Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
HODGE, MBE AND
120. They are not in your Early Years Partnership
(Ms Hodge) No, but we are now going to have a hundred
by 2004. All the research evidence initial findings clearly demonstrates
that they are proving very much their worth. Every pound we spend
on a child in a setting like that, multi-agency support, saves
£8 in alternative spending in the early years of a child's
life, which mirrors very much the American data on that so I do
not think we will be found to be terribly wrong even in 20 years'
time. What we ask of them when we designate Early Excellence Centres
is that they should cascade out their practice to other Early
Years providers in their area. A lot of them do training, a lot
of them spend time having people coming in and watching how they
operate and how they deliver and offer services to children.
121. I just want to push you a little further
on that, Minister. The thrust of the article by David Walker in
The Guardian yesderday touches I think on a very important
point. On the one hand he gives full praise and says that the
Government is not getting enough recognition for the enormous
work it has done in pre-school, so it is a very generous precursor.
But what he says is really the essence of it is that most of the
work and most of the money and resources are flowing to those
people who are from more challenged and socially deprived backgrounds.
He says if you want to capture the imagination of the rest of
the population and the people that the rest of this Committee
will be facing pre-election very shortly is actually capturing
the middle ground in terms of both the excitement, the opportunity
of having quality pre-school provision for everyone. It was interesting,
when I asked you the question about the beacon, that you immediately
went to an exemplar which was targeted towards those communities
which were more deprived.
(Ms Hodge) No, it is not.
122. Oh, is it not?
(Ms Hodge) They are all over the place.
123. All of the ones that this Committee looked
at were actually in areas of deprivation.
(Ms Hodge) There is one in Oxfordshire which is in
the middle of a market townI am trying to think what it
is calledwhich is very far from deprived.
124. Chipping Norton, I am told.
(Ms Hodge) That is it. You would not really call that
in a highly deprived area.
125. Okay, Minister, that is a fair point, but
what about the main thrust of the article that David Walker presents,
that you have got to capture that broader market, what he called
middle-class support that would then demand good quality pre-school
(Ms Hodge) The first thing isI would say it,
wouldn't I, and in fact I have written a letter to The Guardian
today saying this, which they may or may not publish and which
I said tongue in cheekthat if I had a pound for every time
I try to get publicity for the very good stuff we are doing and
the papers choose not to cover it, I think I would have a load
of money to develop a whole lot of new nurseries. There is a lot
happening that they choose not to cover because it is a good story.
That is the first thing. The second thing to say is that we have
done research among parents, BMRB did a research project for the
Women's Unit, and 76 per cent of parents think that child care
has improved under this Government. That is, I think, an incredibly
good record of which we are proud, and if we are reaching the
mums it is probably more important than reaching the media. The
third thing is that we are providing for the first time free nursery
education for all three- and four-year olds. Actually, what is
so interesting about this is that no previous government has ever
funded free nursery places for three-year olds. We are now having
a phased expansion. What do I get? Hundreds of letters from a
whole range of parents and they tend to be (the ones who are not
getting it yet) the ones who are not in the less disadvantaged
areas, saying, "Why haven't I got this now?" As we roll
it out there is a growing demand there for what we are offering
and that is free. The other thing that the Day Care Trust said,
and that was borne out by other things, was that 93 per cent of
parents want much better quality child care, so that is what we
are responding to. The final thing is, should the state subsidise
more child care in the way that, let us say, they do in Sweden?
Again, I think from where we are at and how we want to grow, the
fact that we are targeting low income families to enable them
to access high quality child care is the appropriate way to go.
Maybe five, ten years down the line when we have got a much stronger
sector, when the Neighbourhood Nurseries have grown from 900 to
9,000 with a bit of luck, we can think again about resources,
but it is right as we expand it to target low income families.
