WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001 _________ Members present: Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair Charlotte Atkins Helen Jones Mr Nick St Aubyn _________ MS MARGARET HODGE MBE, a Member of the House, (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment and Equal Opportunities), and MR ALAN CRANSTON, Divisional Manager, Early Years, DfEE, examined. Chairman 84. Could I, after a little local difficulty, apologise, Minister, for the delay in starting this session. Can I welcome you again to the Committee, and also Alan Cranston. We are very pleased you could come because, as a former Chairman of the Committee, you will know that this is a very experimental session. When you were Chair you had deliberations and away-days to decide just how we would make the Select Committee more effective, and here you now as part of that more effective process in the sense that we did what we thought was a fairly good report - many of us thought it was a very good report - on the Early Years. We wanted to follow that through. We did not just want to do the report, put it on the shelf, and say, "Didn't we do a good job?" and walk away from it. We wanted to follow the recommendations of the work that was done in the discussions on how to make us more effective and to follow through, and so we have had a process of going back to many of the people that we consulted (and some we did not) to say, "What do you think of the report?", and that was the session we had last week that you know of. This is the ultimate session in a sense, so now we have got even more ammunition to ask you even more difficult questions and now we have got you as a responsible Minister. We see this as pushing the boundaries a bit in the Select Committee and following through, and certainly in terms of Early Years this Committee does not intend to walk away from it even after this session. Can I open the questioning and say that what came out of last week's session in terms of an overview was that here is the Government in this first four years, a Labour Government, doing a great deal of good work, putting a large amount of resource into Early Years, but if there was one discordant voice it was the voice of a professor known to you who at the end said (and reiterated in a sense by David Walker in the article in The Guardian yesterday), have we not really missed the opportunity of providing a holistic child care service in this country? It is still very patchy. You may say it has improved and yes, it has improved from a low base. I will just quote what he says: "Some 70% of working women with dependent children make 'informal arrangements' for all or part of their childcare. Childcare outside the home is used by 13% of parents all the time and by a further 8% in combination with friends and family." The picture it paints is of a pretty under-developed child care service, not quite joined up and certainly not with the resources that makes it a holistic service. I know that is a big question to start with but it is the biggy that we got from our session last week. (Ms Hodge) It is a big question and it is quite a difficult one really. We inherited a legacy of huge diversity which had grown up in response to parental and children's demands and needs. We could have destroyed that legacy or we could, as we chose to do, build on it. The diversity is, unlike, let us say, Sweden who invested massively in the whole early years of child care in the seventies, that a lot of people choose to have their children looked after in the informal sector. Child minding is a big sector in the United Kingdom, not so big elsewhere. We have private, voluntary and statutory providers. We have tried to build a strength out of that diversity to provide more choice and flexibility and I think we are being quite successful on that. I also think that we have just got to work from where we are at; that is the first thing to say. The second is that we have not yet caught up with our European partners, there is no doubt about that. I remember sitting in your chair and questioning the then Permanent Secretary, I think it was, saying, "How on earth can you justify in the United Kingdom only spending two per cent of our education spending on early years and child care in comparison to other countries?" - the next one up in the OECD figure was nine or ten per cent. We started from an incredibly low base and we have had a massive investment. It is difficult to pull out key figures but if you look at nursery education, for example, under us the investment will have doubled from one billion to two billion. By the end of this year we will have got 200,000 new free nursery education places. On the child care my budget has tripled, we have got the new New Opportunities Fund, we have got the Neighbourhood Nurseries, there is a terrific cash investment. What I always say when I am asked about this is, I do not think we can grow any faster. Child care and early years is now the second fastest growing sector in the labour market and that reflects our investment. If we were to grow faster than we are doing we would sacrifice quality at the altar of quantity and I am not prepared to do that. 85. Does that mean there will not be any ambitious targets in the new Labour Party manifesto on child care? (Ms Hodge) There will be lots of ambition in the Labour Party manifesto, and indeed the ambitious targets that we have set ourselves until 2004 are very challenging. We have said we will have a million child care places for 1.6 million children. We have said we will have universal nursery education for all three-year olds by September 2004. We have said we are going to have at least 900 Neighbourhood Nurseries in the most disadvantaged areas to try and close the child care gap and 500 Sure Start programmes, that is doubling, a hundred Early Excellence centres, 145,000 new child minders. We have pretty ambitious targets already but the ambition will not stop there and I think if a lot of those programmes