To be published as HC 364-iii

House of COMMONS



Education Committee

Foundation Years: Sure Start Children’s Centres

WEDNESDAY 26 June 2013

Liz Bayram, Adrienne Burgess, Sally Russell and Jill Rutter

Lisa Harker, Vicki Lant, Anne Longfield and Julie Longworth

Evidence heard in Public Questions 446 - 544



This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.


Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.


Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Education Committee

on Wednesday 26 June 2013

Members present:

Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)

Neil Carmichael

Alex Cunningham

Bill Esterson

Ian Mearns

Mr David Ward

Craig Whittaker


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Liz Bayram, Joint Chief Executive, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, Adrienne Burgess, Joint Chief Executive and Head of Research, The Fatherhood Institute, Sally Russell, Co-founder, Netmums, and Jill Rutter, Research Manager, Family and Childcare Trust, gave evidence.

Chair: Good morning and welcome to this session of the Education Committee looking at Sure Start children’s centres. We are grateful to you for giving up your time to be with us. We tend to be very informal here and use first names-I hope you are all comfortable with that. We have a lot to cover, so I would ask, in particular, that Committee members keep their questions short and sharp, but the most succinct and pithy answers would also help us cover the ground as well, especially with such an able and full panel as this before us.

What do you think we have to show so far for 10 years of pretty large-scale investment of central Government funds into children’s centres? Who would like to start off-Jill?

Jill Rutter: There is quite a lot to show in terms of better parenting and in terms of improving the home-learning environment of children who perhaps do not have such a rich home-learning environment.

Q446 Chair: I thought the evidence suggested that in terms of language skills, and in particular vocabulary, there was not much sign of that being enriched and there was little sign that children at school were better prepared or coping better as a result.

Jill Rutter: Some of the measures that we have put in place to look at Sure Start have not picked up on some of the benefits. Parents are less isolated. I also think we have some high-quality nurseries in deprived areas, where Ofsted results show that private and voluntary sector nurseries are of less high quality. These beacons of good practice offer the opportunity, given current Government childcare policy, to work and improve quality provision elsewhere. We have childminding networks based in Sure Start as well, which have also had a positive effect on the quality of childcare.

Q447 Chair: We will come back to childminders a little later. Did the beacons not exist before the 10 years of investment? Are we not finding that it is longstanding centres with excellent nurseries and proper teams in place that were good and continue to be good? Is it not true that an awful lot of the investment has gone into centres that are not very good?

Jill Rutter: We had comparatively few children’s centres pre-2000, and we also had very little childcare. In 1995, we only had 56,000 nursery places in England and Wales, so we have this very new sector in England that needs a lot of development. The best children’s centres have played a big role.

Q448 Chair: Is childcare essential to a children’s centre that would be one of the best?

Jill Rutter: All Phase 1 and some Phase 2 children’s centres were obliged to have childcare until November 2010. With the two-year-old free early education offer, where childcare places are needed in deprived areas, this again shows the need to have high-quality childcare as a core component of Sure Start centres in deprived areas.

Q449 Chair: Do you think it is regrettable that 2,000 of the 3,100 children’s centres do not have childcare at all?

Jill Rutter: It is, because we still have shortages of particular forms of childcare in a lot of areas with the two-year-old place: as I stated in my evidence, sessional childcare for parents returning to work, or parents who have irregular work patterns, or student parents.

Q450 Chair: Thank you very much. Ten years of investment: what do we have to show? Liz?

Liz Bayram: I will build on what Jill was saying. From our experience in childminding and childminding networks, we have some really good evidence of how, through childminding networks, which are strong quality improvement models, there are additional types of services that have been supportive of particular families with particular needs. That collaboration through children’s centres is really working well. The baseline evidence from the work we have done with our members is that in the main, children’s centres are offering access to services to support childminders: drop-ins, training and resources, all of which are really helpful.

Q451 Chair: Is that consistent across all 3,100?

Liz Bayram: It seems to be, in terms of the messages we have. There are odd occasions where that is not happening and where the collaboration is not there, but in the main, the message we are getting from our members is that that baseline support is there, is working, is really appreciated and is helping them to collaborate. The bit that really works well, which is very rare, is the opportunity where children’s centres, through childminding networks, collaborate with childminders to deliver specific services for particular families-maybe families with disabled children.

Q452 Chair: As I said, we will come back to childminding a little later. Adrienne?

Adrienne Burgess: Children’s centres have been one way in which one has started to talk about fathers and couples, and to think about supporting family resilience, rather than creating a model where the mother is dependent on the state. You look at the whole family. That has been very badly done in Sure Start overall, not because Sure Start was a bad thing but because you are fighting an enormous entrenched culture of, "Just let us deal with the mum," and "Parent equals mother".

Q453 Chair: We will come back to that a bit later. Do you think it is to do with governance? An issue that has come out is that schools are grounded; they have governors who sit there grounding the school in the community and giving a wider range of people a view of what the school should do. We simply do not have that in children’s centres.

Adrienne Burgess: That might be the issue, but if the people doing the governance still align with the old model of the mother and the state, that is not going to change. I was going to say briefly that some children’s centres have grabbed the opportunity and have got good results and have done really well not just in thinking, "We will engage dads in a dads’ group," but "We are going to integrate." Barking and Dagenham have done some great work. There is a possibility of doing it, which was not there before.

Sally Russell: I suppose I am here to talk from a parent’s point of view. I would suggest that a number of years ago, when they were in quite deprived areas only, there was a bit of an outcry from other parents saying, "This would really help us too." It was very encouraging, then, to see that others were created. Parents across the country are telling us that they really value the centres that are out there. We have lots of data, which I can tell you about later, but certainly that recognition is important to take into account. Children’s centres are great because they support whole families, as we were just hearing, but they also do it holistically. That integration of services is really important: there are identified places where people can go for help, and it is very much within their own community.

Q454 Chair: What is behind my question is a vast investment of public funds explicitly looking to support families but also to improve outcomes for children, particularly from the poorest families. The evidence that that is occurring seems weak.

Sally Russell: The survey that we have just done, which was of 1,100 parents in England, showed very clearly that there were benefits from the parents’ point of view. That is, obviously, not an evidence-based survey; it is a snapshot survey of their responses to particular questions.

Q455 Chair: I do not know if it is quite fair to say that 2,000 do not have any children in them, but they certainly do not have childcare in them. Maybe children’s centres, despite their name, have been better for parents than they have been for children.

Sally Russell: Of the 1,100 surveyed, only 8% had used childcare within children’s centres; 30% said that there was no childcare available. Another 35% said that they thought there perhaps was not; they were not aware whether there was or not. Childcare is not very much used, which does not necessarily mean, however, that there are no benefits to the children. You do not just get benefits to children through the childcare; there are lots of other ways in which that occurs.

Chair: There remains the issue that not everything that can be counted counts, or whatever the Einstein quote is. None the less, if we cannot see benefits for children, it is harder to justify the investment. Sorry, Adrienne, I need to move on.

Q456 Alex Cunningham: I want to talk about the balance of services within children’s centres-the balance between universal and targeted services. Are we getting the balance right nowadays between the targeted and the universal?

Jill Rutter: A lot of centres have got the balance right. You need universal services to have a sense of ownership and to ensure that children’s centres do not have stigma attached to them. We do not want to go back to the old social services nurseries and the old local authority family centres, which were targeted centres for problem families. Those had a lot of stigma attached. In terms of home-learning projects and early education, there is strong evidence to show that where you have a social mix of children, all children’s outcomes are better.

Alex Cunningham: You do not think that the Government’s position on making it more targeted, to deal with more problem families, is going to see the stigma disappear.

Chair: Would anyone else like to take that-the new core purpose and the universal/targeted mix?

Adrienne Burgess: That is merely sending it back to the old model that you were just talking about. To what extent that is happening on the ground, I cannot say, but the people giving evidence in the next session may be able to answer that.

Chair: Liz, do you have any insights into that?

Liz Bayram: I would only echo that universal bit.

Sally Russell: I would say that we are seeing, from parents we talk to, that there is an increasing move towards targeting. From some parents’ perspective, that is acceptable and understandable, given the state of the nation’s finances at the moment. At the same time, we are hearing from a lot of parents who regret the loss of universal services to them, but they also feel that it is of detriment to the centres as a whole, where they are not necessarily pulling in the targeted groups that they want to pull in. You are losing the opportunity to bring them in within a community and for people to learn from each other and so on. There are very strong voices among parents to say that this is not the way forward and that the balance, which includes some targeting but maintains universal services, is really important.

Q457 Alex Cunningham: Are you suggesting that the targeting that is now in fashion is not necessarily reaching the children it needs to reach-the more vulnerable, perhaps?

Sally Russell: It can be very difficult if you suddenly say, "We are going to close this very popular stay and play session on a Tuesday afternoon, and instead we are going to open it up only to one particular minority." Then you find that that minority, for all sorts of different reasons, are not accessing that centre particularly. It is frustrating for those who would have gone, but it is quite ineffective to simply open a new toddler group or something for a particular sector of the community without thinking how you are going to bring them in and what is going to encourage them. You have to be far more creative about the ways in which you engage with different communities in terms of getting them to access those services.

Jill Rutter: Until 2011, children’s centres were obliged to collate outreach statistics on the numbers of children from particular groups, and the percentage of fathers who were registered and used centres. That obligation is no longer there, but the data showed that some local authorities were very good at engaging groups such as teenage mothers, children in workless households, and others who were quite poor. One of the reasons that we had this variation is that there is a lack of clarity from central Government in terms of what outreach actually means.

Q458 Chair: Is that a new thing or has it been a problem for a while?

Jill Rutter: It has been a problem for a long time, and I think one of the previous Sure Start reports of this Committee pointed out the lack of clarity in terms of what outreach means. Because you have this lack of clarity, there is no consistent good practice across the country.

Q459 Mr Ward: We touched on this in Graham’s opening question: it goes back to the issue of the balance between working with parents and working with children. Some evidence that we have received looked at the implications of there not being childcare, in terms of school preparedness, language development and intense work with children. In fact, Professor Melhuish referred to the work with parents as being an indirect way of bringing about the core purpose. Drilling down a little bit more on this issue of ideally both-we understand all that-but if it is one or the other, what do we gain and what do we lose from a focus on one or the other?

Adrienne Burgess: Sorry, I did not really get the question.

Chair: Where should the focus be: more on children or more on parents?

Adrienne Burgess: You are asking whether I think it goes down from one to the other.