126. I do not want to make a meal of this and
I appreciate everything you have said, but one of the clear and
powerful pieces of evidence spoken from the heart last week here
was that the real area of concern was that yes, all these things
are good which you say but it only makes up quite a certain part
of the child's day. What one of the witnesses said was that what
is of most concern to the people in pre-school is that a child
is hawked around during the day and week to several settings and
that cannot be good for a child. There is not enough joined-up
provision that is both good for a working parent or a busy parent
and good for a child. The Committee has not been pushing you to
make statements but when we went to Denmark we found very great
resistance to the state doing everything, and of course they have
income tax at 50 per cent and VAT at 25 per cent. On the other
hand, we do believe the Government should lead a bit more firmly
and positively to encourage perhaps the private sector to give
that full range of services: the after school provision, the pre-school,
the early 7-9 slot, the 4-6 slot; you know what I am talking about.
(Ms Hodge) Yes.
127. It did come from the heart last week. This
is the main concern, hawking a child around.
(Ms Hodge) It is in my heart too. Honestly, that is
my vision and I think we are on the route to it. I can go through
the initiatives we have got on it. We have set a target, 2004,
100,000 of the nursery places must provide wrap-around care so
that they will be all day, all year. We will have a hundred Early
Excellence Centres. They all will provide all day, all year provision.
That is one of the imperatives for them to be recognised as Early
Excellence Centres. The 900 Neighbourhood Nurseries we hope will
also provide all day, all year 0-5 provision. We have given money
to the pre-schools to encourage them to provide the wrap-around
care. We have given money to the nursery schools. We have not
talked about those this morning but they had £12 million
last year and we are now giving £15 million over the next
three years to the 500 remaining nursery schools in the country
to encourage them to develop their services so that they provide
more all day, all year, down to nought provision rather than starting
at three. The whole thrust of everything we are doing is to provide
seamless services for the children and bring together the previously
divided professions. We have also got our star rating scheme which
we are going to be introducing which will, I hope, act as a further
push towards providers to encourage them to develop more integrated
128. An AA rating for pre-school settings?
(Ms Hodge) Yes. All of us as parents, when we go and
look at our first nursery and pre-school, have not really got
much of a clue what we are looking at. What we want to introduce
is a scheme which will give star rating to all settings. I suppose
the analogy would be that it would be a little bit like a hotel
129. The Good Food Guide?
(Ms Hodge) The Good Food Guide. What it will
enable you to see on your screen through the Child Care Information
Service that we have established is not only the facilities that
are provided, so for example, is there a garden, are there pets,
all those sorts of things, but it will also have an assessment
of the quality which will be partly based on the Ofsted inspection
but only partly based on that.
130. How is the Ofsted Early Years arm working?
What proposals do you have to make it more user friendly by comparison
with the Ofsted inspection of schools? With our change of Chief
Inspector that might help but what are you proposing in terms
of the Early Years? Clearly the sort of inspection of schools
would not be appropriate entirely for the Early Years settings
that we are talking about.
(Ms Hodge) First of all, they have not actually quite
started yet. They are starting in June when they are doing their
first registrations. Secondly, I am very pleased by the appointment
of the Head of the Early Years sector because I think she carries
great credibility right across all providers and professions involved
in the Early Years and I think that is a really good appointment.
I wish her well at Ofsted. The third thing to say is that Ofsted
in the Early Years have already been incredibly successful. Two
years ago only two out of three Early Years settings met the standards
that did not require a re-inspection within two years. That has
now increased to nine out of ten. The inspection regime has supported
a quite radical and important improvement in the quality of standards.
Two out of three to nine out of ten in two years is, I think,
pretty brilliant. The other thing to say is that in the discussions
we have had with Ofsted they are absolutely clear that they want
to work very closely with providers and all interest groups in
the Early Years setting. For example, there will be an Ofsted
person on every Early Years partnership. That is a very different
way of working from the past. Nevertheless, we have established
this distinct arm of OFSTED to not only provide national standards
but, also, to drive up the quality of early years settings. They
are quite clear that that is their central agenda.
131. Will all the inspectors have early years
(Mrs Hodge) No, but we have actually set quite tough
parameters on who or who will not be accepted as early years inspectors.
132. If you are ensuring teachers in early years
are correctly trained, it is not going to be appropriate to have
inspectors without that early years experience going in to inspect
teachers or early years workers who have that training.
