to assist the workforce—mostly women—to ensure that they can organise themselves so that their pay, training and ongoing support better reflect the critical nature of their work?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I am not anything like as depressed as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I am not saying that the quality of all nursery education is perfect, but there are many good nursery facilities and many excellent early years facilities. I agree with him that raising quality is a continual goal. We are clear that quality childcare and early years education make the difference. It is not just the supply; it has to be good quality to raise children's educational and social development rather than just to "mind them". Therefore that is firmly on our agenda.

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