Examination of Witness (Questions 70 -
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
70. Most of us would say we would not like to
start from here, but we do have to start from here. So what would
your first two priorities be? Secondly, you talk a lot about nursery
schools. Yes, I accept that nursery schools do a grand job, but
people's real lives are, certainly in my constituency, that they
need child care from 7 o'clock in the morning very often to maybe
6 o'clock at night and that might change every day of the week.
So nursery schools are great but they are only one very small
part of the package.
(Professor Penn) My point about nursery schools is
that they could be so much more. As you may know, I have carried
out research into nursery schools and the attempts they are making
to develop integrated services, and those attempts are considerable
but they do tend to be stymied at every turn by the way in which
they are viewed within the education sector. I certainly do not
agree with the notion of part-time nursery entitlement. If the
Government could be persuaded again to look at the notion of part-time
nursery entitlement and how it fits with other forms of provision
other than wrap-around care, whether it can be extended, that
would be a major step forward. Also, perhaps the Government could
look in more detail at the way in which nursery schools themselves
could be helped to expand to provide a more integrated setting.
Most of the early excellence centres are in fact ex-nursery schools.
I agree with you, nursery schools as they are currently conceived
by the Government within the education framework are inadequate,
but it seems to me they do have the base for offering so much
71. So if you were to present two key priorities
to Margaret Hodge next week, what would they be?
(Professor Penn) Look again at the nursery entitlement
and systematise the funding so there are not 81 different little
caches on which to apply for funds. We heard from Pam, Pam has
a full-time job looking for money, and that should not be necessary.
There should be a central pot of funding applied to Early Years.
72. What would you say to people who say when
you look at the Government's performance over these last four
years that one of the refreshing bits about it is in a sense if
there is an ideology about it it is pragmatism, looking for solutions
which actually work. That sometimes does lead to a proliferation
of initiatives and in the education sector at large people talk
about initiative fatigue but some of us believe that one has to
try a range of things in order to see what works. Some of the
things the Committee saw when we looked at this inquiry were very
encouraging and would never have happened without innovation,
trying something different. Some of them we could see perhaps
were not going to survive, thrive or influence anyone, but others
were. Would you not agree that that kind of innovation, trying
a number of ideas pragmatically and evaluating them on the evidence
of success, is better than thinking there is a holistic approach
which says, "Bang, we are going to have a state sector system,
cradle to 8 or whatever, all financed by the state, and that is
the better system"? Surely that has not worked all that well?
(Professor Penn) I do not think I am saying that either.
73. Okay. I am parodying it to bring you out,
in a sense.
(Professor Penn) I certainly think that pragmatism
and innovation and so on are necessities certainly at a local
level as well as at a government level, but I do not think they
can compensate for the absence of any coherent policy, and it
is that absence of policy, that lack of coherence about funding,
the failure to realise the problems which the policies are causing,
which really concerns me and I think others.
74. You said there had been dribbles of money
but the evidence given to this Committee is that we are talking
about in excess of £7 billion pumped into this pre-school
age. That is a lot of money when the university sector, the 11
to 16 sector, every sector is looking for more government investment.
(Professor Penn) I certainly think the Government's
accounting needs to be scrutinised more carefully, because a lot
of this money is, as some people have pointed out, double-counting
and it is not quite as straightforward as it may appear.
75. So you think the Committee has been hoodwinked
on those figures?
(Professor Penn) I think there is room for a real
economic investigation into the way this funding operates and
whether or not it is the kind of amounts the Government truly
claims. I am hoping to persuade the Social Market Foundation to
carry out such research. I am not claiming there has not been
enough funding, I am saying the approach has been fragmented.
A lot of it is short-term money, which means projects are unsustainable,
the turnover of projects is enormous. In Margaret Hodge's own
constituency, where I work, in Barking and Dagenham, the number
of carers who have left the profession equals the number recruited
in. The number of child care places over four years has remained
constant despite the fact they have had all these new people coming
on, because so many of the projects which are funded locally are
simply unsustainable. They get their money for three years, they
do not get quite enough money so they have to cast around, and
in the end the effort gets too much and they give up. I did ask
Margaret about the turnover and the measure of turnover of facilities,
of carers and of children in different kinds of settings, what
kind of record she had of that, and I am afraid there is not one.
I think that is a very important thing for the Government to try
and introduce into the child care audit.
76. Can we turn and deal with your experience
in terms of international child care programmes, the only foreign
visit we made was to Denmark.
(Professor Penn) Were you impressed?
77. We were in part. In part it was an impressive
system. It was a very expensive system, income tax is 50 per cent
and VAT is 25 per cent in that country, it is hardly likely that
most parties in this country would try to persuade the electorate
to accept that in the next election. Overall there were aspects
of it that we thought were wonderful and others that were of a
little concern to us. What is the right system that you have identified?
Is it Denmark, where we went, or is there some other system that
you think we could adopt?
(Professor Penn) I think all systems have their strengths
and weaknesses and, of course, they have grown up within a particular
national tradition, so it is virtually impossible to lift one
system and put it in another place. I do think that the essence
of the Scandinavian system, which we could learn from, is the
fact that they do have very integrated policies for the Early
Years and they do not have this notion of division between nursery,
child care or wrap-around care but they do have an integrated
approach as opposed to the kind of competitive market orientation
we have. It is quite common for children, I think, as some of
the other witnesses have said, to move between several settings
in the course of a week. Over the course of their first five years
they are likely to go through a whole series of different arrangements.
As I say, we would not tolerate that here in any other part of
the education system, yet for very young children we think this
kind of turnover and moving about is acceptable.
78. Do colleagues want to ask any last questions
before we wrap this up? Helen, is there anything you would like
to say to the Committee that you think would be regrettable if
it was left unsaid? We very much enjoyed your evidence.
(Professor Penn) I think all I can say is, all power
to your elbow.
79. We have a couple more minutes, I really
want to press you on the training and professionalism. You heard
what the National Training Organisation said.
(Professor Penn) Yes.
80. What is the way forward in terms of producing
a highly trained and professional perspective in the centre?
(Professor Penn) Because so many child care workers
are working in the private sector, where profits, necessarily,
have to come near the top of their agenda, I do not realistically
see that things are going to change very much for the majority
of child care workers. There could possibly be local funds to
enable the kind of on-going training that various organisations
would like to see. The situation of training reflects the wider
picture. The only additional comment I might make is about the
Early Years degree routes, which I do know about, since I work
on one, and I think that the transfer between the NTO, child care
qualifications and the degree routes are not really worked out
very well. The OECD commented on financial proposals for training
and I am sure that is in the process of being addressed.
81. The last point, you have done some work
on men working.
(Professor Penn) That was some time ago.
82. One of the worries we had, and was shared
by colleagues we met in Denmark, is that a very small percentage
of men come into this sector, both in this country and in Denmark.
Is this just a question of pay or what is at the heart of the
reluctance of men to come into this setting?
(Professor Penn) My own research, which was for the
DfEE and indirectly for the OECD, suggested that there were very
profound gender differences in the way in which men and women
view working with young children. Like everything else, unfortunately,
it is really rather complex, it is not just a question of encouraging
more men, it is a also question of the kind of general attitudes
we hold in society and how they are more broadly addressed.
83. Thank you very much for your appearance
before the Committee and to all of you who have taken the time
to come back to us. I hope you found the process worthwhile, this
is pretty cutting edge for us, you know, asking people to come
and say, "What do you think of our work?"
(Professor Penn) "Would you vote
for the Government the next time round?"
Chairman: We did not ask that, this is a select
committee. Thank you very much for your attendance.