Q460 Mr Ward: If you look at the core purpose-things like language development and getting young children ready for school-you cannot do that if kids are not there. What are we gaining and what are we losing if there is a focus on one or the other?

Adrienne Burgess: On parents or children? Obviously, the parents have to get their children there. It really is a question of the measures sometimes: what are you looking at? Have you really measured added value with an intervention in a family? Barking and Dagenham have shown better outcomes for children. In terms of Key Stage 1, they have looked at the common measures. There is pretty good evidence that if you help parents understand child development and you help their sense of self-efficacy as parents, it tends to translate into better parenting. That may not increase language development but it may reduce abuse. Child abuse comes from unrealistic ideas of what a child can or cannot do and can be responsible for.

There is an argument for doing stuff with parents. I also think that the stuff needs to be much better designed when you are looking at outcomes for children. It is incredibly difficult, because of the multitude of variables in the lives of these families, to isolate the impact of the children’s centre, but that is not to say it is not having an impact.

Liz Bayram: From a childcare perspective, there is a very clear message for us that parents are the first educators, so I am going to be very awkward and say it is not one or the other, or more of one or less, because it is a partnership and collaboration. We know that where the best childcare works-be that childminding or in nurseries-it is where parents are engaged in their children’s learning. There are lots of really good evidence-based programmes, including the PEAL programme, that allow you to see how that works.

The other bit for me is that I am increasingly concerned that in the focus on school-readiness and on language and communication development, which is really important, we are forgetting all the social and other emotional support that children need to be ready for school. Happy and confident children are the best learners, and sometimes we forget the measures that are in there in terms of how children’s centres and other forms of childcare intervention are supporting children to be in the best place, socially and emotionally, to learn, to support that development. Some of those measures are not necessarily as focused on as others.

Q461 Mr Ward: Would your parents who were very happy with the support that they were receiving prefer more support for childcare?

Sally Russell: There is an issue around childcare in this country generally, so, yes, more and affordable childcare is key and top of the agenda for very many people. That is absolutely fundamental at the moment in terms of trying to deal with living-standard issues and so on. When it came to the children’s centres, they did not necessarily see that the children’s centre would be the solution to that, particularly as only 8% are using the children’s centre for childcare at the moment.

I would suggest, in terms of the specifics of your question, that it is not possible to say that you can have a bigger impact on the child’s development if you are not working with the parents as well to ensure that they have the skills to maintain those sorts of things at home. As we were saying earlier, it is not an either/or from my perspective. We asked parents about the outcomes or benefits they were seeing. Of the 30% of parents who used the children’s centre a lot, 80% said that their children had benefited from being with other children. Certainly, one mother said very passionately that even within stay and play sessions, the fact that staff were modelling interactions with children had an incredible effect on all those who went.

There were numerous other examples. They had breakfast clubs, where again they were all learning how to share, take turns and be part of a social situation, sitting down at the table and so on. There are all sorts of ways in which children can be helped to develop through all these sorts of activities. Over half said they were more confident parents; 28% said their parenting skills specifically were improved and 60% had been able to find advice and been supported through struggles that they were having. Mental health issues were really dominant, and to be able to help people when they are struggling through depression and anxiety can have a tremendous impact on the child. There are all sorts of ways in which these centres are helping children and their outcomes.

Q462 Mr Ward: Were the parents also interested in adult learning, developing skills and getting into employment?

Sally Russell: Yes, they were. They were certainly interested in that but it was not so much used. Toddler groups, for example stay and play, were used by over 80%, specialist postnatal classes by 40%, and parenting classes by around 20%. Public health came across as being important to people. Personal development services, such as money skills classes and so on, were used by 16%. They are being used, but they are not something that is going to be needed by everybody.

Q463 Craig Whittaker: We have established how important it is for parents in terms of children’s centres offering early education and childcare. Adrienne, you mentioned Barking and Dagenham. I went to see the FAST programme that Save the Children do there, which I thought was incredibly well attended. Bearing in mind that 2,100 of our children’s centres do not offer childcare or early education facilities, is the money not best spent on programmes like Save the Children’s FAST programme, for example? I know there are others but that is the one I particularly saw. Would that not be a better use of money, considering that only a third already offer those childcare facilities?

Adrienne Burgess: There is an argument, certainly, for direct work with children with high-quality childcare. Those from middle-class homes do not tend to do better, because it does not really matter so much, but certainly in terms of homes that have less rich learning environments, that is very important and can be very positive. Early Head Start has shown that, without a doubt. At the same time, it is getting parents in and doing courses with them, so they do not undermine it. Parenting programmes are very interesting: even if you work with one parent and not the other, the other one can undermine the learning, so it really does need to be a holistic view in terms of where the money is. I would not say it is necessarily one or the other.

Q464 Craig Whittaker: Money is incredibly tight. We have, you could argue, a system where childcare is underused in these centres. In my own constituency, there is only one that is oversubscribed; the rest have empty places that are being funded, which is not good value for money. Would the Government not be better to use that money to target families rather than to provide childcare that is not being used?

Adrienne Burgess: I do not know. I could not comment on that.

Jill Rutter: I would like to comment, in that, by September 2014, local authorities have to find 296,000 childcare places for two-year-olds who will qualify for the two-year-old free early education offer. These places are needed disproportionately in poor areas. Childcare provided largely by the private and voluntary sector is disproportionately in affluent areas, because that is how you make your money as a private provider, given that that is where the demand is from working parents. The two-year-old early education offer will make Sure Start nurseries economically viable. A lot of local authorities without Sure Start nurseries are struggling to find places at the moment.

Q465 Craig Whittaker: Are you saying, therefore, that the private sector cannot deal with this issue? Does it have to be a state fix?

Jill Rutter: It is a geographical and spatial issue. Nurseries offering full day care are disproportionately found in affluent areas, and 89% are run by the private, voluntary and independent sector.

Craig Whittaker: I understand the point, but what I am asking is whether you are saying that the private sector will not be able to fix the issue of where the places are?

Jill Rutter: If the private sector is running nurseries in Sure Start centres, as some are, they will be able to offer two-year-old places. A lot of local authorities have subcontracted existing nurseries in Sure Start centres to the private and voluntary sector.

Q466 Craig Whittaker: What do you say to people like Naomi Eisenstadt, who suggested to us that what we need is fewer but better resourced children’s centres?

Jill Rutter: Children’s centres have to pass the pushchair accessibility test. If you are a disadvantaged parent with perhaps one or two small children, getting out to a children’s centre can be quite a logistical expedition. You need Sure Start sites, perhaps operated on a kind of hub-and-spoke model, that are accessible to as many disadvantaged parents as possible.

Craig Whittaker: Is Naomi not right then?

Jill Rutter: We need to maintain Sure Start sites that are accessible to as many parents as possible.

Craig Whittaker: Is she right or wrong?

Jill Rutter: There is potential for operating a hub-and-spoke model within Sure Start centres, as many local authorities are starting to do, but I would disagree: we have to maintain as many sites as possible.

Liz Bayram: Naomi was helping to make some hard choices about where best, and I absolutely recognise that higher quality, total intervention makes the most difference. Your quid pro quo, however, is that you reach fewer people with that. From our perspective, the other aspect of childcare provision within centres that has perhaps been missed from this is how much, through partnership and collaboration, they are signposting parents to childcare. Just because you do not have childcare on your site, it does not mean that you, as a family, are not using it. There is a real role that children’s centres play in terms of helping parents understand the childcare picture and understand what is available to them and how they can be supported to access it. That would be another aspect.

The final bit for me is, more at a national level, getting a better sense of how different programmes of intervention for different families are joining up. There is a lot of focus on targeting troubled families and, on the ground, it is joining up with children’s centres; at a national level, however, it is important to have the opportunity to see how these different interventions for families can really come together and collaborate better. There is a lot of work in terms of delivering the two-year-old disadvantaged offer, but how that joins up with the work that is being done in terms of targeting troubled families is hard to see when you look at it at a national policy level. There is a lot of national collaboration that might help that local intervention better.

Q467 Craig Whittaker: How good are the staff working in children’s centres?

Liz Bayram: I would say that, in the main, they are really good. There is a lot of focus across the workforce, not just in children’s centres, on having qualified individuals delivering services. The other thing about children’s centres is the very multidisciplinary way in which they are delivering, and I am sure Sally will echo that. A lot of families are accessing lots of different services in one place, and that is a really important thing for a family to have. A long time ago, there was lots of discussion when children’s centres were first being established about how particular families had to access different services in different places.

Craig Whittaker: On the whole, what you are saying is that they are good.

Liz Bayram: Yes.

Craig Whittaker: Does anybody have a different view?

Jill Rutter: The evidence shows that staff in nurseries in children’s centres are better qualified than their peers outside children’s centres.

Q468 Craig Whittaker: They only provide, however, 11% of childcare, for example, in comparison with the others, so it is going to be very heavily swayed anyway, is it not, if you take that?

Jill Rutter: About a fifth of staff in Sure Start centre nurseries have degrees, and qualified staff are particularly important when you are working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. You do not get your better outcomes without that.

Sally Russell: Can I go back to the question that Naomi Eisenstadt raised and comment on that first? She prefaced her remarks, I recall, by saying that the proposal to reduce the number of centres would be deeply unpopular. I can confirm, from the point of view of parents, that she would be right in that. Even where they are trying to close one or two centres within local authorities, you are seeing very large campaigns, with very large numbers of people signing petitions and going to meetings and so on.

Q469 Craig Whittaker: That does not mean it is right, though, does it?

Sally Russell: No, it does not.

Chair: There is no school so bad that you will not get a large local campaign to keep it open when the authority wants to close it.

Sally Russell: That is correct. The purpose of children’s centres was to provide local community access to services. They have succeeded in doing that, and to take that semblance of a service away and to remove that infrastructure, which has been so hard fought for, people feel, would be very difficult now. Even if we start using the hub-and-spoke model we were hearing about, so that services, as we are seeing in many places, are reduced, to be able to go back to having larger numbers of services in centres in the future-this is about looking to what the future will bring-is going to be very important. I would certainly argue against taking that infrastructure away at the moment.

From the perspective of public health, we are looking at integration far more. Local authorities are very interested in that, as we see more health visitors coming online over the next few years as well. There will be greater opportunities. As local authority commissioning takes an interest in that area, there will be more opportunities to start to use these centres as well.

Q470 Ian Mearns: I know that staff in children’s centres are, by and large, very good, but we also know that children’s centres around the country have varying levels of success in engaging with the most vulnerable families with the greatest levels of need. Given the fact that, broadly speaking, staff are very good, what can we do to get those very good staff to better engage with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged families, and what approaches have been particularly successful from your perspective?

