Select Committee on Education and Employment First Report



9. Parents need to know and understand that children start learning before birth.[9] Ms Rosemary Roberts of Peers Early Education Partnership (PEEP) in Oxford said that there was good reason to play tapes to pregnant mothers for their babies to listen in the womb.[10] There is considerable evidence that maternal behaviours, such as smoking, drug or alcohol abuse and poor diet can affect the physical and neurological development of children.[11]

"Every child is individual and unique, and it is the task of each adult who comes in contact with the child to ensure that he or she has access to a broad and balanced curriculum. However, equality of opportunity cannot be achieved if all children are treated the same. There must be a recognition of diversity, so that there is no discrimination." —Asquith Court Early Years Curriculum, 1999, page 34.

10. Parents are the first and most enduring educators of their children.[12] As one private nursery explained "Parents are the most important people in a child's life. They are the child's first teachers".[13] Financial and social pressures can make it difficult for parents, particularly fathers, to contribute to their children's learning. The new concept of education in the Early Learning Goals values the contribution of parents, alongside educational settings in fostering children's learning. Dr Gillian Pugh told the Sub-committee: "If we want good outcomes for children, then we must look to the role of parents as their children's educators".[14]

11. We visited the Peers Early Education Partnership (PEEP) project in Oxford and were interested and impressed with a programme which aims to bring about a significant improvement in educational improvement—especially in literacy—to a whole community of children, from their birth, through working with their parents and other important adults. Access to PEEP is for all children in the area, from birth to five, and a new developmentally appropriate curriculum is delivered to babies and parents in weekly sessions. Children may borrow books which they choose for themselves, and parents are given small individual booklets in which they can keep records of their children's activities and progress. Members of the Sub-committee observed babies of only a few months listening to stories and sharing in songs and music with their parents under the guidance of a leader. PEEP complements existing pre-school and school provision and is aiming to develop a successful, sustainable, and transferable model.[15]

12. The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project, which includes the Sub-committee's specialist adviser Professor Kathy Sylva as one of its principal investigators, is a five-year longitudinal study which assesses the attainment and development of children between the ages of three to seven years.[16] The study investigates the contribution to children's development of individual and family characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, languages, parental education and the educational environment at home.[17] The researchers found that the mother's own educational background was highly significant, with children whose mother had higher levels of academic qualifications showing better results on all measures.[18] Children with fathers in professional occupations showed higher attainment for literacy skills, early number skills and non-verbal skills.[19] Certain aspects of the home learning environment were found to have a significant impact, even after controlling for parents' occupations and education.[20]

13. According to Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford, another of the principal Effective Provision of Pre-School Education researchers, "One of our most important findings to date is that there is this heavy impact of social and family characteristics and background but that the educational environment that parents create can span across the different backgrounds to create a positive outcome".[21] Professor Sylva told the Sub-committee that

    "ours is the first study in Britain to show that more important than the mother's educational qualifications is what the mother does with the child. Education matters, qualifications matter, but if the mother reads to the child, plays rhyming games, sings songs, talks about letters and sounds, and takes the child to the library, these behaviours at home are more important and can compensate for a low [mother's] educational level".[22]

14. Involving parents in the daily activities of their children's settings is an effective way to develop parents' skills and confidence and also to provide additional adult support for children's learning in the setting. Dr Pugh told the Sub-committee that "both parents, whether present or absent, need to understand that they have an absolutely critical role in relation to their children's learning".[23]


  • Encourage children to talk about how they feel, for example after a disagreement, when they are excited at seeing snow, or at the birth of a sibling.

  • Create a story with children, asking them to predict what will happen next.

  • Ask children to tell you about what they are going to do before they do it, and ask them to suggest possible outcomes, for example, 'It might break because there are too many in it'.

  • Help children to identify patterns, for example, 'He always sleeps in the day', draw conclusions, 'The sky has gone dark, it must be going to rain', explain effect, 'It sank because it was too heavy', predict, 'It might not grow in there if it is too dark', and speculate, 'What if the bridge falls down?'

  • Ask children to give reasons, further explanations or evidence for what they say.

  • Take an interest in what and how children think and not just what they know.

  • Encourage children to explore and ask about the meanings of words.

  • Encourage children to explain sometimes how things work in words rather than actions.
     —QCA Curriculum Guidance, page 59.