(Mrs Hodge) I agree. All of them, currently, are OFSTED
trained and recognised early years inspectors. They are now having
to do childcare inspections, so they will be responsible for the
registration and inspection of childminders.
133. What is the target in terms of
(Mrs Hodge) I cannot remember off-hand. We will have
to write to you on that one.
134. Mike Tomlinson was with us before and he
mentioned something about the National Standards for Day Care
soon to be published, I think he said, at the end of March. Have
they been published?
(Mrs Hodge) No, they are about to be.
135. What difference do you think that is going
(Mrs Hodge) We have consulted quite widely on them
and most of the news, I think, will be very welcome to the early
years and childcare sector. They will establish national standards
for the first time, so, again, it will not be a matter of geography
as to how your childcare and early years setting is regulated
and inspected; it will now be inspected against a set of national
standards. I think most important, probably, from the discussion
of this Committee is that we did listen to representations, as
we always do, and will, in the final standards, raise the qualification
levels that we expect people to have in an early years' setting.
What we will be saying is that a minimum NVQ 3 must be the qualification
for any leader of a setting or any person in chargeso that
is a deputyand, also, anybody in charge of a baby room
must have an NVQ 3. That is a change from the original. Then 50
per cent of the others must be working towards a qualification.
136. You have been talking about massive expansion
in this area, and, therefore, hopefully, these standards are challenging.
What is, in your view, the most challenging aspect of those standards?
(Mrs Hodge) The LSC will be discussing the partnerships
and how they are going to meet the 230,000 people with NVQ 2/3.
We have got the 184 million that we have put into training. I
am not worried. The recruitment campaign is going brilliantly,
and out of the first take of 64,000 phone calls that has converted
into 17 per cent who are now working in childcare and a whole
range more who are training or looking for jobs. That is not bad.
We are spending £4-5 million a year on recruitment advertising
for the next three years of this Comprehensive Spending Review
137. However, there is still concern about the
discrepancies between Section 10 and Section 122 Inspections.
Andrew Lockett from my own area of Kirklees was concerned and
said that both inspections need to sing from the same hymn sheet.
Given the massive increase in the expenditure of OFSTED in this
year because it is expanding its remitwe did not take this
up with the Permanent Secretary yesterdayit could have
easily figured in this massive increase. Getting this inspection
right is a high priority, is it not?
(Mrs Hodge) Yes. Currently it is being done by two
different professions. From June it will be done by one. We then
need to move to totally integrating the two regimes, and we recognise
that that must be part of the agenda for the not-too-distant future.
138. As part of that agenda, when you look at
the framework for OFSTED inspections, should it not include more
than just what goes on actually, physically, in the setting? We
have heard from a number of our witnesses that an important part
of early years work is how you work with parents, how you integrate
with the community. Should that not, in future, also be part of
the inspection and, therefore, part of an attempt to raise standards
in early years?
(Mrs Hodge) Yes, it is. The answer is it is in there.
Obviously, working with parents is an absolutely crucial part
of any early years offer.
139. Can I just follow on from that, then? We
have talked a lot about training and talked a lot about inspections
for driving up standards. What steps are you going to take in
the department to make sure that the information we get from the
inspections then informs the decisions that we take about training
and driving up quality? Very often in school settings we have
seen (certainly under the previous chief inspector) that the inspector
says "This, this and this is wrong" but there is no
advice on how to move it forward. Is that going to happen in early
(Mrs Hodge) We will have to wait and see. I hope it
will not. I suggest it might be an interesting session if you
were to talk, when she has got her feet under the table a bit
more, to the new Director of Early Years. She will have the power
to produce state-of-the-nation reports on all aspects of early
years. I have absolutely no doubt that she will see as part of
her task advising Government on training needs arising out of
the inspection reports. We are now setting up quite a tough structure.
I think, Helen, you are a bit worried about it, but the regional
branch of advisers is important. OFSTED will be decentralised
in structure, so a lot of their inspectors will be working from
home into regional centres. We are also setting up regional advisers
to support the Neighbourhood Nurseries initiative with business
developments, and that is a huge undertaking. So there is quite
a lot of support going on in there to ensure that down at the
grass roots where it has got to be delivered we raise quality
and we expand services.