Chair: Is anyone eager to take that one? I have never seen such mass reluctance.

Liz Bayram: It is a huge question.

Jill Rutter: Our written submission suggested three things: first of all, greater clarity as to what outreach actually means from central Government; secondly, evidence shows that where you have a greater involvement of health service provision-health visitors-in a Sure Start centre, you have less stigma attached to services. Health services traditionally have less of stigma.

Q471 Chair: Are you optimistic, as Sally is, that as these thousands of extra health visitors appear, they could make a big difference to the offer and the effectiveness of children’s centres?

Jill Rutter: The changing public health duties at a local authority level offer lots of potential for greater work in children’s centres. The third thing that we have found effective, and something that the Daycare Trust and Action for Children have run, is what we call our Parent Champions project. This is a peer-to-peer project where parents, as volunteers, are recruited to go out and engage other parents and get them to use services. All of our Parent Champions who have been successful come from disadvantaged communities themselves, so getting community buy-in and peer-to-peer information is another way of getting disadvantaged groups to use centres.

Adrienne Burgess: I can talk about this from the point of view of getting fathers in, which is relevant. What seems to work from our perspective is that you have to do very good training and you also have to look at the management structures behind, so that people have enough time to go into the home and to pursue the parents-mothers or fathers-wherever they are, and feel physically safe that the management is behind them. We also find that they gain confidence and skills quite quickly. They sometimes think that they do not have the skills, although they do. Sometimes just a brief training session opens their mind to what they are really looking for and why it is important. That works with engaging with dads; I do not see why that sort of approach would not work in engaging with mothers too, with whom they are more reluctant to engage.

Liz Bayram: We have a lot of examples-many of them are no longer funded, unfortunately-where childminders are absolutely being used as service collaborators at children’s centres and not just service users. Childminders are our outreach service by default: they are out in the local community, using services and in touch with families. They are good advocates for children’s centres. We also have some really positive examples of projects where childminders have supported teen parents, not just in terms of childcare to help them to return to work or study, but also to support teen parents in those parenting skills. It is informal relationships and informal partnership and collaboration that builds confidence and allows parents with particular challenges to feel confident and able to access and be part of that support. Sometimes having the childminder go with you to the children’s centre means the first barrier is out of the way. There are lots of opportunities for children’s centres to do more in partnership.

Q472 Ian Mearns: Adrienne, you mentioned working with fathers. Do you think dads’ groups held at the weekend are one of the best ways of reaching fathers?

Adrienne Burgess: The evidence is that dads’ groups alone are a very bad way of reaching fathers. You have to change the culture of the children’s centre, so that every time they register a child, they ask about dad, get the name and contact him to ask, "Can we hold your details on our database? That is because you are important to your child." Fathers invariably say yes, of course. That is the way you do it: systemic engagement. We had a young father the other day who had come to a centre, and they simply thought he was lost in the environment. They never invited him in or said anything to him. They assumed he was lost.

Chair: We will ask the shower who are coming in the next panel precisely why they are allowing that to happen.

Adrienne Burgess: What was very interesting from that young man’s experience was that the centre made no effort to integrate him. If he had gone to other centres, they might have said-this is very common-"We have a dads’ group on Saturday," but then he probably would not come back, because most men would never go near a dads’ group. They think it is a weird thing to do.

Ian Mearns: When he walked in, he was not wearing a big badge saying "I am a dad".

Adrienne Burgess: That is right, but what was interesting was that he tried another children’s centre after a few months. He was so put off that he did not do anything, but he was the primary carer for his child and he knew the child needed to go there. He went to this centre, and it was all mums, but the centre worker was welcoming and introduced him to the mothers. She did not try to palm him off into some male place, where she could feel safe that he was not in her centre with all the mums. He got on with the mums and they were really nice to him. He said, "Now I look out for other dads."

Q473 Ian Mearns: Thank you very much. What do families with children who have special educational needs or disabilities tell you about their experience of children’s centres? Are there any particular barriers that they face in accessing services, do you think?

Adrienne Burgess: It is not my area of expertise.

Chair: Sally, does anything come out of your survey?

Sally Russell: We know that 8% of people use special needs services or got support on that issue.

Ian Mearns: Sorry, was that 8 or 80?

Sally Russell: Eight. Of course, not that many people would necessarily need the support, so it is not the people who needed it but all the parents who accessed the services. We do not have anything more specific on that.

Ian Mearns: It is possibly something to think about.

Sally Russell: Yes, we can certainly look further into that.

Q474 Ian Mearns: How well do children’s centres support teenage parents, including young fathers?

Adrienne Burgess: They are certainly not, on the whole, very good with young fathers. What is really fascinating to me is that, quite often, in schools too, in terms of managing finances, they exclude young fathers. They make it for the young mothers. I always think, "How weird is that?" They want them to pay child support. It really is this whole cultural thing. They have all kinds of fears: "If we let him in, what if he has had children by two mothers? What if they argue? What if the mother and father are there and they have a row?" They are legitimate fears but not insurmountable, so those things have to be addressed, and then they could access it. It would not be difficult.

Q475 Ian Mearns: Thinking about that the other way round, there are a number of mothers out there who have had children by more than one father.

Adrienne Burgess: That is right, but most of them have not. David Olds, the American guy who does the Nurse-Family Partnership, said to me, "I was really surprised. The young fathers seemed very interested once they talked to them." They just do not talk to them.

Q476 Neil Carmichael: I want to talk about how children’s centres engage with communities, how they effectively run themselves and what kind of governance structure they should have, and have now. My first question is: what do you think the balance is between parents and professionals in terms of governance and management of children’s centres? How about Liz?

Liz Bayram: I can give you some examples of really good, collaborative advisory groups within children’s centres. There are two issues, and I am sure some of the panels will be better placed to highlight those challenges for you. Where there is partnership with other childcare professionals and other professionals, you get better and more joined-up solutions for families, which is a really important part of the governance process. If you are part of helping to reach decisions around the types of services and support that are available, you are better placed to support children and families in that sense.

Q477 Neil Carmichael: Are you talking about different agencies as well?

Liz Bayram: Yes, absolutely. We have really good examples where individuals who are not part of delivering services, or perhaps are not directly connected, are supported, like childminders through a childminding network co-ordinator, to be part of the group.

Chair: Can you name names? Where would you suggest we look for the ultimate model of local and professional governance?

Liz Bayram: I can provide you examples in Hampshire, Buckinghamshire and other places. I am more than happy to provide case studies in that way.

Chair: If you do not mind writing to us, we would be very grateful.

Liz Bayram: Yes, I will do, absolutely. The other bit for me in terms of the parent solution is that, yes, the opportunity to engage families in that discussion too is absolutely important, but as I am sure others will echo, the challenge is families finding the time to be able to make that commitment. It is about being creative about the other ways that you support and engage families in helping to shape services.

Adrienne Burgess: I actually do have an area of expertise in this-I cannot believe it. I have been sitting for a couple of years on a project run by 4Children, which Julia Gault at the Department will be able to tell you about, I am sure. We have been looking, first of all, at local authority commissioning: were they willing to commission parents to run children’s centres, which is what the Government hoped? Now, we are looking at the parents themselves: how can you skill them up, or other individual professionals, to run the centres independently? It is bigger than advisory panels.

Fundamentally, it is a very difficult thing. There are areas of the country where it is very collaborative with parents historically, and others where they would not touch it with a bargepole. I would say that we did not really have much success on the ground in helping commissioners to think better about getting parents and other professionals to upskill. At the moment, we are halfway through one looking at the parents and the other small professionals who would like to run children’s centres. Maybe we will find one. Parents move on and their children grow up. This is a big job.

Q478 Chair: Can you give us any examples of places that are particularly poor?

Adrienne Burgess: I cannot remember now.

Chair: It is always the hardest thing for this Committee. Everyone is happy to tell us the good but they never name the bad.

Adrienne Burgess: I cannot remember.

Neil Carmichael: It would be really useful if you could give us some indication.

Adrienne Burgess: I can send you the contact details of the projects, which will have the reports, or you can speak directly to them. There is expertise there.

Neil Carmichael: It is important for the Committee to get a picture of exactly what it is really like out in the field. These issues around variance and delivery are at the heart of that picture.

Adrienne Burgess: The man you need is John Alwyine-Mosely at 4Children; I will email him and set up a link.

Jill Rutter: We were funded last year by the Department for Education to look at ways that volunteers could be encouraged into children’s centres, either in a governance role or through other activities. It does not have to be on the panel of governors. We found the Parent Champions model quite a good way of perhaps shifting culture within children’s centres and encouraging greater use of volunteers.

Q479 Neil Carmichael: For the record, could you describe what the Parent Champions model is?

Jill Rutter: It is local authorities recruiting parents from particular, perhaps disadvantaged, communities. They are volunteers who then go out and encourage other parents to use children’s centres to take up the free early education provision. The Family and Childcare Trust is running this quite large project, together with Action for Children, scaling up the Parent Champions scheme. That was quite an effective way of getting volunteers in. The other effective practice that I saw on a visit was a children’s centre based within a building that was a community centre, so you had a tradition of all sorts of different groups going into this building. There, they had been successful in getting parent and community volunteers in different roles in the children’s centre.

Chair: Thank you. We have limited time, so we will, on all sides, keep it as short and sharp as we can manage. Over to you, Neil.

Q480 Neil Carmichael: In my experience in my constituency, what you say is absolutely right-working with other organisations or at least being near to other organisations gives you that synergy. Of course, if you are engaging parents as you have described, one of the other things is that you are going to get dynamic change as a Sure Start centre evolves. How do you manage to fit that sense of change, being effected by the parents, with the professional priorities that might already have been decided?

Jill Rutter: You have a clear notion of the roles that parents can play, and you have a very clear core offer for your targeted groups as universal provision. There are tensions within Sure Start centres anyway and within groups, which people are quite skilled in managing.

Q481 Neil Carmichael: There is a risk, isn’t there, that if a certain cohort of parents get involved, it becomes like them and, effectively, potentially off-putting, ironically, to the parent group that are most in need of the centre? If that situation starts to happen, what do you do about it and who takes responsibility for doing something about it?

Adrienne Burgess: That is inevitable. We find it with fathers’ groups as well: they set up their own culture. Mothers’ groups are similar. Surely, it is a job for the professionals in the centre to work out what is going on and to work with the people who are becoming exclusive. That is why you need that professional intervention. If you let these groups run on without that, very often they become excluding.