are successful we will carry on expanding. Can I just say that one of the really great things, if you compare this investment and this Government programme with lots of others, is the dedication of the partnerships and I think the partnerships are a fantastic success story in community capacity building and really developing services around the needs of parents and children in their locality. We are exceeding targets all the time. In nine months of this year we created as many new places as we expected to do next year. Over the coming days I will be announcing the targets for next year and they are in excess of the ones we expect the partnerships to achieve. We have no difficulty spending our money, which is something that has been laid at the door of other programmes. When you talk about the holistic approach, let me just tackle that one and then move on. There has been quite a lot of discussion about is the structure appropriate, is this the best way of delivering the Early Years and child care services for children? Again, we would not necessarily have started from where we are at but within the Department we have now created a unified unit, an Early Years and Child Care Unit. When I first arrived it was under two separate Ministers and they then both came under me. Now we have one unit. I think we have got some really exciting cross-governmental work here. I think Sure Start is a model that we ought to emulate elsewhere, where you have got David Blunkett in charge, Yvette Cooper in another department chairing the working party, me with ministerial responsibility within the DfEE, and that is a good structure with clear accountability for delivering cross-government services. If you went beyond that, because we do think about it, how would you deal with children's health if you had even greater integration? It is an integral part of the Health Service. Although we want the Health Service to be a player in children's services, both for care and education, bringing them in and divorcing them from the rest of the National Health Service would also be very difficult to do and probably would create new tensions and anomalies. We are, I think, grappling with it in a holistic way but it may be a little untidier than some of the academics like to think we can deal with. Chairman: Pragmatic but holistic. Helen Jones 86. Can we return to the Early Years partnerships because we said in our report that the quality needs to be closely monitored and it is certainly my feeling that while some of them work extremely well others do not. Have you had any examples of problems encountered by the partnership advisers and can you tell us what steps the Department is taking to make sure that the people on the ground who have to deliver the Neighbourhood Nurseries, the Sure Start and so on are actually clear about what we are trying to achieve with these programmes? In my experience they are not always clear, neither the partnerships themselves nor, I have to say, some of the local authority officers who deal with them. (Ms Hodge) The partnerships are still young. We set them up in 1998 and they took on child care in 1999 so they have only been running now for two years. We have now got the partnership advisers in place. They have just finished their first visit to all the partnerships and what they report is a mixed bag. Some are doing extremely well, some are all right, some need further support. That is why we have the partnership advisers in place. They will work particularly with those partnerships that are probably not doing as well as others. We have also put in place a training programme for partnerships, spending about half a million pounds on that. I think that will support it. We are trying to do mentoring and it is much more networking between partnerships to try and grow their capacity. I think they are an incredible success story. I think the fact that we have over-achieved on every target is great. It does not mean they always do what we want but we have deliberately gone down the road with this policy of ensuring this is a bottom-up response to local needs. I get frustrated every now and then when a particular authority does not grasp a particular initiative in the way we would like. For example, there have been some issues around how we have expanded the three-year old places where some authorities may not have totally met the needs of the disadvantaged children first, all those sorts of things, but that is local democracy. 87. Let me take you up on that because it is not local democracy, is it? Who are the partnerships accountable to at the end of the day? (Ms Hodge) The partnerships themselves are a pretty representative body. Whenever I go and talk to them I meet 150, 200 local people with all sorts of interests, from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of qualifications and experience coming together and talking about child care. I think they are pretty representative. What we have tried is a steer, not row, philosophy that we have with them. We have set them pretty tough targets. Just to give you an example on quality, they have pretty clear targets about training days for people working on foundation stage Early Learning goals, they have got pretty clear targets about special educational needs, they have got pretty clear targets around expansion. I vet every plan. I am in the middle of doing it now. We send quite a lot back for further information before we agree them. I think they are pretty good and accountable bodies. 