To be published as HC 852-iii

House of COMMONS



Education Committee

foundation years: sure start children’s centres

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Professor Edward Melhuish, Professor Kathy SYlva, Professor Peter Moss AND Caroline Sharp


Evidence heard in Public Questions 216 - 335



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Education Committee

on Wednesday 5 June 2013

Members present:

Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)

Alex Cunningham

Bill Esterson

Pat Glass

Charlotte Leslie

Siobhain McDonagh

Ian Mearns

Chris Skidmore

Mr David Ward

Craig Whittaker


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Edward Melhuish, Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues, Birkbeck, University of London, Professor Kathy Sylva, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Oxford, Professor Peter Moss, Emeritus Professor, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, and Caroline Sharp, Research Director, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), gave evidence.

Q216 Chair: Good morning and welcome to this session of the Education Committee, looking at the foundation years and Sure Start children’s centres. I am delighted that we have been joined by such a panel of distinguished members today. We have got quite a lot to cover. We have got two panels, so I will ask my Committee to be short and pithy in their questioning, and I know such a distinguished panel will always be succinct and purposeful in their replies. Thank you all very much for joining us today. We tend to be informal here and use first names; I hope you would be comfortable with that.

Can I start by asking why is it that England has some of the highest childcare costs for parents in Europe, and yet we have poorly paid staff and variable quality of care? Would anyone like to start us off on that? Peter, you look keen.

Professor Moss: The first surmise about high childcare costs will need to be looked at in relation to a new report for the Department for Education by Professor Helen Penn and Dr Eva Lloyd, which is looking a little bit more carefully at the OECD figures from which this is usually taken. I think it will be important to bear in mind their conclusions about the complexities of drawing up these things.

Q217 Chair: Sorry, you are suggesting that costs to parents for childcare in this country are not high, relative to other countries?

Professor Melhuish: Costs to parents are clearly high, but you have to sort that out from the total cost of childcare when you take into account the various subsidies, tax allowances, etc, that exist in different countries, and the proportion of those costs that falls to parents. It is true that the proportion of costs that falls to parents in the UK is higher than for most European countries, but often the total cost is not particularly different, when you take account of all the other factors contributing.

Q218 Chair: But the Government spends about £5 billion a year on childcare as well. The case I thought we had given to us by Government so far is that we have among the highest costs in Europe for parents, and one of the highest public expenditures compared with other countries as well, at £5 billion. Is that not right?

Professor Moss: Again, I think that is important to qualify. I have recently written an article with Dr Lloyd that points out that, although we have certainly spent more than we did do, the actual level of expenditure by the Government that the OECD shows is not accurate. Actually, we spend something around the average for OECD countries. OECD statistics tend to suggest that we are up there with Denmark and other countries, which is clearly nonsense. Again, we have to treat these things with some caution. We have spent more in recent years. We do not spend as much as the world­class countries do, and it is that difference that accounts for the fact that parents pay relatively more and we have, as you rightly said, a rather poorly qualified and extremely badly paid workforce. If you spend 1.2% or 1.3% of your GDP on early years, then you get a world­class service.

Q219 Chair: Does that entirely add up? We have got "average" for the OECD expenditure on childcare, and yet we are among the highest costs to parents, so they are topping it up relative to other countries, yet we have among the lowest paid and lowest qualified staff. I am not sure I quite see how these things add up.

Professor Sylva: I disagree with one of your points; we do not have the lowest­paid staff. It depends which staff. The staff who are caring for and educating four­year­olds and five­year­olds and young sixes are trained teachers. So we have the lowest­paid staff in the childcare sector, but once children come into reception class, we have some of the highest­paid staff. It is really wrong to say that the whole workforce is low paid. That is not the case.

Chair: Thank you. Excellent.

Q220 Siobhain McDonagh: Does the new core purpose set the right direction for children’s centres? Is it supported by research evidence?

Chair: Who would like to have a go at that?

Professor Sylva: I will begin. I am one of the leads of the national evaluation of children’s centres, and we have been conducting a study. We began doing fieldwork in 2010. We are still continuing fieldwork in 2013. We have found in this period that the focus of work is shifting more and more toward targeted provision-toward work with the most vulnerable families. This is at the price of universal services such as Stay and Play, and I will give you an example. A children’s centre I visited recently used to have three Stay and Play sessions a week that suited people on different days. Now they have one, because they are cutting back. They are putting more effort and resource into visiting families who are the most vulnerable.

It seems to me that, in a time when all government services are having to cut, there is not the money that we used to have. The children’s centres are responding to that by putting the resources into targeted provision. There is one problem, and that is that one of the advantages of the open access where you can drop in if you feel like it on Thursday morning is that some families who would never come will go. These are the families who may resist the more targeted provision, and so most children’s centres like to have universal services that are welcoming. People can come and have a taste, and then they can grab in. In my view, the targeting has been worthwhile, and it is happening.

Chair: Caroline, did you want to come in?

Caroline Sharp: I was going to pick up on Kathy’s point there. We were doing research around this issue of universal targeted services just after the Government announced the change of direction for the core purpose, and this was exactly what the children’s centres were telling us that they were concerned about. They really felt that universal services were very important for many reasons, not just the one that Kathy gave but also because it meant that the services were not stigmatised; that children got to be in the company of other children in a mixed group, so that they learn from one another; that parents got to learn and have role models from other parents; and that it gave real opportunities to identify parents that had hidden needs as well, such as those who may be from more affluent backgrounds but perhaps had difficulties of isolation, depression, or those kinds of issues. They would not have come to the children’s centre otherwise.

Chair: Thank you.

Q221 Mr Ward: Just at this point, before I forget, and talking on targeting, this is something that was referred to by someone at an earlier session. Do you think we have got too many children’s centres, and that we should spend the same amount on fewer centres?

Professor Melhuish: It is important that the children’s centres that are in disadvantaged areas are very high quality and provide the right kinds of services. If that has to occur through cutting the number of children’s centres in not-so-deprived areas, then I think that should happen. However, I think there is a need for the services to place a high priority on improving the daily life experiences of children. There is not enough focus on improving the day­to­day experiences of children in a way that will foster their long­term development, and there is a lack of training of the staff on what constitutes the right kind of experiences to foster children’s long­term development. There is a greater need for improved training in that respect.

Chair: We will return to this issue. I know we touch on it later on, around the numbers.

Q222 Siobhain McDonagh: I was particularly interested in whether there was research evidence to suggest that targeting was a good direction of travel, rather than universal. Does anybody have any views on that?

Professor Melhuish: If one had limitless supplies of money, providing a children’s centre in every community in the country regardless of affluence would be a very good thing to do. Clearly, we are not in that situation, so in the circumstances where we have limited resources, there is a justification for a more targeted approach. However, if one were working towards the society we would ultimately like to be in the future, we should be thinking of universal provision of children’s centres for all communities in the longer term.

Professor Moss: I would very much like to back Professor Melhuish on that. I think the question, ever since children’s centres were first established in the 1970s, was what their future was. My view-and I was involved in the 1970s, and have been onwards-is that they are an essential part of reforming what is the deeply dysfunctional early childhood system that this country has had and has never been able to reform in the way it needs to be done. I see children’s centres as, in the long term, the core provision for all children and families, and as part of the movement towards a universal, integrated and functional early childhood system. It is the difference between what happens over the next two or three years and where we want to be in 15 or 20 years.

Professor Sylva: I have a little bit of data. The national evaluation will report on impact in two and a half years’ time. We do not have the impact on 5,000 children, but we have some information from the early stages of the study, and I think perhaps there is an argument to have fewer. We know that families that are in very severe circumstances and children who are in very great need do not benefit from light­touch services. The only way to make a major impact on those children and those families is through really intensive services, and one of the programmes that has been shown to have positive effects on children is the Incredible Years programme. You may come to it later, if we come to evidence­based practice.

In our study-which was a study of 500 children’s services, representative in the country-the average number of families in the Incredible Years programme or the Triple P showed that the two most successful programmes in turning around families are between 20 and 25 families a year. That is all they can reach, and when we say to them, "Why do you not do more?" they say, "We cannot afford it." For Stay and Play, we know from published reports from our study that it costs on average £5 per child per session. Incredible Years costs £1,400 a year per family. Children’s centres say to us, "We would like to have more evidence­based programmes, the really intensive kind, but we cannot afford them." I know the person who recommended that you might consider a policy that had few. I think we should really have services that are going to make a difference, and if the most vulnerable families are the ones you are after, there is some argument for it if there is a completely limited pot of money.

Q223 Bill Esterson: Just to pursue this point, if you can target only the most deprived communities, I think what you were saying earlier was that it was still desirable to include more affluent families to support those communities. I am taking the nods as confirmation. Can you actually quantify the improvement in services and the financial benefit of that approach, if there is that limitation of targeting the most deprived areas?

Professor Melhuish: To do that, you need to have longer term studies, because the financial benefits of improving parenting accrue many years later when those children are less likely to be involved in crime, less likely to be antisocial, and more likely to do better at school. To get those outcomes, you need to look quite a few years ahead.

Q224 Bill Esterson: What about more immediate savings by having those more affluent parents there to provide support? Can you say that there is a saving already, in staffing numbers or costs, from the involvement of other parents?

Professor Melhuish: I do not think the evidence exists to answer your question, quite frankly.

Q225 Pat Glass: Kathy, just a point of clarification: is the Incredible Years the Webster­Stratton?

Professor Sylva: Yes.

Q226 Pat Glass: Surely that has been around for 30 years.

