Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
HODGE, MBE AND
140. One of the fears that this Committee had
as we did our original report was that we were going to push conventional
learning down the age range; yes, provision expanding, yes, more
schools and the state sector getting more involved in bringing
children into a school environment if not into a proper school
setting in the classroom, but that there would be this inevitable
creep of the curriculum down to younger children and numeracy
and literacy down the average. Much of the evidence that we received
was this fear that if you took that and you took the more rigorous
inspection, the only way that people in the early years' settings
can prove they are good and they meet a standardand the
Prime Minister and his wife launched your star ratingis
by being more formal, yet all the evidence from the excellent
people that you and I both know in the pre-school area are terrified
that we are going to drive imagination out of the early years
and lurch to too much formal learning early on rather than what
we have been told, which is that children learn best in this crucial
period by play and active exploration having their creativity
stimulated. Yes, under guidance. That permeated even what we recommended
in the report on access to the outside world. That is the fear.
It is articulated quite strongly out there. You spoke, in answer
to Nick earlier, about unintended consequences, but one of the
unintended consequences of what you are doing, Minister, might
be more inspections with a lot more money being spent because
those inspectors are going to want to prove they are doing something.
On the other hand, more facilities to schools to take early years
could end up with a much more formal structure with 3, 4 and 5
year-olds sitting in rows learning to read and write. Alan shook
his head there.
(Mrs Hodge) I think the foundation stage was born
with a lot of suspicion and fear. I nowand I am sure you
do, Chairmango round a huge range of early years settings
and I always ask "How are you finding the foundation stage?"
and I am now getting universalliterally, I have never walked
into a setting where people have not welcomed the structure and
the recognition that there is a distinct phase of development
of learning which we have called the foundation stage. I think
there is now universal support for it, and that has been a great
triumph. Having moved that debate from it being seen as something
which would damage children's intellectual development or hold
back their imaginative capacitiesall that sort of stuffI
think we have killed that agenda. Partly we have done that because
we do talk very strongly about social, emotional and physical
development as well as intellectual development in what we see
as important for a child in their early years. That is recognised
both in the framework and in what is offered. What I have always
said is that what is absolutely crucial for children at this age
is that they should be givenof course children learn through
play and learning should be fun, and those two things go togetheran
appropriate offer which is relevant to their age and relevant
to their stage of development. We are continuing, Chairman, to
work extremely hard to get this right. For instance, there is
an element in the OFSTED Inspection Framework which talks about
how to deal appropriately with the literacy and numeracy strategy
in reception classes. In the training that the literacy and numeracy
strategy are doing with headteachers there is a bit in there about
how it does not mean that you sit kids in rows and formally teach
them for a hour from the age of four but how you deal with a reception
year and ensure that learning is appropriate. There is some specific
guidance that goes out to teachers in reception classes to make
sure that they understand it. It is an integral part of the training.
We work very, very closely with the Foundation Stage Working Group
which brings in a whole lot of those with professional interest
in the issues, and with the literacy strategy people and the numeracy
strategy people, to make sure that all the work they are doing
fits in. If you want my view, I think we are getting it better
now up until the end of reception year. I am now going into a
lot of schools where that link between the nursery and the reception
year is pedagogically very well structured and put in place. What
we now need to do is make sure that the links at the end of the
foundation year and the start of Key Stage 1 are properly bedded.
We have got to do extra work in that, and I am talking to the
Foundation Stage Working Group and my colleagues in schools to
make sure that we get that right. I think it is a success story.
141. Can I hear from Alan as well? He was shaking
his head so vigorously.
(Mr Cranston) I do not think I have anything to add
to that very full answer.
142. I was very pleased that you indicated that
the adult/pupil ratio in reception is now going down, I think
you said, to 1:10.
(Mrs Hodge) One to fifteen in reception.
143. One to ten is for what? Did you mention
(Mrs Hodge) Sorry, 1:10 is the ratio of teachers to
144. Obviously, in reception and as throughout
schools but particularly in early years, the role of the classroom
or teaching assistant is absolutely crucial over and above any
nursery nurses, and so on. How successful are schools being at
recruiting these valuable members of staff?
(Mrs Hodge) I think incredibly successful. You do
hear wonderful stories everywhere you go about women who come
in, perhaps with their child, to a mother/toddler group or they
come in at a later stage to help with the cooking in the nursery
class or reception class, with no qualifications at all and they
move from that into a career in childcare or early years education
or elsewherehealth and social work. There are some really
brilliant stories and there are some great places that are supporting
those routes through. It is good for women. I think it is one
of our good policies of providing greater opportunities for women.
It is good for childrengood for everybody.