88. Sorry; there is a difference between being representative and being accountable, is there not? Who is accountable for the decision making? If, for example, you have a partnership that is not necessarily putting enough nursery places in the most deprived areas, who is accountable for that decision at the end of the day? (Ms Hodge) In those circumstances we may give a conditional approval to their plan, which means that it is not full approval and that gives us a lever with which to try and support them, or we may actually turn down their plan. When we have finished this year's assessment there will probably be a number of conditional approvals at the end of it. We are raising our expectations every year and I think they are responding. Charlotte Atkins 89. How do you stop them being dominated by the local education authority? Also, as you know (I have raised this with you before), there is the issue of them meeting in private rather than meeting in public so that parents, local schools, nurseries and so on can attend. What are you doing about that and have you set them targets in terms of meeting in public and therefore at least being a little bit more accountable to the local community? (Ms Hodge) Our expectation is that they should meet in public. I do not think we have got a target around it. We do on the other hand in their strategic plans ask them about who their Chair is. We like to see a non-LEA Chair as one way to ensure that they are not dominated by the LEA, and we do ask a series of questions around how representative they are. I think it is a difficult one because, to be absolutely honest, in areas where there tends to be LEA domination there also very often tends to be a less developed and less vocal voluntary sector and private sector, so the two tend to go together. 90. What about strategy? (Ms Hodge) The whole of the strategy has I think unleashed massive interest from the private and voluntary sector. It is amazing when you go to these partnership meetings. They are sitting there talking about an issue that they would not have talked about five years ago and worrying about what to do, how to do it and where to do it, all those sorts of things. 91. That is why it is so important they should meet in public. (Ms Hodge) We would prefer them to meet in public. Chairman 92. We had one witness who said they had plans, strategies, but do they have a vision of where they really want to be in five or ten years? Some of them really lift their ambition. Is that something that is missing? (Ms Hodge) No. I think we have got a very clear vision. It is one that we share with them and develop with them as ----- 93. But that sounds a bit patronising, Minister, does it not? Do we not want these Early Years partnerships that really work to push you? (Ms Hodge) To have their own visions? 94. Yes, to push you. (Ms Hodge) I am very happy for them to push us. Interestingly enough, I think they have reached now probably the stage of development where, in the same way that you have got the Local Government Association, there ought probably to be a partnership organisation representative of the partnerships. I think there are some partnerships who are trying to establish that. I would welcome that. They will not agree with us. They will probably cause us some hassle but that is a good dialogue in which we need to engage. 95. You are suggesting it might be the kiss of death, Minister. (Ms Hodge) No, no, I welcome it. I am always keen on those sorts of things. Mr St Aubyn 96. Does the Government think that child care is a learned skill primarily or an intuitive one? (Ms Hodge) What, working in it? 97. The actual job of caring for children. (Ms Hodge) If I can say as a mum to start with, I think there is nothing more terrifying than coming home with your first bundle of joy. Having had all the endless support during pregnancy, prodded and told what to do, tested and all sorts of advisers round you, you then produce this wonderful thing, come home and you have not a clue and you are petrified. We always presumed that parenting was something which was completely instinctive and I think as a mother I could have done with much more support in the post-natal bit than I got in the ante-natal bit, so I hope a lot of what we are doing is improving that. I also think, in terms of working in child care, that we are learning more and more about how children develop in those early years. We are becoming more knowledgeable about that, not just intellectually but physically, socially, emotionally, all those things, and the more we learn the more we know how you can ensure that a child can be nurtured and supported in those early years in a way which promotes their best development. I think the whole child care area was seen as one in which you did not need a qualification, it did not matter, it was all instinctive, common sense, but we are now recognising that effective training and knowledge and experience help provide a better start in life for kids. 98. Do you recognise that there are people with intuitive skills in this area as well? (Ms Hodge) I think there are people with intuitive skills in all sorts of professions. 99. The reason why I ask that is that what is worrying about the decline in the number of child minders is that it may be very much the people who have not had professional qualifications but who did have an intuitive skill in looking after children and they may (unintentionally perhaps) be being driven out of this sector by what they see as the increasing professionalisation of it. (Ms Hodge) I just do not think that is true. If we look at the issue of child minders, the report that was published yesterday referred to a situation that we had already spotted a year ago; the figures are almost a year out of date. Let us look first at why was there a decline. Child minding is traditionally a low paid job and that comes out again in the research that was published yesterday. As the labour market tightens, and this happens in cycles, other job opportunities emerge, particularly for child minders, and they move into them. I think that is why we have had that decline. We have talked to people like the NCMA and they say that people have moved in the same and related areas but into better paid jobs with progression. However, we have taken three important actions. One, we did the start-up grants where we have put œ21 million into that so that a new child minder can get up to œ300 for anything: buying the equipment, paying the insurance, paying for the training. In