Professor Sylva: It has, and we know what its results are. It really reduces children’s behavioural problems. It has been shown to eventually reduce children being identified in schools. Stephen Scott has done research showing how much schools and local authorities save, but it is a very expensive programme. I believe it was Caroline who mentioned the mix, and there is one thing that we can do that actually has no cost, which is to have more advantaged children in the centre. Project EPPE, which Ted and I worked on, showed that one of the factors associated with higher SAT scores at the age of 11 was being in a school and a preschool with children from more advantaged backgrounds. If you have the mix, you do not have to pay extra staff; just having those children there is improving the vocabulary of the children in need. We do not want to have targeted centres like Head Start in America, where you have all the kind of deviant children from the neighbourhood in one place. We want to have centres where there are other children, because the other children are helping to educate the young children. It is not just the staff. We want to have intense services-which are really expensive-for the families in this mixed centre that need it.

Q227 Mr Ward: In terms of social and community cohesion, is there an adverse effect on the more advantaged children?

Professor Moss: No.

Professor Sylva: No.

Q228 Pat Glass: Can I just ask about some outcomes and the impact of Sure Start? Why has Sure Start been more effective at improving parents’ outcomes than child outcomes?

Professor Melhuish: Greater resources. When we worked on the national evaluation of Sure Start from 2001 to 2012, there was increasingly an emphasis on targeting the parents and working with the parents, and the majority of the budgets of Sure Start programmes were spent on parenting­related activities, rather than child­related activities. I actually feel that was a mistake in some ways, because the quality of the childcare and the quality of the education in Sure Start communities was actually no better than that in the general population, and it should have been higher. To produce the benefits that were required-that is, improvement in the child outcomes-you should have been producing higher quality childcare and higher quality education in those communities than in the general population. You have got to make those children catch up, but that did not happen, and that was because there were such great pressures to work with the parents and the outreach programmes, and so on.

Q229 Pat Glass: Is that everyone’s view?

Chair: Is that because the big focus was on the best way to help a child being to have them in a family in which the parents were working, and therefore the main focus for a while was on getting parents into work, rather more than it was supporting the child and their development? Is that right, or not?

Professor Melhuish: There was, at one time, an emphasis on that. I do not think that was true across the whole period. There has been a dilemma among Sure Start programmes as to what extent you divert your resources to working with parents, versus working with the children. The idea is that you improve child development in two ways. One is that you work directly with the children and improve the children’s daily experiences. The other is that you work with the parents, make the parents better parents, and because the parents are better parents, they then support the children. That is the more indirect approach, and it is that second approach that has tended to predominate. The problem is that it is more difficult to alter child outcomes via parents than it is by altering the direct daily experiences of children, and I think that more attention should have been given to altering the children’s daily experiences.

Q230 Pat Glass: There is an argument that better parental outcomes will, in due course, lead to better child outcomes. Is that something that you would support?

Professor Melhuish: I think that is true, but it will be slower, and it is questionable whether it is actually more cost-effective than working directly with the children.

Professor Sylva: Improving parenting is a good thing, and especially good for social and emotional development. However, we know that one of the driving factors behind children having good language, communication, vocabulary and even grammar is being exposed to very wide vocabulary and very complicated grammar. There is no way you are going to improve the grammar through parenting programmes, and I do not mean that the grammar is correct. I mean that you say sentences like, "After you put your shoes on, then we will go out to the park." It is the complicated functional grammar. I am not talking anything fancy at all. Children from very disadvantaged homes will not get that at home.

You can improve their parenting forever, and you will not improve their language scores or their reading when they get to Key Stage 2. You really have to do both, and you have to have highly qualified staff who have wonderful puppet shows and plays and a love of language and poetry. That is what you get in the high­quality provision that Ted is talking about, but there are not enough children’s centres in the country for that to raise the curve. How many are there left, 3,000? You are not going to get all the children who need help really succeeding, economically even, through children’s centres. Children’s centres have a role in improving practice around them, but they will not serve enough children.

Q231 Chair: Certain numbers have come up again. Can I press the whole panel on this? Peter, you set out a vision of having universal children’s centre provision across the country. That is the ideal. That is what a country that wants the best outcomes should do. However, given we are where we are-financially and the rest of it-would we be better off with a smaller number of properly funded, highly supported, excellent centres than we are with a bit over 3,000 centres, all too many of which struggle to have the staff and provide the intense services that will make a difference and will thus make the case intellectually for the expansion of children’s centres over time? What does the panel think? Caroline, I will start with you. Should we maintain what we have got and fight to the death anyone who wants to cut it, or would we be better off having a smaller number of properly funded, intense, high­quality centres?

Caroline Sharp: It is a really difficult question for a researcher to answer, because I do not know what research evidence I can bring to this discussion.

Q232 Chair: We know there are very good centres that make a difference, and we know there are lots of others that do not. I would have thought that would be quite helpful.

Caroline Sharp: It is, but as we said, we are lacking that infrastructure that other countries have. If you cut some of those other centres, then what is there for the children to go to? You are taking away services from those people, and they may not be the most targeted services for the most in need, but they are still valued services. It is a really difficult conundrum.

Chair: That was a political answer from Caroline. That was unfair.

Professor Moss: I would say this, probably, but I do not think it is either/or. There may well be a case for building up a really strong cadre of children’s centres now, functioning in the way that we would all like to see them, but that is not sufficient unless we have answered the question, "Where do we want to get to?" I have seen this happen in the 1970s and I have seen it happen in the 1990s, when Government has said, "Oh, well, this is not the time that we should be doing this." If we had actually built up children’s centres in the 1970s, as we had the opportunity to do, we would have a world­class children’s centre­based early childhood centre today. The real problem is that every time we say, "We cannot do it now, so we will just have to think about what we must do now," and we never say, "Yes, but then we also have to think about where we would like to get to not tomorrow or the next year, but perhaps in 10 or 15 years’ time."

Q233 Chair: I take the point. Nonetheless, if Kathy’s results in 2015 show that in most cases there’s very little impact, and actually that billions of pounds of public money have been poured into early-years intervention to turn around the lives of the most vulnerable children in the country, and it is not working, we could see the whole mission set back, whereas we might have been better to have had centres that, absolutely based on the evidence, were able to fund proper evidence­based interventions that really did make a difference. This might be 25 families or 25 children at a time, but all the way, every bit of expenditure was shown to make a real difference. We have got the troubled families initiative and other methods. The danger, politically, is that if you do not show results, then you could see yourself set back, and the whole cross­party fashion for supporting early intervention could disappear.

Professor Melhuish: I think you are absolutely correct in your summation. That is the major argument for having fewer highly resourced and well functioning children’s centres over a larger number of less well resourced and less well functioning children’s centres. That is certainly the most compelling argument in favour of that strategy.

Q234 Chair: Do you favour that strategy? It is a tough choice.

Professor Melhuish: I do favour it. In our work, we have found that the outcomes from children’s centres were mixed depending on the children’s centres. As you say, there were some very well functioning children’s centres that had better effects than the others, and many children’s centres that were not having very good effects at all. I think we need to put more work into establishing what makes the most effective children’s centres. We were constantly diverted from doing that work. We were constantly asked to do that work and we were diverted from doing it, and I think not letting that work proceed was a major mistake of the Government at the time.

Chair: Thank you.

Mr Ward: I was interested in the benefits of children from deprived communities mixing with children from less deprived communities. I was in a children’s centre recently, and they were complaining that because of the funding model, and because they have got a deprived area but also a slightly more affluent area, their funding is reduced. They cannot provide the high­intensity support to the most deprived families because the funding is being cut.

Chair: Any comment on that? We will take that as a comment in itself.

Q235 Ian Mearns: One of the dilemmas that we might have in terms of trying to judge the relative success of a children’s centre in a particular setting is that you do not necessarily have a control group to compare it with. Therefore, while some centres might be less successful in their outcomes than others, what you cannot judge is how bad things might have been for that community had it not been there at all. Therefore, you have got to add that into the mix before coming to a judgment.

Professor Melhuish: That is a great difficulty of working in this area, which is why looking at what differentiates the most effective centres from the least effective centres is a strategy that will work, and that will help move policy forward in a highly productive, focused way.

Q236 Chair: Are you doing that, Kathy, as part of your work?

Professor Sylva: Yes, we are. We agree that communities are very different but we are looking at high users and low users with the same kinds of family patterns. We are trying to control for the type of family and how much they use. Getting back to "Should we have fewer?" I really dread the thought of closing centres; even if we do have a better economic situation, they are still closed. What is happening already, you will be pleased to hear, is the clustering of centres. There may not be enough money to support three in a really good way, but two of them are now becoming satellite centres. This makes the manager’s job much, much more difficult, and I hope we will get on to that in the questioning. It was relatively easy to manage a single person and a single unit, but now it is very, very hard, and we have to talk about the training. It is moving in that direction, so if there are funds, those that have been decommissioned-so to speak-can become independent and free-standing again, I hope. The property will be there.

Q237 Pat Glass: What are the main lessons that we can learn from Sure Start, and are our children’s centres now sufficiently focused on school readiness and reducing inequalities? Are they up for the new challenge of the new core purpose?

Professor Melhuish: My view is that they are still not focused enough on improving the children to be prepared for school. There is still not adequate focus on that. I still think, in particular, the language development of children is not being supported adequately by children’s centres, and this requires further training of staff. I am always struck, when I visit children’s centres, by how few of the staff have basic knowledge of factors affecting child development.

Q238 Pat Glass: We have now got a real issue around language into literacy, and I think that is at the base of an awful lot of the problems that these children have. They simply do not have the language that they need to be able to read. Are you saying that the staff in children’s centres are not qualified to be able to deliver on that?