15. Professor Lesley Abbott of Manchester Metropolitan University argued that "parents are educated by seeing a different model of working with their children and I think the closer involvement in their child's pre-school or early education offers the parent the opportunity to see a different model of handling, a different way of responding to their children's needs".[24]

16. Professor Abbott recognised the importance of parents being able to choose to bring up their children entirely in their own home:[25] "I would just say that parents need to know how exciting, interesting and stimulating early childhood education is".[26] Ms Ann Jamieson of the Early Childhood Education Forum reminded the Sub-committee that "before the fifth birthday all this is voluntary. This education exists for children whose parents wish it".[27] Dr Nick Tate, then the Chief Executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, made a similar point: "The nature of the balance shifts with the different years. At pre five, because people are not obliged to send their children to school, the rights and views of parents are probably rather more important and stronger at that age, or should be, than they are post five".[28] Dr Margy Whalley of the Pen Green Centre Research, Training and Development Centre in Corby called for "a power sharing approach with parents where the rhetoric about parents as first educators becomes a reality. I think we have hugely underestimated parents' aspiration for their children and the ability of parents to become advocates on behalf of their children".[29]

17. We recommend that the Government should develop a Parents' Charter to be visible in every Early Years setting which affirms the centrality of the parent in the development and education of their child and welcomes them as vital educators of their children.

18. The learning which children bring from home to their pre-school settings needs to be built upon. We recommend that the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships should make the necessary resources available to support parental participation in Early Years activities.

19. Parents should be involved in helping practitioners to draw up individual profiles of their children to help the process of planning for their learning. We recommend that the DfEE should develop new forms of developmental profile at entry to school which would include parents' own contributions to assessment and planning. This dialogue between parents and practitioners should be one of the main points of the Parents' Charter.

20. Some parents have fewer advantages and resources than others with which to bring up children. We recommend that there should be more support given through the health, social services and education services working together to provide assistance to parents. We recommend that the Government should work with BBC Online and other innovative providers to produce appropriate programmes on parenting.


21. Childminding is an important part of care provision for parents with children—especially those under three—for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the parents are able to make choices about the type of provision which best suits their needs.[30] Parents with older children may employ a childminder to provide care before or after a half day session at playgroup or nursery class. A childminder can be near the parents' home or work, and also can be available for the parents if they work unsocial hours. Some parents prefer their child to be cared for in a home with one or two other children and always with the same carer, whom they have selected.

22. Childminders are required to register under the regulations of the Children Act 1989.[31] Their interests and needs are catered for by the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership in each local authority area. The National Childminding Association (NCMA) has welcomed some of the 14 proposed National Standards put forward in the DfEE's consultation pack,[32] particularly that all newly registered childminders should attend a recognised childminders introductory course before, or within six months of, starting childminding.[33]

23. We are encouraged that the new proposed standards also specify that providers should meet individual care needs and promote their welfare and that they should plan and provide a broad range of activities to develop children's emotional, physical, social and intellectual capabilities. Close co-operation and partnership with parents to meet the needs of the children both individually and as a group is crucial to successful childminding. The physical security of the children being looked after should never be compromised. As Mr Chris Woodhead, then Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, told the Sub-committee:

    "the security, the well­being of the child is obviously paramount and that is the first thing that we must be able to demonstrate through our regulation and inspection".[34]

24. We are very concerned that all quality national standards put forward for childcare should be of an equally high standard. The guidelines ban shaking as a punishment[35] but would allow childminders to smack children with the agreement of their parents.[36] This is totally unacceptable in our view in any setting, but particularly where the carer is often working in isolation. The National Childminding Association argued that smacking babies can never be acceptable practice in any childcare setting, and drew attention to a recent MORI poll which showed that most people believe that children under two should never be smacked by parents, let alone a by a professional childcare worker like a registered childminder.[37]

25. We are equally concerned about the proposal that childminders should be allowed to smoke while caring for children. In no other setting would this be allowed.[38] In its recent Report,[39] the Health Select Committee drew attention to evidence from the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health who concluded that "smoking in the presence of infants and children is a cause of serious respiratory illness and asthmatic attacks. Sudden infant death syndrome ... is associated with exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. The association is judged to be one of cause and effect"[40] and the report of the Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy which indicated that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was substantially more prevalent in households where an infant was exposed to tobacco smoke.[41] The National Childminding Association argues that smoking in front of children can also never be acceptable practice in any childcare setting.[42]

26. We endorse the DfEE's recommendation that childminders should attend a recognised childminder's course within six months of starting childminding and that regular in-service courses should continue to be a part of every childminder's programme.

27. We recommend that no childminder should be allowed to smack any child in their care.

28. We recommend that no childminder should be permitted to smoke in the presence of any child in their care.


29. Day nurseries form a large part of the provision for the Early Years and receive children from the age of a few months to five years. Some parents who work long hours find this provision meets their needs for day care.