a disadvantaged area the child minder can get up to œ600 to start up. That is recognising that child minders do have these additional costs. We have put important money into establishing 450 child minder networks over the next three years and again, once a child minder is in a network, they can then access the nursery education grant for three- and four- year olds. That gives them access to additional resources. We intend that to create 145,000 new child minders that we talked about. We have introduced two or three weeks ago this new scheme for temporary assistance for child minders so that if they lose a child off their books they can for five weeks get up to œ100 a week whilst they recruit a new child to look after so that they do not have this sudden drop in income which was forcing a lot out of child minding. Now, having taken those three measures, interestingly enough, what the NCMA now tell us is that in the last six months their recruitment has literally gone up 100 per cent in comparison with the same time period last year. There were some other interesting things in that useful bit of research yesterday. There is a lack of qualifications in the sector. Twenty one per cent had a qualification. Only 23 per cent thought it was important. As we grow a proper child care infra structure parents will be looking for higher quality child care and I think we have to do all we can to encourage child minders to seek more qualifications. The other interesting thing was that one in four of the child minders who registered as a child minder was not currently child minding, which was worrying. Fifty per cent had vacancies, which was worrying. We do want to grow the child minding cohort because it provides flexibility, particularly important in rural areas, but on the other hand we have to think about the sector. I think the steps we have taken are sensible. What we are doing around training is important and I think we are on the right road, but we have also got to think a little bit about how child minding fits in with the longer term. 100. So for the record I would agree with you that more professionalism in this area is desirable if the provision of child care is affordable for the parents. That is a critical factor. For the record, the Government is alive to the problem that professionalisation could be driving people out and you are coming forward with measures to try and make sure that does not happen? (Ms Hodge) No, I do not think it is the professionalisation that is driving people out. I think it is the tightening labour market whereby people are choosing to go elsewhere. The response to the training opportunities that we are putting to child minders is overwhelmingly positive. We do not get people saying, "You are expecting us to gain this more professional attitude. We do not want it." It is not that. One of the ambitions we have got is to enable people to come in without any qualifications at all, with having an instinctive liking of working with children, and in a modular way work themselves through to a new higher professional qualification which we will have in place probably in about a year's time, NVQ 5-ish sort of thing, so that you can modularly work up to that. Then we want to provide routes which will have a thousand child care workers trained as teachers by 2004. 101. I was giving out awards at a ceremony in my Pre-School Learning Alliance for some of their staff who had been through the training programme and of course, as you said, it is very positive for them. However, I was hearing yet again from the Pre-School Learning Alliance that despite what you have described in terms of this additional resource going into the sector they are very concerned by the future of nursery schools in our area, let alone in others. What investigations has your Department done into why, at a time when you are putting in so much more resource, traditional providers of nursery schools are still closing? (Ms Hodge) Traditional providers of nursery schools ----- 102. Or long standing providers. (Ms Hodge) Are you talking about pre-schools? 103. Yes. (Ms Hodge) I think we have turned the corner on that one, I have to say to you. As I quite often say in the Chamber, last year for the first time we got an increase of 6,000 places in the pre-school sector. Again, it has been a range of measures that we have taken which has not just ensured --- one tries not to be overly party-political in Select Committees but bluntly the pre-schools suffered their biggest blow with the nursery voucher scheme, which was, I am sure, an unintended consequence of that scheme, but nevertheless was the reality. That is when you got the biggest decline in pre-schools. We have been grappling with how we change the nature of pre-schools so that they more adequately meet the needs of children and the needs of working families in a new age, and I think we are being successful. They are still picking up 80 per cent of the three-year old places. 104. Can I just correct one aspect of that because pre-schools in my area say whether you fund the four-year old places through a voucher or through direct payments does not actually make a difference to the pressure. The pressure is there and in paragraph 58 of our report, as we had an exchange in the Commons last week about this, we say that we have been concerned with evidence that parents come under inappropriate pressure to enrol their children in reception classes. Can I ask you as a final question: you say there has been an expansion in pre-school places. How much of that expansion has been in the independent sector and how much of that has been in the funded sector? What is happening is that you are obviously having a big expansion of funded places, but the fear is that you are crowding out the independent sector. (Ms Hodge) We are not. 105. And pre-schools in the area I represent are saying they are delighted to hear the plans we have as a Conservative education authority for creating more pre-school provision but they are