Professor Melhuish: I think there is further training needed to improve their capacity to know how the day­to­day language experiences of children will affect longer term development. All the data show that the sheer amount of language children hear will be one thing that affects their longer term language capacity, but it is not just sheer amount; it is the appropriate way in which you respond to the utterances of children. This is true from birth onwards. They need to have this basic knowledge about how children-even in their first year-learn the phonetic structure of language, even though they are not saying any words. They then learn to say words that often do not sound like real words.

Q239 Chair: After all this time, with the core purpose, how is it possible that we do not have a training system and a focus in management to make sure that a basic understanding of these needs is in place in the staff?

Professor Sylva: Almost half of our children’s centres do not have children in them, with the exception of Stay and Play. With the targeting, what has gone is having children in the centre. I visited one centre where I said, "Well, could I see where the children are?" because they had a playgroup that was affiliated. The staff did not know the code to get into the playgroup because they had changed it recently, because the staff were targeting vulnerable families. Social workers are increasingly using centres as their treatment. The work with the family is to put them in a children’s centre, so your Government have said, "Vulnerable families, this is what we want." They are responding to you, and it means that they do not get into the playgroup. I disagree a little with Ted, because with 3,000 of them, this is never going to improve the language of poor children in the country. We do not have enough of them.

Professor Melhuish: All I ask is that they improve the language of the children who are attending those particular centres.

Q240 Pat Glass: I have always had a concern that we do not have staff in primary schools who specialise in language development. I remember working in an authority where we said, "Every primary school has to have someone with additional training," and it made a huge difference. Are you saying that those kinds of people just do not exist in the centres?

Caroline Sharp: I am just agreeing with the debate that you are having that language is absolutely, fundamentally the building block.

Pat Glass: It is fundamental.

Caroline Sharp: That is where the training need is greatest.

Q241 Mr Ward: We have covered a few of these areas, but if we could go back again, I believe Kathy was talking about some of the findings. I believe the conclusion of the ECCE report is in 2015, but has anything come out so far that is of value?

Professor Sylva: Not on the impact. We know who is getting the services, but we do not yet know the impact, because the children are just two and we have to wait until they are three. We cannot hurry them up.

Q242 Mr Ward: Is there a gap? The last national evaluation of Sure Start-the NESS impact report-was 2012.

Professor Melhuish: That is right.

Mr Ward: So there is a gap.

Professor Melhuish: Basically, we showed that there were continued effects on parenting and on child health outcomes to some extent, but the school achievement scores of those children did not show any benefits as a result of the Sure Start experience. We saw some initial benefits in social development very early on, but those got washed out as the non­Sure Start children all got access to the free pre­school education that was then made available to every child in the country. That meant that the non­Sure Start children caught up with the Sure Start children in their school-readiness skills. That evidence was a function of the fact that there was more attention being paid to working with the parents than working with the children directly.

Q243 Mr Ward: I think there is some questioning later on on that. Again, an area that you touched on was the evidence­based interventions, and I just wanted some comments on how important you feel that is.

Professor Melhuish: Evidence­based policy in this area is very important, and we should pursue that. The particular angle we should be pursuing at the moment in regard to children’s centres is what differentiates the most effective children’s centres from the least effective children’s centres and, therefore, how to make more of the children’s centres like the most effective.

Q244 Bill Esterson: Continuing on that topic, I got somewhat confused by the earlier answers, to be honest. You said that there was not a financial evidence base for whether to use universal or targeted services, but when we drilled down, there was evidence of the value on the ground, so there is some evidence.

Professor Melhuish: There is certainly evidence, but if you want evidence of the total return to society in the longer term, you would have to wait for that.

Q245 Bill Esterson: So we are not there yet. What say should communities have in designing services, whether they are universal or targeted, or should it be a centrally decided approach?

Professor Melhuish: Sorry, could you repeat that?

Bill Esterson: Should a local community be deciding which services should be in children’s centres?

Professor Melhuish: There is certainly a case for consulting the community, but if you leave this decision entirely to the community, then you are reliant on the expertise being present in the community to make the relevant decisions. When Sure Start was initially set up back in 2000, what we found was that many of the communities did not have the expertise within them to make the right judgments about what the right pattern of services to be delivered was. It was also the case that more effective centres would take cognizance of the needs of the community in planning their services.

Professor Moss: I would frame it in a slightly different way, which is to ask what are the fundamental values that should underpin children’s centres and, indeed, education in general? I come from an educational tradition that would say that democracy was a fundamental value in practice, and that therefore one should see this as part of a democratic process in which decisions are made in a democratic way. I think there is a lot of background to that sort of way of thinking. For example, if you look in the Nordic countries, they will say quite clearly in their pre­school curriculums that democracy is a fundamental value of pre­school work. There are many other examples. I think it should be rephrased, not just in terms of "Should communities take part?" but "Should democracy play an integral part in the development of early childhood services, including children’s services, and how would that play out in decision making?"

Professor Sylva: You would need to have some balance between the community and what they want, because they may change from year to year, and the professional staff. This brings us back to the leader or the manager of the centre. That person’s job is to make sure that you have the balance between the community. I will give you an example: some communities say that parenting programmes really have to be open, and it is wrong to say "You must come every Thursday morning at 10 o’clock, even though we offer you a crèche." I think a good director would ignore that, because if you run the really intensive programmes, you sign up. It does not mean you get arrested if you miss, but you get nagged. People ring you during the week to see if you are coming. If you are not there at 10 o’clock, they send somebody to come and get you. There has to be that balance, because the community in that case felt we should have open access, and felt "These parents are under such pressure. For you to say, ‘You have to be here every Thursday at 10 to learn how not to beat your child,’ is unreasonable." A really good director has to make that balance work.

Q246 Bill Esterson: The ECCE study suggested that most evaluation is carried out by monitoring the service usage, rather than the outcomes. Is this enough?

Professor Sylva: No.

Professor Melhuish: No. You have to look at outcomes.

Professor Sylva: Of course not, but outcomes are expensive to get.

Chair: The children’s centres themselves most often focus on take-up.

Q247 Bill Esterson: Is there a relatively simple alternative to that, given what you just said about cost?

Caroline Sharp: It is not relatively simple, but the good ones are moving much more into impact measures. They are looking, for example, to track the children into the local schools and then track their results as early as at foundation stage, Key Stage results and so on, to see what the outcomes are. They have other measures in place as well to be able to look more at impact than just service provision.

Q248 Bill Esterson: What do you all think about payment by results?

Chair: Is there any research evidence on payment by results?

Bill Esterson: Yes or no?

Professor Melhuish: It would be very difficult to set up in practice, because the results come several years after the services are delivered. There is such great change, year to year, that I think it would be very difficult to engineer that.

Q249 Bill Esterson: Is there any evidence to support doing payment by results?

Professor Sylva: Not in the early years. There is some in probation work, but not in early years.

Bill Esterson: I think, Peter, you were going to say something.

Professor Moss: I also agree that it is not a good idea, more on principle, not least because we are not talking about widget factories here. We are talking about places undertaking very complex and multiple tasks, and there is a real danger, I think, of just focusing on one set of outcomes and not looking at other sets of outcomes. You end up with a system with all the risks of gaming it that we know arise from bonus systems and target systems.

Chair: We will keep away from political presumptions, premises and prejudice, and stick to the research, given the body we have got here.

Q250 Bill Esterson: Coming back to the point about language development, should children’s centres focus more on very young children, particularly with that in mind?

Professor Melhuish: I think there is a very good argument for children’s centres working to ensure that every child they work with reaches an adequate level of language development by the age of three, such that the child is capable of expressing itself to other people adequately.

Q251 Bill Esterson: So that should be a key measure?

Professor Melhuish: I would say that is an extremely key measure. If a child does not show a reasonably adequate level of language development by age three, the chances of later poor outcomes are extremely high.

Chair: Does anybody else want to pick this up, on the evidence around focus on early years and language? No? Okay, we will move on.

Q252 Charlotte Leslie: I wanted to ask about integrated provision and the effectiveness of it. There seemed to be the school of thought that there is quite strong evidence to show that integrated provision has better outcomes, but then there are other voices that say that this evidence is not robust enough. What is your view on whether the evidence exists to show that integrated provision has a significant impact on outcomes for children?

Professor Sylva: In this country, through the Project EPPE that Ted and I worked on with Iram, we showed that children who attended integrated centres had better reading scores at the age of seven, better maths scores, better social and emotional development, etc, etc.

Q253 Chair: Sorry to interrupt, Kathy, but could you tell us what you understand by "integrated", as well?

Professor Sylva: By "integrated", I mean a setting that does not have to be a single building but that is a single entity called a children’s centre or a nursery school. The integrated provision means that it has care and it has health and it has social care as part of it, and employment is a plus. All of the units in the EPPE study-which is the evidence cited by Naomi Eisenstadt and others for integration and provision-were nursery schools. They were nursery schools. Actually, not all of them were; 87% of them were nursery schools, with headteachers and teachers’ salaries. It is wrong to say that the EPPE evidence shows that children have better outcomes, because they were nursery schools with headteachers and a real focus-which Pat will be happy to hear-on puppet shows and everything. However, the evidence that integrated provision always has better outcomes is weak.

Chair: Does anyone want to take issue with that?

Professor Melhuish: There is an argument for integrated centres. I disagree with Kathy to some extent on the interpretation of the evidence. When we had the initial integrated centres in the EPPE study, they started out integrating health, education, care, employment support, parent education, and so on. They were then supplemented by nursery schools, as Kathy said, which then became integrated centres. The outcomes of these-which were not primarily in disadvantaged areas-were pretty good. We found that the involvement of parents with the services they require becomes better when you have universal services like health visitor support, etc, being integrated with the more targeted support that they require. I think there is a case for integrated centres.