145. I agree it is a great story but my concern,
as a parent and school governor, is that there is no structure
in terms of the pay of these teaching/classroom assistants. I
am a school governor at a London school and we pay way above what
other schools pay in terms of our classroom assistants because
we value them for what they do. A lot of them also go on twilight
courses if there is on-the-job training as well. However, I fear
that in many areas those teaching assistants are more or less
on a minimum wage rate of pay and there does not appear to be
any input, certainly from DfEE, about how we should develop those,
despite the fact that the strategy seems to be to use these very
good-value adultsmothers or fatherswithin the classroom.
Why are we not backing up that strategy with a bit more strategy
about what would be the appropriate level of pay?
(Mrs Hodge) Because we leave that to local determination.
There are all sorts of jobs in the world where there is a rate
for the job and if you want to earn more you move through that
146. I do not believe there is a rate for the
job. That is the problem. In fact, the rate for the job can be
anything from £4 up to £7. That is exactly my point,
there is not a rate for the job. I think if we are going to value
this particular group of help within schools who are, increasingly,
getting qualified, rather like having a nursing assistant who
goes through the State Enrolled system and then up through qualificationyes,
that happens but if we do value these teaching assistants then
it seems to me there should be some sort of guideline. Yes, of
course, it is up to local determination but there should be guidelines
about what their level of expertise should be and what would be
the appropriate guideline for their pay?
(Mrs Hodge) I think, probably, that is something we
differ on. I think that is something that we believe should be
left to local employers to determine the rates of pay. What we
can do is provide a framework to enable people to come in either
as teaching assistants or nursery nurses and continuously develop
and enhance their skills and qualifications. In the end, I do
not think the Government would want to interfere in establishing
national pay scales.
147. Minister, I think you are missing the point
that Charlotte is making, with great respect. If I can draw an
analogy from the Home Affairs sector, one of the best ways of
recruiting someone in the police force, especially women and ethnic
minoritiesis when they join the Specials. They get experience
and they get identified as having the potential quality and so
on. It is one of the best routes. What I have found, and I agree
with Charlotte on this, is that you get people in that classroom
assistant's role who are wonderful; they have missed out on the
opportunity of education for whatever reasonthey have had
children very young and so onand they are a real potential
for the teaching profession and a whole range of other things.
However, they are left to fester and, I have to say, very often
exploited because their abilities are far higher than the job
they are asked to do. What I would see the Government doing is
actually giving an incentive or some kind of golden hello for
those people to get into training, to uprate their qualifications
and expand the world they live in in terms of ambition. I do hope
you will go away with this, because I think Charlotte makes such
a valid point. We all meet these people working below their full
capacity. I certainly came into politics, as you did, to enable
people to reach up. I do think all of us who go to schools regularly,
as this Committee does, see this potential and can see a Government
scheme, not costing a great deal of money, in which you can say
"Here is a bonus to think about getting into teaching, or
getting into a much better qualified part of the profession."
(Mrs Hodge) We provide the opportunities, we do not
provide golden hellos. I think the argument with the nursery nursing
sector, when I meet them and talk to them, is that they want to
stay as a nursery nurse.
148. I am talking about classroom assistants.
(Mrs Hodge) The opportunities are there, the personal
financial incentive is not, but I will go away and think about
Chairman: I think we come to what is generally
known as "smokers corner". I think Nick has been waiting.
Mr St Aubyn
149. Minister, do you agree that the guiding
principle in the Children Act is the welfare of the child?
(Mrs Hodge) Yes.
150. Presumably that is why your regulationscould
you just clarify are they draft regulations for childminders now,
or are they actual regulations?
(Mrs Hodge) We will publish the final regulations
in the next few days.
151. And they will then have to be approved
(Mr Cranston) The regulations will come before Parliament,
but smoking and smacking is covered under National Standards.
152. In the regulations you are proposing that
childminders should make sure that all children wear a seatbelt
in the car. Is that correct?
(Mrs Hodge) No.
153. That was the evidence we heard last week.
I am sorry, that is the draft standards. That is going to require
that all children are restrained in an appropriate car seat or
car belt. Presumably that is because we are concerned about the
welfare of the child.
(Mrs Hodge) Yes.
154. Why then, in your approach to the issue
of whether childminders should be restrained from smacking or
smoking in front of children, do you rely on what many regard
as a misleading poll of parents' opinions rather than letting
the guiding principle of welfare of the child guide you in your
decision on that issue?