worried about the knock-on effect on their other pre-school provision in the area because there will not be enough people going to those schools and they may actually have to close because a critical number of them are being drawn to the new provision. (Ms Hodge) The funding of the expansion of three-year old places is primarily going into the private and voluntary sector. In excess of 80 per cent of the new places that we are funding are going into the private and voluntary sector, so we are not crowding them out. We are providing them with resources to sustain and grow the sector. That is the first thing to say. Private day nurseries are expanding like there is no tomorrow. They are one of the fastest growing sectors. Pre-schools are also, in a whole range of ways, grasping our agenda. Chairman, you talked about the vision. The vision we have is of breaking down all the traditional barriers and boundaries that used to exist between child care and early years education and trying to build a holistic service. That means providing integrated services, not just necessarily a two and a half hour session but integrated services that meet the needs of children, both for nurturing and for education, and meet the needs of changing families. We are talking to pre-schools at the moment. They want to be a big player in the Neighbourhood Nursery expansion, and they want to lead that from the head office. We have given them quite a lot of money. Recently I announced another four million pounds which they are getting to develop wrap-around care and to look at new ways of expanding. There really is a revolution going on in the pre-school sector as much as anywhere else to respond to what we are trying to construct. The final thing I want to say to you, because there is so much mythology about this, is that this idea that children and families are being forced out of the voluntary and private sector into the school sector is just not borne out by the evidence. There are two things I would say about that. One is that our analysis of admission policies shows that about half have a two-term policy - admit people twice in a year. The second thing is that the analysis that we did, which was a totally valid statistical analysis, on summer born children, who are the ones most likely to be pushed into a reception class too early, showed that 80 per cent of parents were happy that their summer born child started school as a four-year old, 71 per cent said that they did not defer and would not have considered deferring, 80 per cent said they had enough information, and, interestingly enough, 28 per cent of parents said that their play group had encouraged them to move their child. I think there is a lot of mythology growing up around this. 106. That means 72 per cent discouraged. (Ms Hodge) No. Charlotte Atkins 107. I am glad you clarified that because I think there is a lot of mythology about it. Certainly I am pleased that the pre-school play groups and schools have been encouraged to become more professional in terms of looking at the progress of their children. It is training I want to look at in particular. First of all, I would like to know what aspects of training in Early Years you focused on in particular and what areas have you given top priority to. (Ms Hodge) We have now got a budget of œ184 million for training over the next three years. We have also set a target for the Learning and Skills Council to train 230,000 people to NVQ 2/3 and there is money in the standard spending assessment for local authorities to spend more money on training. Of course there is the access to individual learning accounts and modern apprenticeships and all those programmes which are providing things for the child care sector. We are prioritising the foundation stage in Early Learning goals and we are doing that in a number of ways. Every practitioner working in the foundation stage will have to provide four days' continuous training for professional development for all those practitioners by 2004. Some of them are there already; one of the things we vet in the plans. We want a ratio of 1:10 for teachers to Early Years settings by 2004. Just to jog you all, there are 35,000 settings delivering early years education. Compare that to 24,000/25,000 schools that we have got, so that is a massive task. We have said that every teacher working in the foundation stage must undertake training that is appropriate to the early years, so around the foundation stage. We have put a lot of emphasis on special educational needs and there is some really interesting work going on there. Every setting now must have an SEN policy. Every setting must have an SEN co-ordinator who will have three years' annual training by 2004, and we are going to have SENCO advisers for every 20 settings in place. There we agreed, and I announced that in the SEN Disability Bill, that we are looking there with special educational needs at the under-twos even. We have now got an advisory group that is looking at children from birth through till two to see, if you get a very early identification of a child's needs, how you can respond between health, social services and education to ensure that you really put in place the proper support, including educational support, so that the child reaches its full potential. The other thing is the senior Early Years practitioner; we are quite excited by that, which is the new qualification that we are developing where we want a thousand to have achieved that by 2004. We want a thousand people to have gone through with routes through to teaching and some more perhaps into health and social work. We are doing some training around leadership which has come out as crucial, particularly in the Early Excellence Centre and Early Excellence analysis, and we hope to have a leadership qualification - it might be a head teachers' qualification - in place in the not too distant future. It is being piloted at the moment by Marge Whalley at Pen Green. 