Professor Sylva: There is evidence that people like them. We interviewed over 300 staff. They think it is the best way to work, so the evidence from the people who are doing it is that it is working. It is on the child outcomes side that the evidence is a bit lighter. The evidence from the workers themselves is very positive, and that is hard evidence.

Professor Melhuish: I think that the evidence on children’s outcomes is because what has happened since about 2006 onwards is that the pressure to work with the parents-to the detriment of working with the children-has predominated, and there has not been adequate work on directly improving the day­to­day experiences of children, with reference, for example, to language experiences. That has not been a tight enough focus of their work.

Q254 Charlotte Leslie: Peter, I think you have advocated fully integrated services along the lines of Nordic countries.

Professor Moss: That is integrated in the narrower sense that they would no longer talk about childcare and early education, and instead have a fully integrated early childhood education and care service. You would go to a pre­school in Sweden and you would have all the local children from one to five attending. Most would have working parents, some would not have working parents, and they would be the responsibility of a specialist early years graduate teacher. One of the things that you can see in countries that have done this is that the attendance rate for children under three shows very little difference across class. There is much more equitable access and attendance, for that reason and others as well, whereas in this country, if you look at children under three, women who are graduates are three times as likely to have their children in services as women who have low levels of qualification. There are various reasons for that, but one of the reasons is because of the dysfunctional system we have, which is partly dysfunctional because it is not integrated. You can go to a larger integration, which includes health and so on and so forth, but a narrower one has been addressed much more widely in other countries.

Q255 Charlotte Leslie: To what extent do you think we can take lessons from other countries? Nordic countries, in particular, have much smaller and much more homogenous populations. How much can you learn from countries that are quite different from us in their demographic make-up?

Professor Moss: What one can draw from them-and I drew these lessons in an UNESCO paper I wrote two years ago with colleagues-is an understanding of the nature of the integration of services. They need to be integrated across a number of dimensions, such as access, funding, regulation, workforce and type of provision. These are ways of thinking about what you have to achieve to move towards a fully integrated system. We have taken two steps. We integrated into one department, and we have integrated regulation and curriculum, but when it came to the wicked issues, the really difficult ones-funding, workforce, type of provision-we kind of stopped, whereas they have gone the full way. They offer a roadmap of which way to go.

The other thing that they tell us is that we need to have a conceptual idea of integration. They would no longer talk about childcare: they would think about an inclusive, holistic approach. The Swedish curriculum talks about integrating care, upbringing and learning in a holistic way.

Q256 Ian Mearns: Moving on to workforce and leadership, the publication of the Government report More Great Childcare has promoted some significant discussion about the sort of workforce that we have in children’s services, including ratios, training, expertise, experience, qualifications and pay. They are all in that mix, amongst other things. Is there any particular strong evidence that shows that there are particular approaches to staffing that provide the most effective service and value for money?

Professor Melhuish: There is certainly strong evidence that better trained staff do provide better quality services, which have an impact upon child outcomes.

Q257 Ian Mearns: That is not just about qualifications, is it?

Professor Melhuish: It is about qualifications, but it is also in­service training as well. There is evidence on in­service training producing better outcomes as well.

Q258 Chair: What do you mean by "better training?" Does better training just mean more training, or higher­qualified training?

Professor Melhuish: It is both higher­qualified training and also better training, in terms of a greater understanding of child development and the curriculum that they need to provide for those children.

Q259 Ian Mearns: So it is initial qualifications but ongoing CPD, as it were?

Professor Melhuish: One of the problems with the childcare workforce has been that there is often very low ability among entrants to that workforce, and some of the recommendations in the More Great Childcare report that you are referring to about improving the entry qualifications of staff into this work are probably good recommendations. One of the problems with that report is that it then changes ratios, in particular, in ways that may not be so beneficial.

Caroline Sharp: On the leadership front, which is something that we did some research into, there is a real diversity in terms of the backgrounds of people coming into children’s centre leadership. It is a really difficult, demanding job to do well. They themselves said that because of their background, where they have come from, their training and so on, they might have strengths in one area and know little about other areas, because by their nature they were coming in from social care or education or sometimes neither. The best ones were working really effectively and filling the gaps in their knowledge through other colleagues and working with others, and so on. The NPQICL qualification was very much held in high esteem, and there were a great many things that people were saying about that qualification that indicated it was very valued. They were concerned about the supply of new centre managers, and where those high­quality people were going to come from.

Q260 Charlotte Leslie: In the nursing profession at the moment, there is a lot of discussion as to whether the bid to have high­quality nurses has meant that you have got over­academicised nurses, and other skills such as caring and much more intuitive, practical skills get pushed out the window. We are seeking to try to redress that balance in nursing. Do you think that there is a danger that we risk repeating that mistake in childcare with the laudable intention of getting better qualified staff into children’s centres?

Professor Sylva: The situation in childcare and early education is different, and I do not think that we over­academicise. We now know that the new National College is creating the standard for the early years teacher and the early years worker. There are two bits of data that you might enjoy. One is from the study that we led at Oxford on the new Early Years Professional Status, in which we had equivalent settings where some got a new EYPS and some did not. The quality improved with the EYPS, but it was the quality in the room itself. That particular qualification trains people to lead the pedagogy in the room, not necessarily to manage. On management, we now have what Caroline spoke about-the national qualification for centre leadership-and the national evaluation has shown that settings that are led by people who have that qualification are better on certain outcomes. The one that I think is the best is that they are better at creating devolved management. If you really want to improve practice in other places, not just this centre, you have to have a staff that is a management team and not a single person. That is what that qualification trains you to do better.

Q261 Chair: Thank you, Kathy. Can we cut you off there, and can I just take you to the controversial issue of ratios? Could you tell us about the research evidence on ratios, and particularly how the evidence differs, if it does? This is ratios of staff to children, both in the early years-nought to three-and three­plus. Is there a difference there? Can you also give us the research point of view in terms of Government policy on this area? We will start with you, Edward.

Professor Melhuish: The research evidence is very difficult to understand, because what we have is a confounding variation of ratios with variation in qualifications. Those centres that often have the highest ratios often also have the most qualified staff, so it is very difficult to make a distinction as to what effect that has. What we do know is that the quality of interactions between staff and children will go down with higher ratios, particularly with the very young children-the under­threes. That is where the More Great Childcare report is most at risk, as it were. The ratios for under­threes in particular look highly questionable.

Q262 Chair: What about over­threes?

Professor Melhuish: I think there is greater scope with over­threes for increasing ratios with more highly qualified staff.

Chair: Thank you.

Professor Sylva: We looked at ratios and quality and we looked at qualifications and quality. Over three is a little bit better if you have better ratios, but if you have highly qualified staff, those may compensate for each other. Over three, the ratio is very different. Under three, however, there is a relationship between ratios and quality-bad ratios are lower quality-but not the same relationship with qualifications. Under three, it is hard to compensate for having a less favourable ratio by having more qualified staff, because there are only so many arms and so many people to do one­to­one communication. I think you have to differentiate over three and under three. Under three is the real issue.

Q263 Chair: So the Government may have a point, and it may be supported by the evidence, on-

Professor Sylva: It may have a point on over­threes.

Chair: It may have a point on raising the ratios for over­threes in the hope of higher qualified staff, but there is no such case for under three, and that might be an error and a weakness in the Government’s case. Anything to add to that, Peter or Caroline?

Professor Moss: I would just make the very small point that one of the things that needs to be factored in is giving people working with children-whether in schools or pre­schools-time for professional development, reflection and preparation. That, I think, often is not included in that debate about ratios. We do not give it at present, and we need to.

Q264 Bill Esterson: Just to be clear about qualification for the under­threes, Kathy, I think you said that qualification is less important because it is to do with the number of children.

Professor Sylva: Yes. You cannot compensate for numbers with more qualified staff.

Bill Esterson: So you do not necessarily need as many qualified staff for under­threes. Is that what you are saying?

Professor Melhuish: I think it is a question of what qualifications you need. There is a need for training for staff working with under­threes. The sheer amount of language a child hears and the kind of language they hear-even from birth onwards-will affect that child’s later language development. Staff need to know that, and need to know what it is that they need to do with those children. Just bringing in a young woman because she happens to have a baby in her family is not qualification enough.

Q265 Chair: Kathy said there was no trade­off there, whereas if you have got someone with a wide vocabulary, training in early years linguistic and other development, and a higher ratio, surely there must be a trade­off. Either the training and qualifications are important, or they are not. If they are, and they make a difference, that must in some way compensate for a higher ratio. There must be some truth in that, even if it is not enough to compensate for it, if that is your point.

Professor Sylva: There is one point in More Great Childcare that people rarely talk about, and that is the flexibility. I think that is very important, and in that, I do agree with the report. Take this example: you have five children, and the ratio for under­threes is one to four. You are expecting a mother to come. The mother does not come; she texts, and says she is going to be half an hour late. You have to keep a staff member there for that one person who is going to be half an hour late. I think what the More Great Childcare report suggests is that there should be flexibility for staff. If you have well trained staff, they should be able to say, "This staff member can go home. We are in a safe environment. We are all in one room, listening to music." I think the flexibility is a very good idea, and it will be up to Ofsted and others to make sure that they are making good decisions, but we should not be slavish.

Chair: We are pretty well over time.

Q266 Mr Ward: Do you think that the two­year­old offer is "nuts"? It was a comment made by Naomi Eisenstadt to us.