Q482 Neil Carmichael: The Children’s Society, I think, was worried about this exclusion issue, for the reasons that I have set out. It is not a problem that we have properly assessed, as far as I can see, but it would be interesting to have your views on that. In a children’s centre that is evolving and does not have as tight a governance structure as other organisations might, where is the accountability mechanism best placed?

Liz Bayram: I can only go back to the examples where I have seen effective service delivery in children’s centres, which is about that multidisciplinary partnership. It is not one or the other; it is about recognising that there is a strong management team within that centre that is working in collaboration with lots of different communities and, through that, being clear what the priorities are in that local community for support and service. It is about recognising that through an outreach service and through services that are being delivered in the centre. Through that, there needs to be collaboration, partnership and discussion with parents and other professionals about where best to place those resources. Ultimately, however, if you have decision-making governance that is all to do with parents or all to do with professionals, it will guide itself in a particular direction. It has to be multidisciplinary. It has to recognise that there are lots of different ways to do that. There are other examples of that within school forums, where it works, so there are models elsewhere.

Q483 Mr Ward: Liz, earlier you touched on childminders and their relationship with children’s centres. Just how well do centres support childminders? Is it a two-way thing?

Liz Bayram: There are odd occasions when children’s centres are not very welcoming of childminders, and we hear messages such as, "You are filling up our spaces and we cannot fit parents in, so please go away," so we have all those tensions at a local level on occasion. In the main, however, our members tell us that they are provided with support services, access to rooms to be able to have drop-in services, and access to resources, so that is really working well. The real missed opportunity is, as I have said before, collaboration to deliver services in partnership with childminders. I will not repeat what I have said already, but there are real opportunities with quality improvement for childminding networks, which are different from childminding agencies, to allow real quality intervention for families and partnership collaboration.

Q484 Mr Ward: If there is a move towards targeting more vulnerable families, will it have an impact on that relationship?

Liz Bayram: No, because we have seen models of childminding networks that are absolutely about focused interventions to support disabled children with respite care. Some of the case studies that I will send to the Committee look at providing emergency care for at-risk children, so there are lots of creative ways in which childminding can be supported to meet specific need, alongside delivering core childcare services for families, be they users of children’s centres or not. It is a really mixed model that allows that integrated approach.

Q485 Mr Ward: We have had some comments that showed concerns from childminders’ groups about childminder agencies. Is there a role for children’s centres in the new agencies?

Liz Bayram: I can certainly provide the Committee with some clear issues around childminding agencies as a model. I know we do not have time for me to go into that. The issue for me specifically within children’s centres is that the childminding agency model is a different model from the sort of delivery of services that childminders are currently collaborating with children’s centres on. It is a business model. It is about paying fees to deliver all sorts of services: business support, training, vacancy matching and recruitment. For me, it feels like a very different type of intervention from what children’s centres are currently doing, and my concern is how much that distracts them from the core business of what they are there to do. I can get into lots of details about the challenges of making that model viable in terms of delivering the service at a quality level for childminders that supports them and covers its costs.

Mr Ward: Could you provide us with something? We have had concerns raised about the agencies in terms of how they will operate and the business model that you referred to.

Liz Bayram: I can certainly provide you with evidence of how the cost of childminding networks delivers. We are currently doing work that looks at that cost and how it would translate into a fee, either for parents or for childminders. We are also shortly due to support the IPPR with a new report looking at some of the issues around childminding agencies and other great childcare recommendations. We can certainly share that.

Q486 Craig Whittaker: I have already mentioned that I went up to Dagenham to see Save the Children’s FAST programme, but could I ask how effective those types of programme are? As I said, there quite a few. How effective are they and do they work for disadvantaged families who have really complex needs and problems?

Adrienne Burgess: I am not an expert on that, but I can say that these programmes do not, on the whole, have an evidence base for parents, whether or not they are disadvantaged; they have an evidence base for mothers. We have just done a big critical review internationally looking at the evidence base for engagement with the father or with the couple. FAST was one of the ones we looked at. It is very likely that if you engage both parents, you will have much better outcomes. What is clear is that the evidence base is incredibly poor, because they do not disaggregate parent by gender. Very often, these evaluations are pretty poor.

Q487 Craig Whittaker: For the programmes that are geared towards mothers and fathers jointly-

Adrienne Burgess: Very few.

Craig Whittaker: There are very few of them, but for those that do, do they physically work and provide outcomes for the most disadvantaged families?

Adrienne Burgess: I do not know because that has never been studied. Sometimes, as with early Head Start, they will be inherently pretty disadvantaged families, but even there I find the evaluation pretty poor, because when you look at the evaluation with the fathers, which is what I have looked at, the fathers they interview are often not the same as the other fathers: they are more highly educated or they are married. It is very poor.

Jill Rutter: I would echo that the evidence base for parenting intervention programmes is extraordinarily poor. There is also another issue, in that a lot of these programmes are meant to be delivered by the book, yet local staff adapt them for local situations. That makes it doubly hard to evaluate them.

Q488 Craig Whittaker: Jill, you said a couple of questions ago that a universal offer would be better within children’s centres. If we have no evidence base to say that these outcomes are working for those they are targeting, how on earth can we have a universal offer if the programmes that are being targeted are not working-or if there is no evidence to say they are working, more to the point?

Jill Rutter: The national evaluation of Sure Start indicated better parenting overall from the initial Sure Start programmes, and also indicated things like less harsh discipline and a better home-learning environment. We can say that. It is quite difficult nationally to build a picture around parenting in disadvantaged groups. We have not become that good at evaluating the evidence.

Q489 Craig Whittaker: Surely, though, they are the families that we need. Particularly when money is tight, where do you get the best bang for your buck? It is going to be on those types of families.

Adrienne Burgess: The truth of the matter is that with those types of families, very often they will not operate terribly well in a group. Their needs are very high. We work on a team parenting programme that, in America, has good outcomes, and we have delivered here. In America, they are now working on a different model for highly disadvantaged families, where they go into the home. They try to engage with both parents, whether or not the father lives there. They are going in, and it is expensive, because they are delivering one-on-one support, effectively. For those families, however, you often need to do that before you can get them out into a group setting.

Q490 Chair: In terms of whether or not interventions work and whether or not the research is sound, are you optimistic about the Early Intervention Foundation, which our colleague Graham Allen championed in this place and now has some small number of millions to get set up? Do you think that could provide the repository of UK-focused-as well as international-research that would make it more likely that managers in children’s centres are able to choose from options that really do have a sounder evidential base?

Adrienne Burgess: We will need to continue with the evaluations that are better designed. To say, "You can pick this one off the shelf," which is what everybody wants, is pretty hard. The quality of the facilitator is so important, and all those sorts of things. That is not to say that it should not and could not be there.

Q491 Chair: Are you in contact with the Early Intervention Foundation? You said that one basic problem is that they are not specifying by gender, so are you in contact with them to make sure that they do not make that error?

Adrienne Burgess: We are. Carey Oppenheim, who used to be at IPPR, has a pretty good understanding of gender in parenting interventions. Whether she will be able to implement it, I do not know, but we are feeding in.

Q492 Craig Whittaker: Just going back, is there a case for children’s centres increasing their focus on very young children? In the recent Children and Families Bill, some MPs put forward that we should even have birth registrations there, so that we get to them very early on. Is there a strong evidence base to say that should be done?

Adrienne Burgess: There is, and you are more likely to get take-up by mothers and fathers of interventions post-birth if you make it a continuum from pre-birth. You could help antenatal education look at wider things than just the birth, which fathers and mothers are interested in. It could look at couple adaptation. Parents have eight times more arguments after birth than before. It is a whole lot more. If you look at helping them with communication skills, the forgotten stuff, as is done in family foundations in the US, they argue better. That is really important because children’s learning and development is not just the dyadic interaction between the parent and the infant talking and smiling; it is about what is going on around the child. If there is enormous tension and fighting between the parents, what happens is the child closes down, because it is a fight-or-flight response, and the infant stops referencing the parents. It is really scary.

What you need to be doing is looking at the couple’s communication and what is going on in the household, and to build it through. In Reading, for example, they have a terrific link between health and early years. The programme we do there, which is a family foundations model, has been enormously successful, because they have made that link. In other sites, however, our deep experience is that it is extraordinarily difficult to get the link through, and the overworked maternity services to think about helping parents in a wider education way than just getting the baby out of the woman’s body.

Q493 Craig Whittaker: A follow-up question from me, and it does relate, so you could come in here, Sally. We went to Pen Green and had a look at how they engage parents through their Parents Involved in Their Children’s Learning programme, which seemed to work really well. Pen Green is an exceptional place. I can tell you from experience that not all children’s centres are that type of exceptional place. From a generic point of view, how well do children’s centres do just that?

Adrienne Burgess: I cannot say. I know that Pen Green has faced a lot of challenges in engaging fathers. I do not know what is going on now, but certainly they did not have the sort of structure that I know from the research would have brought them in, with the support from management and with the really expert understanding of how to engage with fathers. I do not know and I cannot say. I know they do great things.

Sally Russell: Not specifically on fathers but more generally, the issues that Adrienne just raised about the importance of relationships and so on are really important. To broaden it out and to reiterate the importance of looking at all families, not just the very targeted most vulnerable, the survey that we did showed that about half reported that they had been affected by serious issues. That includes 35% who had mental health problems, and 20% who had relationship problems with their partner. Child attachment was another issue. That has improved. Three years ago, when we asked the same question, it was 57%, which was really encouraging.

Chair: It was 57%?

Sally Russell: Of all those surveyed, when we did the survey three years ago, 57% had had one or more serious issues of that nature, and now it is 48%. We have seen an improvement in the last three years, which is really encouraging. When we asked about more general concerns around weaning and breastfeeding and so on, it was about 80%, and had not changed in the last three years. We have seen an improvement on the more serious issues. We also saw that people were twice as likely as previously to ask a children’s centre member of staff for help if they had a problem. They were less likely to go to the GP if they had a problem. They were also more satisfied with the outcome. There are some very broad trends here that I thought were really encouraging.

In addition, when we looked at who was coming into children’s centres, they were over-represented in terms of people on very low incomes or people with a child under three and, to some extent, people with serious problems too. In that broad-brush appraisal, we are saying that they are reaching the people we want to reach, and they are really making a substantial difference.

We also found that 21% of people with a very young child had met the midwife within the centre, which, again, was very encouraging. About a third had met a health visitor within the centre. We are seeing that integration starting to happen, and I am sure the fact that people are building relationships with children’s centre staff early on, as well as with health professionals, enables them to open up about these issues and get support in a timely way, which can make a real difference.