108. That sounds incredibly exciting, and so I wonder why I have had NNEBs coming to me disgruntled. The concern of one in particular was that her qualification was not recognised by the census. She felt devalued and, I suspect, a little de-motivated. What would you say to NNEBs who see themselves as the first Early Years professionals in terms of what the Government is doing for them and whether they should feel devalued? Some of these would have qualified 20 years ago and others may have qualified more recently. (Ms Hodge) There are 16 qualifications now in the framework. That is that from 1,600 we have reduced to 16, so that makes much better sense, both for employers and for students. The NNEB is in there. It is just re-named and re-classified, so it is not that they are not recognised. 109. What are they re-named as? (Ms Hodge) I cannot remember. Level 3 qualification; I just cannot remember the actual name. Nursery nurses are feeling edgy and what I try and reassure them of is that as we expand the sector the opportunities grow. As we introduce our teaching assistants into schools the opportunities grow. As we provide the routes to further qualifications the opportunities grow. 110. One of the issues is, and you mentioned ----- (Ms Hodge) They want to stay as a nursery nurse. 111. You mentioned teaching assistants. I think I would be right in saying that they believe that they have particular qualities that they are not just looking at teaching, they are looking at the holistic view of the child coming into to a nursery or an education setting, and that to suggest that they train as teachers reinforces the view that they are under-valued and therefore they want their own qualities to be recognised. The issue for me is how can we ensure that people who have got NNEB qualifications, who may be outside child care at the moment, fit into this new ladder of qualifications while they are still in other jobs? I think it is quite difficult for mature entrants into the sector who may still be on low pay to have the time off to do the training to get them into the sector? (Ms Hodge) That is why we have provided a modular route. Where we will be at very shortly is that this new higher professional qualification will count as 240 CATs points, so that knocks two years off a higher education degree. Then either you go through the registered teachers' programme or you go on and do a degree. We are talking to a number of higher education institutions who are working with us to see that as a route through to higher education, so it is not a question of coming out of work. I have to say, which is perhaps a slightly tough message to nursery nurses, that they are recognised, they are valued, they are important, but the qualification level they achieve and the qualification level that a teacher has is different and that is reflected in salary. What we are trying to do is provide the routes through to enable them to go up the climbing frame, as I call it, rather than the ladder, if they want to do so. That is their choice, but if they want to remain as a nursery nurse they have done a different amount of training than a teacher has. 112. Do you believe that we will not get men into the sector until we improve the pay and conditions of the sector? (Ms Hodge) The interesting thing is that we have been incredibly successful. We are the second fastest growing sector in the labour market. We have run this advertising campaign where we have had something like 64,000 responses, and Alan will correct me if I am wrong. 113. What is the gender balance in that? (Ms Hodge) There are only two per cent of men working in the sector. Eight per cent of our respondents to the advertising campaign have been men, so that is getting better. Salary levels are growing. In the discussions we are having with a number of private nursery providers to do the 900 Neighbourhood Nurseries you are talking about somebody running a nursery probably earning in the region of œ35,000-œ40,000. That is much higher than it would have been five years ago. Chairman 114. Yes, but, Minister, we had Richard Dorrance give evidence to us last week where he has been Chief Executive of the Council for Awards in Children's care and Education, and he did say, and I quote him: "I do not think the sector could cope with more - but if you are over 23 and you have been working in the sector for five/six years and you want to get a qualification, that qualification is going to cost about œ1500. You are likely to be earning under œ8,000." We visited one or two pre-school settings in the private sector catering to workers in the City, just down the road here. Yes, they were being well paid. They are almost a beacon setting in terms of what I would like to see and members of this Committee would like to see, a well organised setting, well paid head, well paid staff. The people who gave evidence last week said, "We are paying œ7,000 a year". What sort of country are we that pays the people that look after our children at this most delicate and important stage œ7,000 a year? We must as a Government surely do something to raise the level of qualification and, essentially, pay. (Ms Hodge) I think we are doing something. First of all, we are investing œ61 million to support low paid child care workers to access their training and that is entirely around access. The costs of getting your NVQ will be met out of those monies that are available for access. The second thing is that when you do raise the qualifications levels inevitably you do raise the salary that goes with it. The balance we need to strike is between raising salary levels and retaining affordable child care. I was very pleased that the Chancellor responded to our representations and others in the Budget recently by raising the child care tax credit levels quite considerably so that you can now get 70 per cent of œ135 towards your child care costs for one child to 70 per cent of œ200 for two children. That sort of level begins to reflect the sort of salaries that we want to pay for higher quality care. I