Professor Sylva: I was one of the leaders of the national evaluation of the pilots. We had a control group of children, and only children in high-quality two-year-old care were any better than the other children who had none of it. You should not have a two­year­old offer unless you can have high quality, because it is a waste of money from the child’s point of view. It might be good for the family, but from the child’s point of view, it is a waste.

Professor Melhuish: I would agree with that. Basically, I am worried that the current roll­out of the two­year­old offer is such that most of the provision will be of low quality.

Q267 Mr Ward: It cannot be a good step?

Professor Melhuish: If you could provide high quality for those 40% disadvantaged children, it would benefit them, yes. However, if you cannot provide high quality, then you are wasting your time.

Professor Sylva: Also, three-quarters of the settings in our sample were not of high enough quality to make a difference.

Q268 Chair: I have one final question. 2,000 of the 3,100 centres-or whatever the figure is-do not actually have childcare at all, which most people would find a surprise for a children’s centre. How important is it that children’s centres offer early education and childcare to be effective?

Professor Melhuish: I think it is important that it is part of the integrated provision. It is not integrated provision if they do not offer childcare and early education.

Chair: Caroline is nodding, so we can minute that in Hansard.

Professor Moss: If you see them as the way to go in the long­term future, then they have to have all of the basic services, and those are the two most basic. This should not be separate. We need to think about a broad concept of education that includes care, and not separate it.

Q269 Chair: We are horribly over time, but I represent a rural area, and we had Phase Three children’s centres. Are children’s centres in rural areas less effective?

Professor Sylva: It is more expensive to run the services.

Professor Melhuish: It is more difficult to offer the services in rural areas, but there are some examples where it has been done quite well.

Q270 Chair: What are those examples?

Professor Melhuish: I would have to go and look that up.

Professor Sylva: Cornwall is one.

Chair: Could we switch to the next panel as quickly as possible? Thank you so much for coming and giving us your time and expertise today.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Susan Gregory, Director, Early Childhood, Ofsted, Heather Rushton, independent consultant and former Director, Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO), and Professor Leon Feinstein, Head of Evidence, Early Intervention Foundation, gave evidence.

Q271 Chair: Good morning. Thank you very much for joining us, and I think you all had the pleasure of listening to the previous panel. We have limited time and we have a lot to cover, so let us get through it as quickly and effectively as we can. Tell me, after more than 10 years’ investment in Sure Start children’s centres, what have we got to show for all that public expenditure? Leon, you are finding that amusing, so you can answer it.

Professor Feinstein: Sorry, I should get my apologies in early, since I started in the Early Intervention Foundation on Monday. I am not going to claim to be an expert on the full body of the evidence. I will offer a quick answer, which is that we have built a very substantial foundation, a body of practice, and a body of culture. We have been hearing from previous speakers about some of the difficulties in realising the full vision of children’s centres. There are huge issues around priorities, around which outcomes people ought to be trying to achieve, and around choices between targeting and universal services. There are lots of big challenges, but my quick answer would be that we have built a very substantial foundation, and we are in a much better place for continued investment and work than we were 10 years ago.

Q272 Chair: Thank you. Heather, what have we got to show?

Heather Rushton: From the evidence that I represent through C4EO, there is significant improvement in narrowing the gap and significant evidence about greater multi­disciplinary work, and also that the outreach with parents and partners has significantly improved. Each of those areas, and the practice examples that I have got can "impact on children’s learning and outcomes at the EYFS and using other measures." There is a significant amount that has been achieved, and a lot that we have got that we can build on to provide further targeted support more effectively.

Q273 Chair: You said there has been significant progress in closing the gap. Can you substantiate that?

Heather Rushton: That is right. Some of the local areas can actually demonstrate through their practice that they have improved outcomes for targeted children by 78%, achieving a level that previously only 40% were getting to. At the individual level, some of the provision is actually extremely effective.

Q274 Chair: What about on the overall level?

Heather Rushton: On an overall nature, that was actually alluded to through the other discussions, and that comes back to the variance between very good centres and centres that are actually evolving.

Q275 Chair: I thought there was little evidence to suggest that preparedness for school had been transformed, that seven­year­olds who had been through the programme were making significantly improved educational performance, and thus there was little evidence that the closing of the gap had actually resulted from all this public expenditure in children’s centres.

Heather Rushton: What I can represent is that, at an individual level, some areas that have been targeting effectively and have got really good, effective programmes are meeting the needs of their children and accelerating the progress of those children that they provide for.

Q276 Chair: If you go across the country, whatever you have done, you will be able to find places where there has been change and improvement. We are talking overall; we are talking billions of pounds of public money, and you claim there is a significant element of closing the gap. That is not my perception from the evidence we heard from the first panel or from my reading on the subject. It does not feel as if there has been a significant closing of the gap in achievement between rich and poor. This Government has two main educational aims: one is to raise standards for all, and the other is to close the achievement gap. The last Government had that. It may not have stated it in exactly the same way, but it was committed to it, and I am not sure that either Government has really succeeded or that children’s centres have yet proven that they make a difference.

Heather Rushton: What I am saying is that at an individual level, from the evidence that I have got-which represents 38 local authorities-there are examples of where there has been significant improvement. It is the start of the story.

Susan Gregory: The inspection evidence we have got, on the basis of the 1,800­odd children’s centres out of about 3,100, is that two­thirds of them are good or better, but a third of them are not yet good. A small proportion have been judged inadequate, but far too big a chunk in 2013 has been judged to be adequate or satisfactory but not yet good. There are some very clear weaknesses that come through as well as common strengths, many of which were echoed in the evidence given by the earlier panel. For example, it was really good to hear Kathy Sylva talking about the importance of leadership. That is absolutely key wherever you get a strong and successful centre. There is really no blueprint, because each one of them must respond to the needs of the local community and the target population, but that is a common feature. Other common strengths are the security of the work in care, guidance and support, and safeguarding. A predominant weakness in the third of centres that are not yet good is the inability to help those children to be ready for school. It is the real weakness. Again, that resonates with what the other panel said earlier.

Q277 Chair: So, 1,200 out of 1,800 are good or better. I know they get those categories, but if they were really making a difference in closing the gap, as Heather suggested, we would be seeing significant improvements in school readiness and educational outcomes for seven­year­olds and the like. Are we seeing that? When you decide that a place is a really excellent children’s centre, are you able to show that the kids from there are going on and arriving at school, and that primary school teachers say that they have got more advanced language skills and are better able to learn? Are you basing it on outcomes?

Susan Gregory: Many of the children’s centres that have been judged good or better do not directly provide childcare or early education. They now have a responsibility to signpost children to good provision in the local area, whether it be through a pre­school nursery, a child minder, or through a local maintained school or academy, but they do not directly provide it. A number of those centres would not be able to directly evidence impact on outcomes.

Q278 Chair: So they are an outstanding signpost to other services?

Susan Gregory: They might be. There are some centres that are very focused on particular elements. For example, we have got a very strong centre in Brighton and Hove that focuses on health outcomes, and has made a difference. There is another one in Liverpool that focuses on single parents, and particularly fathers. There is another one in Wolverhampton that focuses on parenting support and has very successful outcomes for the parents.

Q279 Chair: But not for the children. What about the children? The core purpose is that we help disadvantaged kids. We know that the gap in educational outcomes for them in this country is wider than in nearly any other part of Europe, and the central point of this vast investment in children’s centres was that we would close the gap and create a more just society, in which being born poor did not mean you ended up with bad qualifications and were less likely to get a decent job.

Susan Gregory: Our evidence is showing that when you look at the data that a centre might present or look at the data that we can access when we go in to do an inspection, if you look at the early years profile-which children’s centres will have contributed to the outcomes for children generally-they are not good enough. For last year, as you will know, in communication, language and literacy, about a third of children were not working securely at the expected levels. In the most socially and economically deprived areas, a quarter of children were not working at the expected levels. For mathematical development, understanding of numbers and so on, it was about a quarter of children. For their personal, social and emotional development, it was about a fifth. That is not good enough, and that is not what we are seeing as a strong feature in those centres that we are not judging to be good or better.

Q280 Chair: I am focusing on it, and I do not want to go on too long, but I am worried about the ones that are regarded as brilliant. The public will be able to read in their local newspaper, "Excellent report for this fantastic children’s centre", with a nice picture of the manager and the council leader looking pleased behind, etc, and actually the kids do not turn up at school any better able to learn than they did before. That seems fairly shocking to me. People will think, if they read about an outstanding local children’s centre, that the kids are getting looked after and being prepared for school, not just that there is a good parenting support system.

Susan Gregory: I suppose the inspection report, which we publish, would tell them what it was that centre offered. If that centre was directly offering childcare and early education, and that centre was judged to be outstanding overall-outstanding in terms of what it was offering for the children, as well as parents and families-then that would give a certain amount of choice to those in the community who wanted to access the service.

Q281 Chair: It sounds like it might not be offering the children very much at all. We have got 2,000 out of 3,100 that do not even have any childcare. There is a parenting class and a bit of health integration, but there is not a lot to deliver the core purpose, which is taking the kids with parents with poor educational attainment and other problems and giving them a decent start in life.

Susan Gregory: One of the statistics that you may have read in Sir Michael’s annual report last year is that those children’s centres that we judge to be the strongest are, interestingly, those children’s centres that have been around for the longest. When I joined Ofsted 13 years ago, I was commissioned to inspect the very first tranche of early excellence centres, almost all of which were based on very strongly performing infant schools or nursery schools. Those were doing a very good job. Those are now the Sure Start centres that are doing a very good job for children and for the families in the local community, and they should be, because they have had a decade to get to know the community.