Q494 Craig Whittaker: You mentioned breastfeeding, so I have to ask the question. Recently, a celebrity felt bullied by a certain website about that. How many of our parents feel bullied in children’s centres for wanting to do something that the advice is perhaps against?

Sally Russell: Can I make it clear that it was not the website that I represent that that occurred on? I would say that we do not hear very large numbers of examples of people in children’s centre communities feeling bullied by other parents. When you are in face-to-face situations, it is very different from an online environment. I do not hear about that happening substantially. People sometimes disagree with the advice that they get from other parents and from professionals, and we are very lucky that we have a significant grant from the Department to have health visitors online on Netmums to help work through some of those issues anonymously too.

Chair: Can I thank all four of you for what has been a very productive and interesting session? If you have any further points to make to us, please be in contact. I know you will anyway, Liz. We make recommendations to Government as part of our report-writing. If you have any thoughts reflecting on today or anything you have not previously given to us, please write with any suggestions and recommendations you would like to see in our report when it is produced in due course. Thank you very much. Could we switch as quickly as possible to the next panel?

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Lisa Harker, Head of Strategy, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Vicki Lant, Head of Children’s Centre Development, Barnardo’s, Anne Longfield, Chief Executive, 4Children, and Julie Longworth, Operational Director Children’s Services, Action for Children, gave evidence.

Q495 Chair: Order, order, Neil. As you discuss Scottish comic strips, I remind members of the Committee that the microphone remains on and we continue to broadcast.

Thank you very much for joining us. Most of you, or all of you, heard the last session. I must start with an apology for describing you as a shower earlier.

Ian Mearns: Much better than that previous lot though.

Q496 Chair: I am always polite to whoever is in front of me. There are reports of disagreements-God forbid-at the heart of the Coalition between Michael Gove and Nick Clegg over whether the two-year-old offer should be extended from the lowest-income 20% of the population to 40%. I think the budget for moving it to 40% will be £760 million a year by the end of this Parliament. Do you think the money for that extension, which is hundreds of millions of pounds, could be better spent elsewhere in order to fulfil, for instance, the core purpose of children’s centres?

Anne Longfield: I certainly think it could not be better spent elsewhere, but clearly it is a big investment and it should not be done in isolation from the other money that is being invested around early years, which I think is partly what you are getting at. It has been widely welcomed. That extra 20% takes it to a group of parents who will really benefit from that support and who by no means will be affluent parents, so it is a really important step.

Q497 Chair: If they stick with this, the Government have made exactly the right decision and there was no better way of spending the money.

Anne Longfield: In terms of implementation, there are probably better ways of spending it than currently, and there is pretty broad agreement that there are ways of implementing it. At the moment, there is not an awful lot of co-ordination between children’s centres and the two-year-old offer, partly because childcare is not a feature in many of them, as you have already been saying this morning. There has also been a focus on the early education part of that offer, and there has not been that great a focus on the family support part of the offer. Ideally, there is agreement that if you can get both, you are really going to be able to offer those families the best they can have.

Q498 Chair: Thank you. Does anyone think that there are better ways of spending that money than the two-year-old offer?

Lisa Harker: Yes, I do. There are better ways of spending that money. The NSPCC supports the offer to children at two, but your question is really about whether at this moment in time, that is the best use of resource. If the core purpose of children’s centres is to ensure that the most disadvantaged children improve their life chances compared with their counterparts, we have to ask where we put that money to best effect. In our view, we are not giving sufficient support to families from the very early stages of pregnancy through the first two years-a critical time in terms of children’s development, in terms of getting the foundations of parenting right and in terms of reducing abuse and neglect.

Q499 Chair: Briefly, what would that look like?

Lisa Harker: Specifically, it would look like a shift in prioritisation for all centres to be working more effectively with that age group.

Chair: Pre-birth.

Lisa Harker: Pre-birth antenatal support, and evidence-based parenting programmes as they develop, given the evidence base. Realistically, given the sums of money you have mentioned, it may mean having to establish some trailblazers to show what is possible in this age group. We do not yet have a strong enough evidence base, but all the indications from brain research and social science are that it is a critical period to get right. The difficulty we have with limited resources is that if we spread them too thinly, we end up not making the difference we need for children’s life chances.

Julie Longworth: From Action for Children’s point of view, it is clear that early education is absolutely vital, and we believe that the early education offer for those two-year-olds will make significant improvements, if the quality is as it should be. For us, that is the key. When we have individuals who are, in effect, in loco parentis for up to eight hours a day, the quality of that provision has to be second to none.

Q500 Chair: You disagree. Lisa is saying that with limited finance, a greater priority ought to be pre-birth and the immediate period after birth. That is a critical period in child development; it is weak at the moment and, in terms of priorities, she would choose to go there rather than age two, and you are disagreeing with her.

Julie Longworth: I would choose to go with age two, but I would choose to go with integration. For me, it is about a link-up between that offer and, in a sense, even putting a requirement on parents who are accessing that offer to have a link with a named children’s centre. In fact, we have talked about having named workers, such that, where a family is in receipt of that offer, they would have a named lead within the children’s centre. The provision is there; it is about making sure that they use it efficiently and effectively, and that we are linking it up. We have been funded through the DfE to do some work with PACEY in partnership with I CAN. It is about really working with childminders and other providers to improve provision around language and communication difficulties. We are going to do some research on that. For me, it is about looking at the quality, ensuring that we are building it in and integrating it with what is already there.

Vicki Lant: I agree in terms of the integration of services in relation to the youngest age range. That is really important. We would favour an approach that requires or encourages parents to have additional support alongside the offer of the two-year-old place. That is advice that this Committee has already received, one way or the other.

Chair: You have not, so far, answered my hard-edged question.

Vicki Lant: I would rather see an extended service around support to the two-year-olds who are being helped with their parents, so that it is an integrated offer rather than purely providing a two-year-old education place for a very wide proportion. It is about trying to get the quality of environment for the child.

Q501 Chair: We have this sum to be spent on the two-year-old offer, and I asked whether it is best spent there or elsewhere. Anne clearly told me it is best spent there; Julie said the same thing, although she talked about doing it better through integration; Lisa thought the earlier period of children’s lives is a more important place to spend limited funds. What is your answer, Vicki? I am unclear.

Vicki Lant: I am saying with two-year-olds, but with a focused group of two-year-olds rather than the broad spread, and with support to parents so that you are creating a holistic and improved environment for those children.

Chair: Are you saying spend all the money on the two-year-olds, but probably do not extend it to 40%; it is better to do the 20% well with additional service than to spread it thinly to 40%?

Vicki Lant: Yes.

Q502 Mr Ward: Neurologically, or brain-wise, as you referred to it, to what extent is it too late by two?

Lisa Harker: It is never too late, in that children continue to develop through their lives, but it becomes increasingly difficult to undo damage that is done early in life. The critical period of the first two years of a child’s development means that not only is the pattern of child development set and needs to be reset if there have been adverse circumstances, but that the nature of parenting is also established. If parents are finding it difficult to relate to and form a secure bond with their child, trying to re-establish that at age three is extremely difficult. If you are working with a parent from the antenatal period all the way through, however, you have a better chance of changing the parenting.

Chair: Thank you. Anne has been champing at the bit to have a second go.

Anne Longfield: I know we are setting off with an either/or here.

Chair: You made your choice, Anne.

Anne Longfield: I did make my choice, but I guess my choice was based on the fact that everything Lisa said is absolutely right and we should bear it in mind.

Chair: You are not hopping on to the fence now, are you?

Anne Longfield: No, I am not. I am moving on to someone else’s peg. This is the core business of children’s centres and we need to improve it, so it is not an additional service that does not exist now. It can be highlighted, focused on and improved. There is also a Healthy Child Programme, and there is a role for health to step up to the plate a little more and to work very collaboratively with children’s centres, who can also bring resource. We are not talking about a new service but about enhancing, and we are looking at other potential income that could be made more readily available.

Q503 Chair: Wouldn’t you be a practitioner who heads in the other direction? You are nought to 19, so you are not even focusing on below five, let alone on pre-birth and up to two. You are way off dealing with teenagers.

Anne Longfield: We do advocate and run centres that run beyond five, but I guess the starting point, in our view, is that the children’s centre is a mechanism to collaborate, to bring services and the best professionals together, and to co-ordinate and save. If you can follow that through, you are talking about making very good use of a very slim resource, and you can continue to provide family support over a much longer period. I am, however, very happy to go on to the over-fives as well.

Q504 Alex Cunningham: You all have a much bigger shopping basket than we have resources to fill. What I would like to know is how we work with children’s centres and direct them to make sure that we have the balance right between universal and targeted services while still meeting the needs of the most vulnerable.

Lisa Harker: I am in favour of the localism agenda. It is absolutely right that we trust professionals to make judgments, and that different areas need different kinds of children’s centres. However, the deal has to be that we hold those centres very carefully to account in terms of outcomes for children, which means, at a national level, measuring whether we are making a difference to children’s outcomes. At the moment, we are not making a difference and we should be.

Q505 Alex Cunningham: Are we not making any difference?

Lisa Harker: Not enough of a difference. The initial evaluation at seven of Sure Start local programmes is disappointing in that regard. We also need to hold centres to account for measuring their own progress. Some are very good at doing that but others are less good at doing it. That means really having the data in place to understand local need, but also to track progress.

Q506 Alex Cunningham: Localism dictated by a national agenda.

Lisa Harker: A framework set by a national agenda that says, "This is what matters in terms of how we measure success," and an expectation that centres themselves have to indicate progress that is made; otherwise, we are in danger of diluting the programme to such an extent that the really good practice loses out because of the poor practice.

Q507 Alex Cunningham: Are spending pressures and the hollowing-out of provision undermining the mission of children’s centres?

Anne Longfield: It certainly makes any provision more challenging to deliver. Across the piece, the services around the children’s centres are feeling that effect too. We will all be facing requests for reductions in budgets. Typically, they might have been 10%, 11% or 12% in years gone by, and they will be increasing now. There will be slices in terms of quite how that impacts. We know that the voluntary sector can deliver services probably much more cost-effectively than some of the public services because their overheads are not as big, so there are initial savings. A lot of us are delivering models around clusters and specialisms, and looking at very creative ways that retain the ability to deliver very good services to those who need them.