think this is going to take time, Chairman. It is not going to move overnight. All those elements are moving in the right direction. I would say that this is perhaps what the Helen Penn provision would be: shovel zillions in. If we had zillions we could raise salary levels faster, but we are having massive growth and responding on all these fronts to providing a really solid infra structure. Helen Jones 115. Can I just come back to that because, whilst much of what you are saying to us is very interesting and I think something which we would all support as a Committee, I am still rather concerned by the fact that the strategy appears to be that as people raise their qualifications their ultimate aim is to become teachers. Ought we not to be ensuring that we have dedicated child care workers who are well paid and who may not necessarily wish to become teachers? It is a different skill and actually valuing that as a skill and paying it appropriately. We will not retain people for long in the sector, will we, unless they are properly paid? (Ms Hodge) That is why we have got the senior Early Years practitioner qualification that we are developing entirely to support that. That is why Early Years degrees are growing in the HE sector all over the place. I have got a daughter doing one. We are growing a new profession, but you do not grow it overnight. 116. Can you tell us what monitoring of the sector you have? You have referred to people earning œ35,000 a year but that is extremely rare, is it not, still at the moment? (Ms Hodge) We do a workforce survey. We did our last one in 1998. We are in the middle of doing the current one, the results of which will be out in a few months. We do monitor it regularly, literally 1998 was the last one and 2001 will be out, I imagine, probably by the autumn. 117. You referred in the response to our report that the Government is keeping under review pay and conditions, but also, understandably, the new structure accept that they are outside the Government's remit. How can you keep them under review if they are outside the remit? How can you take sensible decisions on funding and development without taking into account pay and conditions? (Ms Hodge) Salary levels are negotiated locally. Very often they are negotiated between a parent and a child carer, so we do not want to interfere with that. I think it would not be appropriate for us to get involved in those sorts of negotiations. Quite a lot are negotiated at local education authority level. The fact that we worked quite hard to convince the Chancellor to raise the working families tax credit levels demonstrates our sensitivity to what is happening both to salary levels and therefore charges, because the two are closely correlated, and we will continue to do that. I suppose one other factor that I have not mentioned is the money we are putting in through the Nursery Education Fund is massive and that also gives play groups, pre-schools, resources to then increase the pay that they can offer to their workers. We are taking action on all fronts. Other than having a sudden 300 per cent increase in salary levels funded out of the taxpayer, I think we are acting sensibly. Chairman 118. But Helen was pushing you on the monitoring. (Ms Hodge) We do that through the workforce survey. 119. Has there been any encouragement for almost a beacon setting in each Early Years Partnership, almost a model that people who aspire to that could go to and have the notion of a beacon setting in which people are well paid, where it is well managed, where all the best elements are there? One of the things about driving up pay is just to see what it is like when people are properly trained, properly qualified, properly rewarded and whether that would suffuse the system, okay, again along a pragmatic line but actually would raise the general level? (Ms Hodge) Early Excellence Centres, which I think are one of the success stories. 120. They are not in your Early Years Partnership anyway? (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 œ8 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 this morning 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 town - I am trying to think what it is called - which 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 provision? (Ms Hodge) The first thing is - I 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 cheek - that 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 œ12 million last year and we are now giving œ15 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 seamless services. 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 rating scheme. 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. Charlotte Atkins 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 experience? (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 to make? (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 charge - so that is a deputy - and, 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 OSC will be discussing the partnerships and how they are going to meet the 230,000 people with NVQ 2/3. We have got the 185 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 œ4-5 million a year on recruitment advertising for the next three years of this Comprehensive Spending Review period. Chairman 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 remit - we did not take this up with the Permanent Secretary yesterday - it 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. Helen Jones 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 years? (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. Chairman 140. One of the fears that this Committee had as we did our original report was that we were going to push down conventional learning (?); 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 and numeracy and literacy down. 