Professor Feinstein: I just had a couple of points. I think this issue about outcomes is obviously really important, but we have to be very careful about defining the outcomes that children’s centres and Sure Start have been about, and there is both-as Susan said-local variability and also variability in what the central Government agenda has been for Sure Start and for children’s centres. Children’s centres are never going to be able to solve all of the problems of society. They are only a component of what has to be a wider range of policy issues that are going to tackle something as deep as the UK achievement gap. Sure Start children’s centres are not, by themselves, going to resolve that. They can make a contribution, but we have to be very careful about our logic model.

Q282 Chair: Is that a measurable contribution, or is that a theoretical, conceptual contribution?

Professor Feinstein: Having heard the previous session and having read the evidence this morning, there is a substantial evidence base that Sure Start has had real, tangible, positive benefits on a range of what you might call mediating outcomes. However, they are very diverse, and-as was being said before-I think it was known before we started up Sure Start that programmes that work on parenting are better able to change parenting than they are to ultimately change the outcomes for the children. The indirect route is very difficult to achieve.

Q283 Chair: But the whole point of improving parenting is not about increasing the self­esteem of the mother, or getting her to get a job. It is parenting, and if improved parenting does not lead to any improved outcomes for children, you have obviously got a pretty bizarre definition of what parenting is.

Professor Feinstein: These are not simple and straightforward relationships.

Q284 Chair: Are you saying that parenting should not have an influence on children?

Professor Feinstein: Of course parenting has an influence on children, but if you take a child aged three or four, they have already had several years of parenting experience. You can make programmes that will change the way the parent parents, but it may already be very late in terms of trying to transform the nature of the parent/child relationship such that the child’s development is substantially impacted. That is not to say that you should not bother, or that parenting is not going to matter anymore. I am just saying that it is not entirely surprising that programmes that are targeting parenting-as opposed to the direct lived experience of the child, as was said before-will tend to be less effective. The point I want to make is that there are multiple outcomes that may be important here. I do not agree that it is irrelevant to children’s centres that mothers get into work. Those might be very important benefits.

Chair: I did not say that. You just defined it in terms of parenting, and in terms of parenting, the only outcome you would be interested in is its impact on the child.

Professor Feinstein: There will be diverse impacts on the child.

Chair: If you were talking about increasing employment of parents because working families have a better general outcome for children, that would be a different matter.

Professor Feinstein: There will be diverse impacts on the child. The parenting is not only going to impact on the school readiness of the child. There will be a whole range of ways in which a benefit in terms of parenting will be felt.

Q285 Pat Glass: Heather, can I ask who is going to pick up the work around "What Works?" that the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes did previously?

Heather Rushton: The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes has now been embedded within the National Children’s Bureau in order for its work to continue through the National Children’s Bureau work. The main part of the work is actually now being superseded through the Early Intervention Foundation, or the What Works centres.

Q286 Pat Glass: So Leon is going to pick that up, is he?

Heather Rushton: The Education Endowment Fund is also involved. It is places that actually bring evidence to practitioners to enable them to use it. In the last two or three years, the regions have created a significant capacity to be able to work together and seek out the evidence, and use their own sector specialists to build that capacity as well. The work of C4EO has been embedded partially within the regions and in local authorities improving themselves, and also the development of the What Works centres and the evidence basis, including Ofsted, EIF and EEF. It will stop as it was, but it will also become quite integrated as things actually move forward.

Q287 Pat Glass: Leon, how will the work of the Early Intervention Foundation benefit children’s centres?

Professor Feinstein: From the perspective of the Early Intervention Foundation, it is for local places to make decisions, based on the best possible evidence about where they want to put their investment. From the perspective of the Early Intervention Foundation, we will be providing the best possible access to the evidence. Places will have to make their own decisions. I am not an advocate for children’s centres by any means. We are in straitened times, and there are lots of difficult decisions that have to be made. As I said earlier, I think there is good evidence that children’s centres can provide integrated services that will create savings, but we have to test those hypotheses with places. What the Foundation will seek to do is to work closely with places to try to improve the extent to which investments are made on the basis of evidence and to try to improve the extent to which-as programmes are rolled out or scaled up-we are able to learn the lessons of that through improved data and evidence. We will be providing advice, but I do not sit here as an advocate of a particular approach.

Q288 Pat Glass: I spoke to Graham Allen yesterday, and he was telling me that the whole drive behind this and setting up the Foundation was because his constituency has got the smallest percentage of children in the country who go to university. Presumably, some of that work and some of that evidence that you have been drawing together-the work that has come from the centre previously-would be going into children’s centres to see those kinds of outcomes improve.

Professor Feinstein: That is absolutely right, but there will be many forms of investment that will be important to places in delivering an outcome such as improving the staying­on rates in school of disadvantaged children. We are talking 15 or 16 years down the line. There will be important investments perinatally, important investments from nought to two, and important investments right through childhood. I think the evidence supports the argument that children’s centres are a very important part of that, but we have to base that on the evidence. We will learn lessons, and we are going to see a lot of variability now. We were talking about the policy context within which these decisions are made. These are localised decisions.

I just want to make one comment in terms of the debate about the choice between targeted and universal services. These decisions are being made. From the Foundation’s point of view, we can make sure that if people seek advice, we can provide the best possible advice from the evidence in terms of that trade­off, but also that as those decisions are made, we learn the lessons about what the impacts are. We will have a lot of local variability, and we will have to learn from that.

Q289 Chris Skidmore: Can I just pick up on the timescale for the Foundation? You have been set up and, as I understand it, you have got two years where you have got guaranteed funding of £3.5 million. Are you confident that, if the Foundation gets set up, it will continue beyond two years? I mean, you have staked your career in it. Are you expecting it to go beyond those two years? I guess you must be hopeful.

Professor Feinstein: We have to prove value. We will not survive beyond the two years unless we are adding value, so I do not presume in any way. The intention has got to be to be sustainable, because these are long­term investments people are making, and the kind of evaluation framework I hope we will be able to provide will need to be long term.

Q290 Chris Skidmore: We are all thinking two years. I am thinking two years; there is going to be a General Election in 2015. It is not a long time, and you have mentioned that you are going to start by getting to grips with the evidence base, and then work with 20 early intervention places as your next stage. In terms of the timeframe, how long are you going to spend looking at the evidence base to start with, before you then get into separate projects?

Professor Feinstein: We will be doing this in parallel. I should say that I am Head of Evidence. A Chief Executive has been appointed as well, Carey Oppenheim, and I am sure that she would have lots to say about this. From the evidentiary point of view, my two objectives are that we are providing the best possible access to the best possible evidence and, in parallel, ensuring that as places make investments and roll out enhanced investment in early intervention, they do it in a way that means it will be evaluatable. You have got to be there at the beginning for that to happen.

Q291 Chris Skidmore: In terms of the evaluations, they will probably take a year to do properly. If you spend the next six months getting together the evidence base, and you have maybe got evaluations running at the same time, how many do you think you are physically going to be able to get out by 2015 in order to prove your worth?

Professor Feinstein: We have gone through a process of inviting expressions of interest from places to be early intervention places. We have had a very encouraging response. We are now going through a process of determining which will be the places. We will work with all places that want to develop early intervention, but particularly with roughly 20. Until we have had more intense conversations with those places, I am reluctant to say too much about how we are going to work.

Q292 Pat Glass: How important are children’s centres in providing early intervention, and who is simply not at the table yet?

Heather Rushton: Certainly, it is absolutely crucial that we do focus on early intervention, and many of the Sure Start and children’s centres are working towards intervening earlier. For example, in Blackpool, as mums report that they are pregnant they get referred through to the children’s centre and then picked up very quickly, and then they get wrapped around by that entire service. We have also got other examples. In either Reading or Luton, they are looking at the registration of births actually being centred in a children’s centre. The earlier you can actually engage with a family at the time of conception through to birth, the better chance those families stand of being able to access what it is that they need to help them rear, nurture and then educate their child.

Again, it is a patchy picture, but there is certainly evidence of increased benefits the earlier they intervene from birth; from involvement of the health visitors; from involvement in terms of actually working with midwives; and from the community people, who make a difference in the home. Again, through the involvement of NESTA and the Innovation Unit in the radicalisation of early years provision, they are looking at the role of community workers-community volunteers who perhaps have won the minds of their neighbours, and can help to meet and greet and take people to the right services. At the moment, there is a mixed picture, but it is absolutely essential that we get the health visitors, midwives and the centres working together.

Q293 Pat Glass: Thank you. Would anyone else like to comment?

Susan Gregory: In terms of our inspection evidence, there are two or three things; it is a complex picture. If you talk about early intervention, there are a number of things to unpack. The first is whether or not staff are sufficiently well qualified to carry out the interventions that the centre is using or deploying, and we find that there is a direct correlation-as Kathy Sylva and the expert panel before this one were indicating-between qualifications, knowledge and expertise of staff, and what is offered and value for money. The second thing that our inspection evidence shows is that centres are more successful in terms of early intervention-through whatever service it is they are offering-when they bring parents and vulnerable families and children into the centre, or the environment where the services are being delivered, where they can access a number of things. For example, that may mean a health visitor onsite alongside childcare and early education onsite, alongside parenting classes onsite and alongside parenting opportunities for them to engage in further education.

Q294 Craig Whittaker: Susan, can I just ask you why it is that children’s centres established more recently tend to perform less well in inspections?

Susan Gregory: We believe that the centres that are youngest-so certainly the last Phase Three and some of the Phase Twos-simply do not yet know their communities well enough, whereas those centres that were established a decade or more ago absolutely understand the changing needs of their community and their target population, and they have learned the best way of delivering services that support the needs of those children and families. That is what we believe. Unlike the previous panel, we do not have hard evidence, but it is certainly what seems to come through our inspection evidence.