(Mrs Hodge) In all daycare settings we are prohibiting
either smacking or smoking, so the only issue that we are in conflict
with you on is the issue of how we deal with the relationship
between a childminder and a parent. We have thought about this
and I think the interesting debate is where the boundaries lie
between the state choosing to regulateand it is never a
clear oneand parents themselves determining an appropriate
behaviour code for the person they put in charge of looking after
their child. I have to say it is an interesting issue and I have
worried about it, but at the end one of the things that convinced
me that we had got that boundary rightapart from the survey,
which I will come back towas when I did meet a whole group
of professionals who very clearly said to me that this is an issue
in which professionals know best. I was outraged by that, because
my whole adult life in public life has been about empowering people
to take decisions. All parents care deeply about their kids, care
about their health, and this sort of judgment that some other
professional can make a better judgment over what is best for
a child is just, I think, very wrong.
155. Are you suggesting that a lot of parents
like the idea that their childminders smoke?
(Mrs Hodge) No. I actually think that the way in which
we have set the standards will mean that parents will engage in
the issue in a way that they have not done in the past because
they will have to. They will have to have a specific agreement
around it, and you will probably find, at the end of the day,
that both smacking and smoking will not take place in all childcare
settings. However, that will be for the parent to determine, not
for the professional to say somehow "I know the child's interests
better than every parent." May I just come back to you on
two things? Our poll was not a rigged poll. In fact, at one of
the conferences at which I spoke, Bob Worcester, who had not a
clue about the issue but looked at the poll, said "This is
a completely valid bit of testing of opinion". It did surprise
me but I think we were, to that extent, reflecting public opinion.
If 83 per cent of parents say to us that this is a decision that
they feel they should take, what right has any Government got
to override that and say "We little politicians know better"?
156. Can I answer that, because it does seem
to me there is a difference between asking parents whether parents
or the Government should run their children's livesas a
parent I would have instinctively the same reactionand
coming to a informed view which, I would suggest, is not for Government
to do but is for Parliament to do. This is an issue which should
have been debated in Parliament so that many people in Parliament
who have informed views about this could have expressed them.
Why should this be a Government issue? As you said, it might be
offensive to people. However, Parliament might say "Yes,
we are alive to what parents' feel about this, but we are going
to be guided by the primary consideration of the welfare of the
child". The vast majority of parents themselves will not,
as you said, allow their children to be smacked or allow childminders
to smoke in front of them. What, unfortunately, you have done
is you have made it far harder for parents who feel like that
to impose their wishes. If there was a national rule about this
then in trying to find a childminder and in trying to find someone
to look after children the issue just would not arise, it would
just be accepted. You have made them negotiate a point. In that
you have made the job for the parent who wants to find a childminder
who will stick to the rules much harder.
(Mrs Hodge) I have to say that is nonsense. The first
thing is that I do not trust professional politicians any more
than I trust professional social workers to take the decision
away from the hands of parents. I do not see why we should decide
what is best for parents any more than, I think, social workers,
health workers or education workers should decide. I just do not
accept that. I think this is an issue for parents. I think the
idea that we as professional politicians have a better understanding
of the welfare of the child than parents is insulting to parents,
and I have to say that I actually think a negotiation between
a childminder and a family about how your child is going to be
cared for is very important; to talk about how you are going to
have a code of practice to deal with a child when the child is
naughty and whether or not you should smoke is crucial. When I
had my first childminder yonks and yonks ago I did not think of
talking about these things, it never occurred to me. What we have
now established in our structure is a necessity for parents to
think about the code of behaviour. It is complete nonsense to
suggest that this will, in any way, constrain parental choice.
I think it enhances parental choice and parental control.
157. In response to a much earlier question
you described how you, as a parent (and I would agree with this
from my experience) knew far too little when your little one came
home. Is not the problem here that parents are not perhaps always
best informed about the consequences which may occur if they do
not take the right attitude on this particular issue? Much as
we resent the Government getting involved in the home, if it is
felt necessary to require childminders to put a seatbelt around
a child in the back of a car then, surely, it is necessaryif
that is necessaryto make sure that in disciplining the
child they observe some basic rules which everyone with professional
knowledge of care say are needed and should be enshrined?
(Mrs Hodge) Why do we not ban every parent from smoking?
Why do we not ban every parent from smacking?
158. Because parents are bound in their treatment
of their children by ties of love. They are not just there because
of the contract they have
(Mrs Hodge) If smoking and smacking is so terrible
should not Big Brother state come in and say "We will imprison
anybody who smacks a child"?
Chairman: I think this is deteriorating somewhat.
Mr St Aubyn
159. Surely there is all the difference in the
world between a parent who wants to stick by their children through
thick and thin, and the child wants them to be there, warts and
all, and somebody who wants to be a childminder who would meet
certain basic standards. If they cannot meet those standards there
are plenty of other job opportunities out there.
(Mrs Hodge) Parents' love will mean that parents will
want the best for their child and that is for parents and families.
It is just the question of the boundaries between the state and