One point that was brought up a few times in the earlier session was around the ability to reach out to the most vulnerable families. I have to say there has been a real shift change over the last three years in terms of the accountability that centres have to have in their ability to reach families. To get an "Outstanding" from Ofsted, you have to demonstrate that you are working with, I think, 97% of the most disadvantaged families in the area. That is a high figure, which does not leave an immense amount to work with other families, although, clearly, most of us will be trying to retain a universal platform too. The issue that lots of people talked about five or six years ago, when the debate was around middle-class families taking over the services, has changed dramatically, and part of that has been led through the Ofsted inspections.

Q508 Alex Cunningham: We had the stigma question earlier. I think they raised it without us mentioning it as a question. Is there a possibility that children’s centres could have the stigma that they are a social services place?

Julie Longworth: That is the danger.

Alex Cunningham: Not that I would ever say that social services should have any stigma associated with them, obviously.

Julie Longworth: That is a risk we have to be really alert to. We have already heard that the universal aspect of children’s centres brings people through the front door and brings a lot of richness in itself to the community, so we would not want to lose that. Certainly, the parents we have talked to, across the board-and we heard this morning from others-would not want to lose that. Equally, it is quite right, in the current climate, that we need to be focusing on the individuals and children who need it most.

Q509 Neil Carmichael: Lisa, can I go back to your questions and observations about accountability? You are absolutely right. You also quite rightly saluted localism, but there is a problem, which is devising a mechanism that can both respect localism and the need for accountability upwards. How would you set about designing a mechanism that respected all those points and identified, measured and provoked improvement?

Lisa Harker: That is a difficult question.

Neil Carmichael: That is why I am asking it.

Lisa Harker: That is why you are asking me. One of the things we need to look at is how we measure outcomes for children. I would like to see a broader range of measures than school-readiness. Clare Tickell’s proposal around measurement at two to two and half, that is integrated, is a good model to build on. I also think the work that UCL has done in setting out some possible measures of outcomes is a very helpful way of thinking about how you measure both child outcomes and parenting style and context, which gives you a fuller picture of the contribution that services can make to children’s lives. We need a broader measure of outcomes at a national level, but equally we need to find ways to improve the use of data and measurements of effectiveness and impact at the level of centres themselves.

I know that there have been improvements in this regard, and there is a requirement currently in the Children and Families Bill for data to be shared, for example. It appears that, while there are some data protection issues, it is also about silo-working and individuals. In areas where individuals have been very determined to pull datasets together, it has been possible to make that work, so we have to learn from that and find ways of ensuring that all centres are, at a minimum, collecting sufficient data about the level of need in their area and the impact that they are making.

Q510 Alex Cunningham: Which services offered by children’s centres are the most effective in narrowing the gap in outcomes, particularly between the richest and poorest children?

Julie Longworth: I would say, from our point of view, what we see over and over again are evidence-based programmes that focus on early attachment, attunement and the EYFS. We see parents on a daily basis who do not know how to talk to their children and who do not feel confident in communicating with their children. We had an example not so long ago when I visited one of our children’s centres, where we had a young mum who did not want to write in her child’s journal because she did not want to ruin it. Her view was that to input into that would have a negative impact, so it is very much about going right back to the basics and working with those parents in terms of developing their self-esteem, confidence and literacy skills, so that they acknowledge and are aware that input into their children’s education is vital.

Q511 Alex Cunningham: What evidence is there that that is happening? That is great, and I know centres where it is happening like that and it is absolutely wonderful. I have seen great changes in families, but is that happening across the country or is it just a niche here and there?

Julie Longworth: I can say it is happening in Action for Children centres and that we can evidence that that is the case, as I am sure others can who are sitting here. I can talk about Parents for Change, which is a specific programme, and we can show, through our outcomes framework and the outcomes tools that we use with those parents, that we are achieving progress.

Q512 Alex Cunningham: There is tremendous concentration on readiness for school rather than early years, so are we getting it wrong?

Julie Longworth: On your point about consistency, there are great inconsistencies, which we grapple with all the time and you find all the time. There are some really good examples. There are some very good voluntary sector led centres. There are some local authorities that have really grasped children’s centres and built a really robust early years system with them at the heart. It is there that we see what can be achieved. All children’s centres, because they will be delivering the core purpose, will have to deliver a level of that, so there will be degrees of the level of intervention they have, but some will be less than others. The potential is there for them all to do that.

Going back to the previous question about how we know whether people are achieving the outcomes, that is where we need a much greater focus on a national framework for outcomes and the national leadership within it to ensure that this remains an issue that is closely monitored at a national level as well.

Q513 Alex Cunningham: The Chair is always at pains to say to panels that we need recommendations backed up by evidence, so what recommendation would you give us in order to improve consistency?

Lisa Harker: I would question why 12% of children’s centres have no evidence-based work going on in them.

Alex Cunningham: The recommendation is?

Lisa Harker: I would suggest that they are closed. Fewer, better is one decision that we need to make.

Q514 Chair: Who should make that decision?

Lisa Harker: My recommendation is that local authorities are required to show the impact that they are making. If they have children’s centres that are not running evidence-based programmes at all, they should be asking themselves why they are investing resource in them. If we were to scrap children’s centres tomorrow and try to reinvent them on the basis of the evidence, we would end up in a very similar place to where we are now. Trying to change children’s outcomes is very complex. It requires all sorts of interventions. There is no silver bullet. It is absolutely key that universal provision brings families to the centre and that you have targeted support. All of that makes it a very complicated area to work in.

Alex Cunningham: We need a recommendation.

Anne Longfield: There should be a national outcome. I do not think you should penalise the children and families where there is poor management of centres and they do not administer evidence-based programmes. I do think, however, that there should be a national outcomes framework.

Q515 Chair: We have a national outcomes framework, but where we have a centre that is rubbish, we just let it run on anyway because we must not punish the local kids.

Anne Longfield: No, we should hold local authorities to account within that, because there is a clear line of accountability.

Q516 Chair: What do we do when they continue to fail?

Anne Longfield: There are all sorts of ways you can intervene, but they should be, first of all, held to account. It should be recognised and there should be a clear expectation of how you redress that, and it should be something that is seen as being a high priority nationally and then acted on. There are ways of intervening and redress measures that we can look at.

Vicki Lant: There are particular models in the National College that support the development of less well performing schools, and similar sorts of intervention models could occur in leadership and support of children’s centres. Again, however, that requires support in the National College to be working in a similar way in this sector, and we have seen a lesser degree of support in that way. I hope that the new incarnation of the college would place similar levels of priority on the early years in creating system leadership across this sector.

Q517 Chair: Do you think it is neglecting it at the moment and there is a serious problem? The National College has a vast range of responsibilities now. Is there a danger that the early years could be a pretty low priority, forgotten or missed?

Vicki Lant: That is what concerns me. There is a very strong indication of a school focus within much Government work and within the college’s current remit.

Q518 Chair: What would a recommendation from this Committee look like that would help get the Government to change the brief of the college in order to make sure that that risk was not-

Vicki Lant: To ensure that there is a very strong network of national leaders in early education and of national leaders within integrated education who could support outcome achievement in the way that Lisa described. A lot is achieved by peer-to-peer support. A lot is achieved by leaders learning from other good leaders. In many cases, because local authorities are cash-strapped, many children’s centre leaders are not in a position to go out and see terrific exemplars of good practice and develop that in their own provision. That kind of operation could help.

Q519 Alex Cunningham: What is your recommendation, Julie? Let us be clear.

Julie Longworth: This is a slightly different tack in a way. It is something that I see over and over again. For me, there is something about the quality and format in terms of management information and data at a strategic local authority level. They have a responsibility as multi-agencies to look at a joint assessment of local need, but to then take that down to the advisory board; to me, it is unacceptable to have statutory agencies, as well as other partners, coming to advisory boards without the relevant detailed data that people need in order to have effective planning and to target those groups. I would really like to see something around that, if possible.

Alex Cunningham: A greater concentration on data-led decision-making.

Julie Longworth: It is about knowing where we need to target our services, and the information is there. We have the information. It is about making sure that people are accountable to do that.

Q520 Chair: Who is worst at that?

Julie Longworth: It varies, and you will have heard previously, I am sure, that in terms of health, that can be a struggle.

Q521 Chair: Thank you. Anne, do we need a national outcomes framework?

Anne Longfield: We do.

Chair: What does that look like?

Anne Longfield: It looks like an agreed set of outcomes nationally that are seen as the important outcomes that can help children achieve and help families support them in doing that. I do not think it is necessarily a million miles away from what you have. It might have been achieved through a payment by results scheme if it had been implemented in a slightly different way, but that has gone so it is not an issue. I know we get into muddy waters about what people spend their money on and localism as part of that decision, but it should be part of the deal in terms of delivering children’s centres on a statutory basis in terms of that accountability.

Q522 Chair: In terms of core purposes and "raising parental aspirations", how good are children’s centres? No one in the whole of this session-and I cannot remember it from any of our other sessions-has mentioned "improved parenting aspirations," even though that is right there in the core purpose, confused though it might be. How good are you and your outfits at raising parenting aspirations?

Anne Longfield: Part of it is terminology. If you had people from FNP here, they would talk about raising parental aspirations from the start. What we are talking about is supporting parents to be able to think big for their children, but also raising their own confidence in their ability to be able to support their children. It is the terminology around it. I am sure everyone at this table would say that they put "raising parental aspirations" as a core part of what they do, but they do not talk about that with parents. That is partly about working with parents the minute they come through the door, looking at what they are keen to achieve with their children and helping them get there as part of that journey.

Lisa Harker: It is a question of "To what end?" I talked about the core, core purpose being improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged children compared with their counterparts. For me, that is it; everything else is a means to that and is a way of achieving it. It is absolutely understandable that we have a stated core purpose from Government that is very broad, because the way you change those children’s outcomes is complex and requires activities on lots of fronts. We have to have services that reflect that.

Q523 Chair: In terms of parenting aspirations, research has shown before that low-income families tend to have pretty similar aspirations to everyone else. They all want their kids to go and have great jobs, and the kids want them too. Reality dawns as you go through teenage years around the fact that they are not doing the work, they do not have the basis of knowledge, study, habit and practice, and they end up simply incapable of going into the jobs that they thought they wanted.

Anne Longfield: Those families clearly do not have the means, resilience, networks or experience to be able to help their children get there.

Q524 Chair: Chinese immigrant parents do. They do not have anything more materially, but they simply tell their kids to work hard and make them do homework. They then give them extra work, and they all do well at school and go on to become doctors and engineers as they all hope to be.

Anne Longfield: They do, of course, and aspirations can be very high.

Chair: Yet white British working-class children, male and female, do appallingly badly.

Anne Longfield: That is where services like children’s centres can be real brokers, but they need to link with early education better.