The other thing is that a common weakness, which we were identifying 10 years ago and we are still identifying in Sure Start children’s centres that are not good, is the inability of centres to really evaluate the quality and the impact of what they are doing and to track. Some of the more successful and more well established centres are, first of all, identifying where their strengths are and where they need to adjust what they are doing, and secondly they are working within a local authority to set up tracking processes and systems. To echo what the Chair was saying earlier, they do know, now, where their children are going. When they leave the centre, they enter reception classes in mainstream. They are tracking what happens to those children in terms of long­term outcomes, end of Key Stage 1, assessment, and results. They are not yet at the end of Key Stage 2, but they will be, and that is enabling them to pass back information to the centres in terms of what they need to do at an early stage.

Q295 Craig Whittaker: So there is no evidence then that there is a lower quality of staff employed in the newer centres than was previously, with regard to qualifications?

Susan Gregory: We do not have inspection evidence that indicates that the youngest centres have got more poorly qualified staff. Our inspection evidence shows that the better the level of qualification and expertise, the better the impact on the quality of what is being delivered.

Q296 Chair: Is that because you do not collect the data?

Susan Gregory: We do not have a particular inspection evidence base that has deliberately looked at the level of qualification and its impact on the quality of what is being delivered in the younger centres, as opposed to the older centres.

Q297 Chair: Would that be a good thematic review?

Susan Gregory: It is something we could do.

Chair: You could go and look at all of the categories, see what the standard qualification level of the staff is in each, and see if there is a correlation between poorer performance and lower qualification.

Susan Gregory: We are, through our new inspection framework for the early years-which we will be delivering in a few months’ time-and our new inspection framework for children’s centres, which has just begun, looking much more closely at levels of qualification and the impact that is having on delivery. It is something that we would be able to track over time.

Q298 Craig Whittaker: You have already mentioned some of the things that the most effective centres do well, but let me just touch on what you said earlier about children’s preparedness for school being a weak point. Why do you think that is, and what should the centres be doing differently?

Susan Gregory: I believe-and our inspection evidence indicates-that it is directly linked to the ability of staff to interact with children, to be able to challenge and to stretch them, and to teach them. Not all children’s centres offer early education and childcare, but those that do should have highly trained and highly qualified staff who are able to teach children; give some structure to their learning through their play when they are very young, with more structure as they get older; and be able to identify what children know and understand and can do, and what their next learning step should be. Not all centres can do that successfully enough, and it is not just children’s centres that provide early education; it is preschools and nurseries, and the poor level of qualification-particularly in the most socially disadvantaged areas-absolutely makes a difference to the quality of output and the impact on children.

Craig Whittaker: That has been going on for many years.

Susan Gregory: Yes, it has been.

Q299 Craig Whittaker: So what can we do differently, then? What should they be doing to address that issue that has been going on for so many years?

Susan Gregory: The inspectorate has welcomed the Government’s proposals to phase in higher entry­level qualifications and qualifications generally for those who work in the early years sector. Frankly, the entry level of qualification for early years practitioners is still far too low. You need a higher qualification at entry level to work with animals than you do to work with young children, and that is something that has got to be addressed.

Q300 Craig Whittaker: Gosh. You mentioned the Government’s policy. How well aligned is the work in children’s centres with the Government’s core purpose, and how well aligned is your new inspection framework with that same core purpose?

Susan Gregory: We have just changed our children’s centre inspection framework. We have literally just started inspecting to it in the last couple of weeks, and it has been changed to reflect two things. The first is the core purpose, and at the heart of the inspection judgments are judgments about the quality and the impact of provision, in which children’s school readiness is featured strongly alongside parenting skills, parents’ aspirations, and their ability to access training and become more employable. We have also changed our framework to reflect the very different ways that local authorities are now clustering, delivering, and commissioning services through children’s centres. The previous framework did not reflect that, but the new framework does, so we are now able to inspect where centres are clustering and grouping together as well as those that stand alone. We do believe that the new framework is absolutely focused on the core purpose.

Q301 Chair: Susan-we are focusing on you a great deal here-there were 1,200 staff in local authorities doing support on early years, and I think that has been reduced to 400. The Government suggested that Ofsted was going to step in and make up for this. Is that true?

Susan Gregory: Well, what Ofsted is doing is changing its inspection frameworks.

Chair: No, you have said that. Just answer this question, however uncomfortable.

Susan Gregory: We are also, alongside that, introducing work that HMI are doing to support centres and early years providers that are not yet good. We are starting to offer good practice conferences and improvement seminars.

Q302 Chair: So that is a yes, then? You are going to step in where the 800 local authority support staff were and deliver through conferences, etc, an improved offer, are you?

Susan Gregory: I do not think Sir Michael would believe that we had sufficient staff to be able to take over the role of local authorities. That is not what we are doing. What we are doing is making sure that HMI are specifically targeting weaker providers, and also brokering support for them. We are not taking over the role of becoming an improvement agency. What Ofsted is doing is supporting weaker providers-giving them challenge and support in equal measure-as an agent of improvement, but not an improvement agency.

Q303 Chair: The Chief Inspector has said that, in schools, there is a missing middle tier, and he worries about the support. He said that Ofsted could change its role slightly and do a bit more brokering and signposting to services, but fundamentally he felt that there was not sufficient support in place. Is the same thing true for children’s centres?

Susan Gregory: He has not gone on record talking about the middle tier for early years providers and children’s centres.

Chair: But you can, Susan.

Susan Gregory: The initiatives that he is rolling out for school support are very similar to those that we are rolling out for early years and children’s centres.

Q304 Chair: But he has also said that he does not think that Ofsted-even with an enhanced brokering and signposting role-can fulfil that role, and that no one should think that it can. I think you have said that just now.

Susan Gregory: Absolutely.

Q305 Chair: Could you reflect for us on the loss of so many staff in that supporting agency role in local authorities? Is that weakening the system, and does some other middle tier need to be created?

Susan Gregory: It is absolutely a challenge for the system, for Government, and for those who are making decisions at local level. In times of austerity, they are having to make tough decisions, and that was articulated eloquently by the previous panel when they talked about the difference between universal services and targeted services. They are decisions that have to be made, and also there are creative approaches to doing things smarter, so the way in which local authorities are now starting to commission and deliver services through clusters of children’s centres is an effective way of dealing with more straitened times.

Q306 Charlotte Leslie: We have covered some of this already, but I wanted to ask a bit more about Ofsted’s actual inspectors. I am afraid Naomi Eisenstadt told the Committee in January that Ofsted did not look at under­three provision, and that they were fundamentally about education. She was not alone. Jill Rutter, who is Research Manager at the Family and Childcare Trust, said that Ofsted lacks expertise in early years and at the moment they only have one HM Inspector with an early years background. How well qualified do you think your inspectors are to make judgments on children’s centres, and do you have figures on how many of your inspectors actually have backgrounds in childcare leadership?

Susan Gregory: We have got a number of HMI who do have an early years background.

Q307 Chair: How many?

Susan Gregory: I could not give you the number now, but I can certainly let you know. We can absolutely pass that back.

Chair: If you could write to us, that would be helpful.

Susan Gregory: We also employ inspectors through our outsourced inspection service providers, and those that inspect children’s centres are expected to have a number of years of senior leadership management experience. That may be in the world of education, or it may be in children’s centres or local authorities. They have to understand the background and the context within which children’s centres are operating. I, for example, was a primary head in more than one school-or a head with a primary background in more than one school-and I inspect children’s centres. I never actually was the leader of a children’s centre myself, but I have the expertise and the skills to inspect the early years and the services that are offered by a children’s centre through my work and through the work of the team that would be gathered around me.

Q308 Charlotte Leslie: Why, then, do you think that people who are not inexperienced in this area would come up with the comment that the personnel at Ofsted are not sufficient for assessing children’s centres? Why do you think those comments would be made, if what you have said is the case?

Susan Gregory: One of the issues that Sir Michael and the senior leadership team at Ofsted take very seriously is the quality and the credibility of its inspection workforce, and one of the reasons I have been seconded into this role as Director for Early Years is that Sir Michael fully intended six or seven months ago to increase the number of serving HMI, and to increase the profile, training and qualifications of inspectors who carry out inspections in the early years and children’s centres.

Q309 Charlotte Leslie: So are you saying that this is a historic problem that has been relevant, which has prompted the quotes that I just gave, but measures are now being taken to remedy the problem?

Susan Gregory: There are always questions about inspectors’ consistency and credibility across all the inspection remits. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they arise because those that have been inspected have not liked the judgments that have been made about their provision. We take those comments very seriously. We take training and performance management of inspectors very seriously.

Q310 Charlotte Leslie: Naomi Eisenstadt is not a peeved-off children’s centre manager. She is someone who knows her onions. The fact that she says this, I think, is quite significant. So are you saying this is a historic problem that is being remedied, or that it is just the case that no one likes inspectors, and that even academics who study this will always come down on Ofsted inspectors? Which are you saying?

Susan Gregory: I may be wrong, but I think Naomi Eisenstadt’s comments were more in relation to children who are under three than children who are over three, and there has been some research recently that indicates that there is a strong correlation between Ofsted inspection judgments and the quality of what is provided, and research that is carried out by academics. This is less so for the inspection of provision for under­twos, and that is an area that Sir Michael is targeting now.

Q311 Chair: So it is a work in progress?

Susan Gregory: It is a work in progress.

Q312 Chair: So you are not suggesting that the inspectorate as it stands right now is ideal in terms of looking at children’s centres. You are suggesting that it needs change, you have been appointed to facilitate that change, and you are in the midst of that change. Is that right?