30. The National Day Nurseries Association is very concerned about the overall quality of provision. They welcomed the Early Learning Goals and told the Sub-committee that they had "long argued for the enhancement of Early Years qualifications and the development of a ladder of progression".[43] The aims and objectives for the curriculum of one private day nursery are that "the first prime aim and objective is to produce happy, confident children who are interested in all they see, hear and do and who have enquiring minds. All other aims and objectives stem from this".[44]

31. It is difficult to maintain close relationships with parents in day nurseries since the parents are frequently hurrying to work in the mornings and eager to get home after a long day at work. The nurseries are aware of this and express the need for a close partnership between parents and children. There is concern in the private sector that there are two separate inspection systems, since the Early Learning Goals " ... have provided a unique opportunity for day nurseries to be part of the process of early education and be recognised for their expertise through the OFSTED inspection process".[45]


32. The years from birth to five plus are crucial in determining children's life chances. Sure Start sets out to address the challenge of helping children in more disadvantaged areas. Sure Start is not so much an education and care initiative but an integration of care and health services. There was clear evidence of the benefits of providing quality support services for babies and young parents. The objectives, scale and scope of the Sure Start initiative are most impressive. Although it was at a very early stage of development, it was felt by many witnesses that this targeted intervention programme in areas of high disadvantage had the potential to break cycles of dependency and to combat social exclusion and educational under-achievement. According to Ms Tan Lea, the Director of the Rosehill Littlemore Sure Start in Oxford:

Dr Gillian Pugh of Coram Family warned that Sure Start should not be separate from the rest of Early Years education:

    "Sure Start is fantastic, it is one of the most exciting things this Government is doing. However, Sure Start will only be effective if it becomes a mainstream strategy and not a short term initiative which disappears in four years time. In addition it needs to change the way we run services across the country, not just in the 250 areas in which it is based. It will only work if the lessons we learn from working with children under three are consistent and continuous with what we know about working with children from three upwards".[47]

33. We recommend that the years from birth to five plus should be viewed as the first phase of education, in which the involvement of families and parents will be crucial. Since education and care are inseparable, there should be a universal service under the leadership of a single Government Department.

34. We recommend that Government funding should be made available to support the sharing of best practice and learning from the experience of the Sure Start centres.

9  Appendix 6 para. 8. Back

10  Q. 118. Back

11  See Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation, Cm 4386, July 1999, chapter 3. Back

12  Q. 299; QCA Early Learning Goals, page 17. Back

13  Asquith Court Early Years Curriculum, 1999. Back

14  Q. 3. Back

15  See QQ. 108-118 and Appendix 37. Back

16  Ev. pp. 180-187. Back

17  Ev. p. 181. Back

18  Ev. p. 183. The measures included literacy skills, early number skills, non-verbal skills and language attainment. Back

19  Ev. p. 183. Back

20  Ev. p. 183. Back

21  Q. 382. Back

22  Q. 389. Back

23  Q. 18. Back

24  Q. 202. Back

25  Q. 208. Back

26  Q. 211. Back

27  Q. 246. Back

28  Q. 299. Back

29  Q. 324. Back

30  See the National Centre for Social Research study by Ivana La Valle, Steven Finch, Andrea Nove, and Charlotte Lewin, Parents' Demand for Childcare, DfEE Research Report RR176, December 1999. Back

31  See DfEE circular 1/99 (issued jointly with Department of Health as its Local Authority Circular No. (99) 2). Back

32  DfEE Consultation on national standards for the regulation of day care and childminding in England, July 2000. Available on the Internet at Back

33  DfEE Consultation on national standards for childminders, July 2000, section 1.6; National Childminding Association Press Release 247, 28 July 2000. Back

34  Q. 405. Back

35  DfEE Consultation on national standards for childminders, July 2000, section 11.4. Back

36  DfEE Consultation on national standards for childminders, July 2000, section 11.5. Back

37  National Childminding Association Press Release 247, 28 July 2000. Back

38  Each of the other sections of the July 2000 DfEE Consultation on national standards for the regulation of day care and childminding in England refers to a no smoking policy. Back

39  Second Report from the Health Committee, Session 1999-2000, The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking, HC 27, paras. 25-27. Back

40  Report of the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health, 1998, p. 33. Back

41  Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy, The CESDI SUDI Studies 1993-1996, Eds. P. Fleming, P. Blair, C. Bacon and J. Berry, 2000, p. 90. Back

42  National Childminding Association Press Release 247, 28 July 2000. Back

43  Appendix 26, para. 3.1. Back

44  Asquith Court Early Years Curriculum, 1999. Back

45  Appendix 26, para. 1.1. Back

46  Q. 127. Back

47  Q. 2. Back

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