Julie Longworth: It is also barriers to aspirations. A lot of the parents we see do have aspirations, but if they are struggling with mental health or domestic violence issues, those are real barriers. They are the issues that we are working on, to support them to be able to raise their head above the parapet and begin to look at aspirations.

Vicki Lant: One of the things that you mentioned earlier was encouraging people to come in to register their children’s birth at children’s centres. That is an incredibly practical, pretty obvious way of engaging families at a point when they may be pleased, open to suggestion and feeling that they want to do as well by their children as they possibly can. As Adrienne mentioned, it is an opportunity when you often see both parents and you can start to create and build that relationship. While I was agreeing with Lisa about the importance of those birth to two years in my statement about two, if you make that relationship at that point it is possible to start getting the engagement of other services and understanding what those particular families need, so that you can build and relate appropriately. If you need to support people’s aspirations, you have a basis for doing it.

Q525 Craig Whittaker: Lisa, you were very clear about where you thought children’s centres should be targeting, and that was the very early years. The Chair kind of got everybody else to agree, but in a roundabout way. Are you, therefore, saying that we should not focus as much in children’s centres on three and four-year-olds, for example?

Lisa Harker: It is about where we put the available resource. I do not think there is any disagreement on this panel, or probably in the room, about where we want to end up, which is a model of a children’s centre that is zero to five, or maybe even zero to 19, and pulls in a whole range of services so that parents do not have to navigate them for themselves, and that is very integrated in terms of learning about cognition, language and social and emotional development and so on. We all agree on that; the question is where we go now, given the resource constraints. Where is the biggest and most urgent gap?

That is where I would point to the pregnancy-to-two period as the biggest gap, not just because of its critical moment in children’s development, but also because it seems to me that if we can engage parents at that point, we have a very high level of engagement with services in the antenatal period and around the time of the birth for mothers and fathers. It is critical that that is sustained, because what we know from evidence-based programmes is that dosage matters. The level of support to families in difficulties has to be significant and maintained. There is a danger of trying to do too much on all fronts, at all times, and that we dilute the dosage so that we undermine the programme.

Q526 Craig Whittaker: Should the offer then be restricted to fewer children but coupled with a package of those family support mechanisms that you were talking about?

Lisa Harker: Are you asking about the two-year-old offer or for three and four-year-olds?

Craig Whittaker: All across the range. Should it be just to those families who really need it, or should it be a universal offer?

Lisa Harker: All the evidence tells us that you have to start with a universal offer. If you set up a children’s centre as having very good evidence-based programmes for the most disadvantaged families, they will not come. It will be very stigmatising and you do not get the social-mix effects that you want to achieve. You have to start with universal. Of course, some of our existing services are very good at engaging parents universally: midwifery and health-visiting, as well as stay and play-type activities in children’s centres. There is something to build on. I would, however, like to see more investment in the targeted programmes that sit around those universal services. It is not sufficient for a children’s centre to offer a stay and play service and no evidence-based targeted support, in my view.

Q527 Craig Whittaker: Does anybody have a different view?

Anne Longfield: I am not sure if it is a different view but it might be a different starting point. There is a lot of money being invested in early years across the piece, so while we are talking about a limited budget, we are still talking about a very significant budget. We have the children’s centre budget, the health budget and now the two-year-old offer, which is, as we have already said, significant. We also have the three and four-year-old investment. Put those together and there is a hefty amount of money that could really start to impact. At the moment, we are not doing enough to maximise that impact on any of those fronts. They are all seen as separate programmes. They are logged into ways of delivery that are not, ultimately, maximising their effectiveness. We are seeing children and, indeed, their families in different parts of a pigeonhole rather than as a whole thing. There is an opportunity and if we are looking for recommendations, I think there is one. I do not have an exact one for you, but it is about bringing together the early years system in an area, with children’s centres at the centre. That is something that works well and is really very effective. Then we can slightly move on from some of the discussions around whether we rob Peter to pay Paul, because what we can look at is how we ask other services-health or DWP-and, indeed, other areas of early years to step up to the plate and really engage much more fully in this. Whether that is enforcement, I do not know, but they can take a much greater role in delivering that early years service. We are missing a trick if we do not do that. There is another recommendation about two-year-olds where we could prevent ourselves from missing a trick. That continuation until school, and I would argue beyond, in terms of family support is really necessary, because more and more children’s centres-I am sure someone is monitoring them slightly more than I am-are focusing more on the nought to three, which is clearly something we would encourage them to do.

Vicki Lant: There is also an issue where, with greater freedoms among schools and working in that wider early years and integrated sector, you begin to get a longitudinal view of support to families. I am thinking very much of some work that Barnardo’s is doing in the Greenwich area at the moment, where there is a federation of secondary, primary and early years provision, where secondary has recognised that the long-term impact of performance of children in their environment could be better supported if there was increased funding going to some of their early years providers, recognising that that early support for brain development, activity and language and so on would produce better outcomes in the longer term. As a group, they have decided to invest differently and put some additional funding into early years. Those freedoms are helpful, which comes back to Neil’s point earlier about elements of governance. If federations recognise that there is potential, there is a weakness in the children’s centres system at the moment-that governance is advisory board. It needs teeth, and if there was an opportunity for the advisory system to be amended so that there was proper governance in a children’s centre-

Chair: Should it be like a school?

Vicki Lant: That kind of thing. Many of us are from charitable organisations and, of course, we have our own governance arrangements, so we have good models to share.

Q528 Chair: That would be a recommendation then. I saw Anne nodding. Julie?

Neil Carmichael: Lisa, was that a nod?

Lisa Harker: On governance?

Neil Carmichael: Yes.

Lisa Harker: No, I do not have a view.

Neil Carmichael: That would fit in with your accountability model, to some extent.

Lisa Harker: Yes, it would.

Vicki Lant: It made me think that we ought to make the point to you. When there is limited funding, if the people who know what their communities need are not in a position to be able to do it-

Chair: Point made, Vicki. I am going to interrupt you, but thank you.

Neil Carmichael: A good point-thank you.

Julie Longworth: For me, it goes back to my earlier point about the quality of the data and the quality of work that takes place in those advisory boards. I do not necessarily think that we need to go down that line; from my point of view, what we need to do is ensure that people have the right skills, that there is training in place for parents, that people are accountable and that there are clear expectations of their roles on advisory boards around the levels of information that they ought to be bringing and the processes around joint planning. For me, it is about the quality of the work that takes place there, and there are different ways to do that.

Q529 Chair: You are not in favour of governance.

Julie Longworth: I am not saying I am not in favour; I am saying there are a number of ways to ensure that advisory boards are more effective, and that accountability is held where it ought to be held.

Q530 Craig Whittaker: Are there are enough high-quality early years placements for two-year-olds in deprived areas?

Anne Longfield: Are there enough places?

Craig Whittaker: Yes-high-quality early years settings for two-year-olds in deprived areas.

Anne Longfield: The jury is slightly out on that.

Craig Whittaker: We do not know.

Anne Longfield: We do not know but there is a lot of early evidence coming in saying that there are some doubts. I know that I am banging on slightly about the two-year-olds and the children’s centres having a much greater link. There are rooms in children’s centres that were designed for childcare when children’s centres were set up, some of which are not being used.

Q531 Craig Whittaker: That was not the question. The question is: are there currently enough places or settings for those in deprived areas?

Anne Longfield: I believe there are not.

Craig Whittaker: You do not think there are, but there is no evidence yet.

Anne Longfield: Others may have evidence.

Lisa Harker: I do not think there is any clear evidence. What we are hearing from local authorities are concerns that there are not.

Vicki Lant: And that they need to be developed, so that would suggest that there are not.

Julie Longworth: I would agree. That is the quality issue: they may well be there but whether they are quality is a different question.

Q532 Mr Ward: I want some quick feedback from you on the core purpose and whether it can be met without childcare and early education.

Chair: Because 2,000 do not have childcare in them. Can they fulfil this core purpose without it?

Vicki Lant: Yes, they can, because one of your earlier speakers was suggesting-and it is right-that if the relationships are good between the children’s centre collaborating with others, it becomes possible.

Lisa Harker: I agree.

Chair: Thank you-sorry to have cut you off. Lisa agrees. Anne agrees too. Julie?

Anne Longfield: We have to work at it, though.

Julie Longworth: I agree, but where I have been involved with children’s centres where day care is integrated, I would say it is a richer provision.

Q533 Mr Ward: The second question is about qualified teachers in those settings: are they an imperative?

Lisa Harker: Yes, in early years settings.

Julie Longworth: I would say so.

Anne Longfield: They are absolutely essential as part of the network of provision in that area. There are some opportunities with early years teachers and how we place them in children’s centres as well.

Q534 Chair: But Clare Tickell said that every children’s centre should have a qualified teacher. I assume that must mean including the 2,000 that do not have any childcare.

Lisa Harker: The teacher is important for the early education part of the offer, and that is the bit that it needs to relate to, not the centre itself.

Julie Longworth: Where there is qualified teacher input, again we see a direct correlation between that and improved outcomes and quality. It is across the whole of the children’s centre area. It comes back to your point in terms of the whole of childcare provision.

Chair: Including the ones that do not have childcare in them, there should still be a qualified teacher.

Anne Longfield: They should have access to one.

Julie Longworth: Absolutely-there has to be some level of qualified teacher provision.

Vicki Lant: We talked earlier about a hub-and-spoke model. It is really important that a qualified teacher should be part of the wider arrangement of a children’s centre. All of the work that is done in stay and play-type activities and the modelling of adults relating to parents of children benefits hugely in helping them to make good interventions, to understand their children’s play and to behave appropriately. [Interruption.]

Chair: We will wait until the bell finishes, for Hansard’s sake.

Q535 Mr Ward: The interesting evidence that we collected on the qualifications of staff, when we were looking at the hoo-hah about the ratios changing, was that there should be more bodies in that crucial nought to three period, that could have that contact between children and professionals, and then possibly more qualified staff post-three could then deal with more children. Is that your understanding?

Vicki Lant: I would suggest that good graduate input from pre-birth onwards is very important, for all the reasons that Lisa identified earlier: supporting language development, child development and emotional development. All of those things are improved by high-quality people giving leadership in a learning environment, whether or not it is providing childcare.

Julie Longworth: It is about ensuring that every activity is outcomes-focused. That is the bottom line.

Q536 Chair: The two-year-old offer incorporated into the early intervention funding is morphing into something else. The non-ring-fenced element of this early years spending is going to be reduced in 2013 and 2014. What will the impact of that be on children’s centres?