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 standard - and the Prime Minister and his wife launched your star rating - is 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 now - and I am sure you do, Chairman - go round a huge range of early years settings and I always ask "How are you finding the foundation stage?" and I am now getting universal -- literally, 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 capacities - all that sort of stuff - I 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 given - of course children learn through play and learning should be fun, and those two things go together - an 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. Charlotte Atkins 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 1:10? (Mrs Hodge) Sorry, 1:10 is the ratio of teachers to settings. 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 elsewhere - health 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 children - good 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 adults - mothers or fathers - within 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 climbing frame. 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 œ4 up to œ7. 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 Enroled system and then up through qualification -- yes, 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. Chairman 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 minorities - is 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 reason - they have had children very young and so on - and 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. Charlotte Atkins 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 it. 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 regulations -- could 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 by Parliament? (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 regulate - and it is never a clear one - and 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 right - apart from the survey, which I will come back to - was 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 lives - as a parent I would have instinctively the same reaction - and 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 necessary - if that is necessary - to 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 the individual. Chairman 160. Minister, although Nick has been leading on this you know it is the unanimous view of the Committee that you are wrong on this issue. (Mrs Hodge) I do. 161. Certainly I, as an old fellow student of yours, am rather concerned about some of the comparisons you have made. I would hate to follow your logic when we talk about capital punishment, for example, where there is very clear poll there, very often with the majority for capital punishment, but we do arrogate to ourselves as politicians the right to say that this not the way we wish to go. As someone who introduced the Children in Cars Bill which forced children to be belted up, I was also part of that Parliamentary conspiracy that made parents do things that made their children safer. So I do not agree with your view, but I do not want to get into that. (Mrs Hodge) I just have to come back. I think these decisions have to be taken, each one, on its own merits. I do not think it is helpful to draw an analogy between deliberately doing an act to take somebody else's life and talking about whether or not you have a code which allows a childminder to smoke in front of a child. Remember, there is a distinction to be made between the well-being of the child which has to be protected and a smack. We all know the difference between abuse and a smack. I assume most of us, as parents, have acknowledged this. I just think you take it one at a time. I am sorry that we disagree on this. 162. Minister, we shall agree to disagree on this. Can we just finish by talking about one last question which has come up. I have found this session of the Committee very useful, but one thing that came up time and time again, was that okay, we have a Minister who feels very positive about funding the whole pre-school area and is very committed to it. However, how long is the funding going to last? If you really change the culture - and this is what you are talking about - of the pre-school environment you have to maintain that financial commitment over time. If there is a Labour Government in the next election do you see that commitment continuing over a long time? Can we expect this commitment year-on-year so that we can actually change the culture that all of us in the educational world want? (Mrs Hodge) If I can make a party political point - which I cannot resist, I am afraid - it is that, of course, the Conservative Party's commitment to free schools would mean that the funding from the SSA towards the expansion of nursery education would go, unless that is another bit they are going to keep in the centre. At the moment, however, it would be part of the money that would be delegated, I think, to schools and not kept as a separate nursery education grant. My own view is that the demand of parents for childcare, whatever Professor Penn (?) may say, is overwhelming. Parents know that a high-quality early years educational and childcare experience can enhance their children's opportunities and support families. That is such an overwhelming desire of people out there that every Government will have to respond to it. I do not think there is a chance in hell of there ever being a turning back on the investment that we have achieved so far. In fact, what I do say to everybody, particularly with the Neighbourhood Nurseries, which I think is a really exciting and important initiative, is that if we can get this to work well - and we are talking to a lot of large private sector providers, a number of voluntary sector providers and a number of small statutory and voluntary providers - I see that as the start of an extremely ambitious programme providing Neighbourhood Nurseries in all communities. 163. I think that is the way to end - "not a chance in hell". That is a very good way to end. Thank you, Minister, for your attendance. It has been a very interesting and lively session. (Mrs Hodge) Thanks very much.