Vicki Lant: It will be very significant. We are already seeing requests for anything up to 25% reductions being required in the short term. There is a real challenge. If Government is looking at commissioned services in order to help deliver this programme, it needs to do more in supporting a longer term vision for ways in which budgets can be projected so that local authorities or the commissioner-largely local authorities-are working with commissioned services. Some of this work is on a hand-to-mouth basis. In Barnardo’s we have picked up some contracts that were ostensibly four years; they have been with two-year breaks and possibly with a year-on-year refresh, so you are talking about a situation where you have only about 50% of the year to run, and then you are already into another commissioning arrangement. In terms of disruption to the service, to the children and families in particular, and to the staff, it is enormous and it does not make for efficient working.

Julie Longworth: We have recent experience where a service has just been tendered on a framework agreement, so there is absolutely no guarantee of any work at all. We will become part of the framework. It is for seven months, until the end of March. There is TUPE liability, which would mean that for any of us to go for it, we would have an immediate liability for those staff and no guarantee at all that there would be any work from April 2014.

The other thing that we are seeing is local authorities dismantling elements of the service in line with the core purpose; as an example, they are perhaps retaining the management and governance, and tendering out elements of early engagement and family support. There is a real danger that what we are doing is dismantling some of the fantastic work that has been done over the past few years. For me, the danger is beginning to split the management and governance, which for me is the golden thread of quality, all the way through, from different elements of the service. It is not something I would like to see become a trend.

Anne Longfield: It would make it really more challenging than it is. Certainly they are stretched already and they would be much more stretched. There are some ways you can ameliorate it, through fewer back-office staff-not that voluntary sector organisations have many of those, but fewer even than that; some more creative clustering of services; and, indeed, engaging the community more in delivering some of those services. That is certainly something that we do.

Q537 Chair: The pressure is enormous. You have statutory services under pressure themselves and a reducing budget. A lot of authorities could easily see this early intervention, with its long-term payoff, as a luxury they cannot afford at a time of austerity. Are some viewing it that way, and are others doing a great job of maintaining?

Anne Longfield: There are some local authorities that are set down the path of early intervention. They found some early money to be able to invest, and a little bit of transition money. They are starting to see the difference it can make in building the evidence. The Early Intervention Foundation is just going to have its first 20 on that path, and that will be helpful as well. There are many more, as is always the case, who have not got ahead at this stage. They are in a kind of survival battle, and the fear that they talk around in some of those is just having statutory services. I would argue that children’s centres are absolutely part of that safeguarding infrastructure that needs to be there and absolutely part of all those statutory requirements; however, sometimes short-term decision-making comes in. That is why there needs to be national monitoring.

Chair: Outcomes framework.

Anne Longfield: And outcomes framework.

Q538 Ian Mearns: I was talking to some people from my own local authority at the weekend, and the general attitude there was "We are not dead yet", but that is about as far as it goes. Regarding planning for the future in terms of services for very young children, are you as voluntary sector providers of children’s centres being consulted when plans are being developed at a local level? Is it patchy?

Julie Longworth: In my experience, it really varies. Some local authorities are absolutely fantastic at that. They are involving us.

Chair: Who, Julie?

Ian Mearns: An example.

Julie Longworth: I can think of Kirklees as an example, which has had a massive reduction in funding and some real challenges. They have involved us in that all the way down the line in terms of how we can remodel our services in a way that fits with the wider nought to 19 agenda across the local authority. In doing so and in doing it jointly, we have been very creative and have not seen perhaps some of the frontline services reduce in a way that might have had to be done had we not done that in partnership. In others, like the previous example, we have seen commissioning coming out in odd ways, with very short terms, and they have not involved us in those discussions or plans at all.

Q539 Ian Mearns: Part of the problem that local authorities are experiencing in some places is that an awful lot of corporate knowledge, experience and understanding has gone out of the window.

Julie Longworth: Absolutely.

Q540 Ian Mearns: What particular changes do you think local authorities could make in commissioning children’s centres and their services in terms of planning for the future? You have alluded to it, but is there anything in particular you would like to see them do?

Vicki Lant: Work has been done by the Innovation Unit, which has been particularly helpful, around an approach called Radical Efficiency, particularly focusing on early years, which takes a user-based approach. Often, if professionals are identifying things that they think are important, those may be the things that are prioritised. By having dialogue-which, in some cases, will be with the local authority, but also with users and possible providers-you often end up coming at a problem in a very different way. You can often achieve reductions in cost while improving the nature of the service in a way that better relates to the users and the end beneficiaries. There are some very good pointers of direction through that particular route.

Julie Longworth: For me, there is something about looking at how the children’s centres fit into the wider system and, again, in the current climate, recognising that what we cannot afford is duplication. Perhaps we could have-again we have had examples of this-social workers who are based in children’s centres, who may then be an initial point of referral for children nought to five. For me, it is about looking at where we have really experienced, qualified staff and how we might be using them slightly differently in order to achieve efficiency while retaining quality. There is a whole host of work that could be done around that.

Anne Longfield: I would endorse that. Where children’s centres are most firmly embedded and most likely to be sustainable, they see themselves as a system, not as an operational programme. That is something that we should encourage or require local authorities to do. The level of duplication at the moment is very high, which, for many parents, is an unforgivable waste at times when there is very little money.

Q541 Mr Ward: We talked earlier about the influence of evidence-based interventions, which implies that we need to monitor and look at outcomes. I have some specific questions, but just as a general subject, how do we identify the progress that has been made and what outcomes should we be using?

Vicki Lant: There are a number of different outcomes programmes. There are a number of different volume programmes that local authorities require providers to use. We have come to a watershed point where there is now commissioning out of children’s services, in that local authorities have used particular systems themselves in the past but, as part of their commissioning requirement, are requiring the providers to use those systems too. As a large provider-I am sure Action for Children feels exactly the same-we find ourselves using half a dozen different off-the-shelf programmes that are used nationally, both for outcome-based monitoring and volume-based monitoring, which, as an organisation, makes it mighty difficult to recognise how well we are performing across all of our provision, but also how we can improve, because the benchmarks in all of them are slightly different. Again, there is an issue here about commissioning from the local authority’s point of view. They need to know but they do not need to specify, so it is about reducing micromanagement at local authority level, as you are doing in other ways.

Lisa Harker: The role of the Early Intervention Foundation could be critical in terms of having a repository for the latest knowledge in terms of evidence-based programmes. At the moment, there are a number of well known programmes that are used by children’s centres and others. This is also a growing area of work, and NSPCC is piloting a number of programmes to identify new interventions in this area. There is learning from other countries too. From the commissioning perspective, it is absolutely critical that local authorities can have the latest up to date knowledge and information about which evidence-based programmes are working and where promising practice is emerging.

Q542 Mr Ward: The difficulty is that we do not have equality of provision across the piece; it is very difficult to measure one against another when the provision is so different from one place to another.

Julie Longworth: At Action for Children, we have a system called e-Aspire, which is our outcomes system. We also have an outcomes framework. Regardless of what the intervention is-and we have seen research from King’s College London in relation to a whole host of evidence-based programmes-we can show the evidence and the outcomes that we achieve for children and parents who have been through those programmes. We have heard challenges this morning in terms of our evidence-based programmes working and whether they provide at the end of the day, and what we need to be doing is developing systems that can evidence that. That is certainly something that I feel we are strong on, and I would be happy to share examples if you want to see them.

Chair: Please do. David, I am afraid I am going to have to cut you off with your very important line of questioning and just take the last couple of minutes for Bill.

Q543 Bill Esterson: I want to ask about workforce and leadership. We have touched on this a bit, but we have heard evidence about lack of knowledge of child development and, particularly, language development. Is that something you would confirm? Also, do staff in children’s centres have the necessary knowledge and skills to have a status with other professionals that really makes them as effective as they need to be?

Vicki Lant: Perhaps I can take a lead on this. The National Professional Qualification in Integrated Centre Leadership, which initially developed through Pen Green and subsequently rolled out through the National College, has been invaluable in providing a very rapid and transformational type of leadership development for children’s centre leaders. What is remarkable is, because of budget, so many people who come into leadership posts in children’s centres are often less well qualified, and some not necessarily graduate, and that programme takes them from Level 3/4 development to postgraduate Level 7 in the space of a year.

Bill Esterson: Should it be mandatory?

Vicki Lant: It would be very helpful. In the way that it is currently operated, however, it is a face-to-face programme. It is more expensive than online development. What is critical, however, is that it recognises that these are people people, and they need to be able to operate and have credibility in a variety of different contexts.

Chair: I am going to cut you off, Vicki, and bring Anne in.

Anne Longfield: Leadership is absolutely key. The original cohort of people who were often running children’s centres were very much from the early years background; now, it is a much bigger ask. There is development needed in terms of enabling people to be more entrepreneurial and enabling them to make partnerships with high status, but that is something that we are seeing coming through. Certainly, we would probably all say that we have graduate leaders there. I wondered if, before you ended, you were going to come back to the big question that you raised early in the session about where we put money and whether children’s centres should close, because that is something that quite a lot here have views on.

Chair: Sadly, we do not have the time, but we have a few seconds left for Julie to have the final word.

Julie Longworth: I was going to go back to your point around the qualification. For me, it is not so much about a qualification but about ensuring that we have managers with skills in performance management and skills and experience in safeguarding. We have talked about critical analysis in terms of data, and it may well be that we could look at those in terms of different modules. Some people may have the lot; others may have gaps in terms of their knowledge and experience.

Q544 Bill Esterson: It is management that is key to the issues around the skills of the workforce.

Julie Longworth: It is, although what I would say is that, certainly within Action for Children centres, all of our staff and support workers are NVQ 3, so we have high expectations. The other thing, which is critical and something that has come out of the Munro review, is that we have adopted lead practitioners in all our services. They have an absolutely specific remit in terms of safeguarding and in terms of the quality of supervision, family support work and reflective supervision. It is very much about ensuring that workers with the most disadvantaged children have the knowledge, skills and experience, and the opportunity to reflect on them.

Chair: Thank you all very much. Anne, I know that, just like some sort of medieval prison, we talked about the walls closing as the funding goes down, which will make it more critical to make hard decisions about how best we use finite resource in order to deliver the best for children and make sure that we are not spreading it so thinly that we have a kind of pretend service that does not deliver. Maybe we need to recognise that we had better have an excellent service in fewer places, if that is the only thing we can do, but that is something for discussion. Please write to us if you have any thoughts or reflections on today, and any recommendations you would like to see in our report. Thank you so very much for coming along.

Prepared 5th July 2013