Susan Gregory: It is absolutely accurate to say it is a work in progress.

Q313 Charlotte Leslie: I know we have got little time, but I just wanted to talk about use and sharing of data. One of the key issues that Graham Allen has raised in a lot of his work is the amount of accumulated data from health, and children’s centres and the staff’s ability to use that data, to share that, and draw conclusions from that data. How can we better make sure that children’s centres and their staff know what data to look at, know how to target the kids, know how to monitor their own progress, and also make the availability of this data better, because they are not always very easily available. I would value the panel’s comments on that.

Professor Feinstein: Again, this is a forward agenda. Having spent the last two years doing this, it is not "jam tomorrow". I think the Foundation offers a really good opportunity to address precisely that set of issues. If we are going to be about anything, it is about improving access to and use of data. As I said before, we will be working closely through our 20 places initially, and that is going to be about developing capability, infrastructure and use and building culture. That is exactly the challenge for us. I certainly think there are barriers in terms of capability.

We were talking before about the logic model of a children’s centre, and what the outcomes are that it is important for children’s centres to track. Those will be variable, and even within a children’s centre, there will be variety in terms of what people think in terms of outcomes-or, more importantly, intermediate outcomes that may be important. What we can help with is the supportive infrastructure in the place. We might be working with the local authority, the clinical commissioning group, the police and crime commissioner, the health and wellbeing board and so on to support the development of integrated data management systems. We are talking to the ESRC, who have already put big investments into these kinds of data­sharing and data­linkage capabilities. The infrastructure of this has moved on tremendously in the last few years.

Q314 Charlotte Leslie: Just a very quick one, Chair, if I may-I have not had many questions. There is a lot of talk at the moment about the concept of a Royal College of Teaching, which would enable qualified teachers to begin a professional journey of evidence­based practice, data­sharing, and all of this. If such a professional body was set up with the remit of teaching, how important do each of you think it would be to include early years in its remit?

Heather Rushton: I think it is absolutely crucial.

Susan Gregory: I agree.

Professor Feinstein: I am not sure whether it should be separate.

Susan Gregory: May I respond on the data question? We have a really strong evidence base about successful centres and centres that are less successful. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are some centres that already understand how to use data, how to access that, and how to track the progress of the children who are in their care after they leave their care. We should be making much better use of what they already do.

Q315 Charlotte Leslie: Do you think peer­to­peer mentoring would be a good way to do that?

Susan Gregory: Yes, I do.

Q316 Chair: Is that encouraged? Is that facilitated? Is it possible for people?

Susan Gregory: It is something we are starting to encourage now through our improvement work.

Q317 Bill Esterson: We were talking earlier about the impact on early years foundation stage profiles of the work of children’s centres. I would just come back to that briefly. Is it possible to measure the impact on children’s centres when you have not got fully integrated services, particularly early education and childcare in children’s centres?

Susan Gregory: Can I turn that question around? I would say it should be the job of every children’s centre to identify what happens to their children while they are either being signposted to good provision in the local area or being offered early education through the direct service of the children’s centre. The children’s centre must identify where children are when they arrive, what their needs are, and what the best provision is, and then track that progress and look at what happens in the long term. There is not an excuse for not doing that anymore, and they all should be doing it well.

Professor Feinstein: I would just like to make a distinction between monitoring and impact. Monitoring is about tracking and observing what is happening, both on the basis of need as people come in, but also beyond that in terms of outcomes. There is a different question about attribution, and the extent to which the outcomes are due to what the children’s centre has done, which is another area where we need to improve capability and practice around developing systems within which people can have meaningful comparison groups.

Heather Rushton: It is the attribution element of it that is actually the key. It is people understanding how they have contributed to, and tracked through, the improved standards that are achieved through the programmes. The evidence certainly shows that, if you have got the wrong children in the wrong programmes, that is where we are not getting the results. It is about the targeting and being precise.

Q318 Ian Mearns: Regarding payment by results, the Government commissioned a number of payment-by-results trials for Sure Start centres, which I think were due to run for only 18 months from September 2011 and ended earlier this year. Did you welcome the payment-by-results trials, and what were the particular challenges of setting payment-by-results measures for Sure Start children’s centres?

Susan Gregory: Shall I start? We do not have any inspection evidence that indicates the impact of those trials. It probably is a matter for Government. The panel previously indicated the difficulties in tracking and identifying attribution. That would seem to me to be an issue.

Q319 Ian Mearns: So, from the Ofsted perspective, it is not something that you have particularly looked at.

Susan Gregory: We have not.

Heather Rushton: We have had one piece of promising practice that was validated, which demonstrated that through payment by results there were improvements around some of the provision. Their issues were around data­sharing, attribution, and also the withholding of funds that colleagues required to provide the breadth of the service that was actually required. I will stop there.

Professor Feinstein: I heard the discussion earlier. From the perspective of the Early Intervention Foundation, payment by results is an important innovation that we will certainly want to support, alongside social-impact-bond­type schemes. A lot of the challenge here is about ensuring that places are able to make real savings through doing things more efficiently and effectively. Improving the quality of commissioning is really, really important. I recognise that there are concerns people have about payment by results. I think they are valid. There are issues about the quality of commissioning and how you define outcomes. What I am not sure about is why people would say it is more difficult in relation to children’s centres than it is in other areas of policy.

Q320 Ian Mearns: The trials were fairly wide-ranging, covering 27 local authority areas. They were due to finish earlier this year-around March, I think. Some of them might have continued after that. How soon do you think we will be getting dissemination of the results from those? I think it is important, if they have run such an extensive trial, that they share the information. That is just an observation.

Professor Feinstein: I absolutely agree.

Q321 Ian Mearns: I know that there have been a number of reservations expressed over the potential use of payment by results. I am just looking for an opinion, here, rather than hard evidence, because you have not been looking at it entirely. Have you any concerns that payment by results may reward quick fixes, rather than long­term solutions?

Susan Gregory: In terms of the inspection evidence we have about poor monitoring and tracking carried out by some centres in some instances, our evidence would indicate that if the payment by results is focused on process rather than outcomes, it would not be the right way forward.

Q322 Chair: Is there evidence that it is focused on process, not outcomes?

Susan Gregory: There is, where centres do not do it well. They focus on how many come through the door, rather than the impact over time on outcomes for parents, children and families.

Q323 Chair: I would hope that they were being rewarded on the basis of outcomes. I mean, we are talking about the structure of the payment-by-results scheme, rather than the performance of the children’s centre. As long as that is structured to say, "These are the outcomes now, these are the outcomes we would like to see, and if you get there we will give you the dosh," surely it is about the structure of the payment-by-results scheme?

Ian Mearns: It is about the outcome that is being measured to give you the result, isn’t it? That is the point.

Professor Feinstein: Whose outcome, and when? Are you talking about the individuals who come through the door, or are you talking about the wider population, and the lags and the complexity of those lags need to be addressed.

Heather Rushton: A lot focus on the output, rather than the actual outcome for children.

Q324 Chair: They are actually rewarding output rather than outcomes, are they?

Heather Rushton: Yes, some of them can.

Q325 Chair: In terms of the way these things are structured, are they targeted on particular children’s centres-"This children’s centre manager is part of the payment-by-results project"-or is it at local authority level, with a more strategic overview and greater ability to influence various agencies?

Susan Gregory: I do not have enough knowledge of the way it is organised.

Ian Mearns: I think what we have identified there, Graham, is that the information from the DfE has not been disseminated widely yet.

Chair: I try to get members of this Committee to stick to questions and not make statements. In total breach of my own advice, I would say that it seems to me that payment by results needs to be at a higher strategic level, and the idea that a youth centre or a children’s centre or some relatively small micro­element in the system can itself have to deliver a payment-by-results outcome is absurd, and we need to look more strategically. Anyway, I am entirely in breach.

Ian Mearns: I would agree with you.

Q326 Alex Cunningham: We have heard much this morning about different programmes, different people and different outcomes, but the Government are keen for children’s centres to focus much more on the outcomes, rather than the outputs. They want to see greater use of evidence-based programmes and data. I just wondered whether we actually need to see major changes, because the evidence suggests that the use of evidence­based stuff is patchy. Change is probably very necessary in many, many places, but is that your view? I think Leon and Heather would be better here, because I have got something specific for Susan.

Heather Rushton: From the 38 authorities that form C4EO’s evidence base, what was very impressive was that each one of those submissions was underpinned by research and an evidence base, and they were also linked to a HE provider to evaluate the impact of their programmes. I think that, over the five years that C4EO has been working with local areas, we have managed to gather together the evidence that there is greater use of evidence behind the programmes that are being delivered.

Q327 Alex Cunningham: How comprehensive is that though, Heather? Is that across the country now? Is it 60% or 20%?

Heather Rushton: It is still below the 50% for regular use. Part of the issue is that once you have actually identified what the particular concern or issue around your locality or group of children would be, where do you go quickly to get accessible evidence of what works, and the training, etc, with which to put it in? I think there is still that need for a good broker between reliable evidence and reliable programmes that produce consistent outcomes, against some of the pseudo-areas, or people passing on myth and rumour. I still think that we are on a journey, but it is getting stronger.

Q328 Alex Cunningham: Do you agree with that, Leon? Can you think about the resource implications for that?

Professor Feinstein: This is not exclusive to children’s centres. Talking to my colleagues in other What Works centres, it seems that this is pretty much universal. People struggle to know how to apply the evidence to the particular decisions that they have got to make, and the implementation of evidence­based policy is something we have to work on. There are issues about incentives. In terms of culture change, that is something we can help address through the work of the Foundation, working across a range of places. We do not have good enough data on the extent to which people are applying really evidence­based investments in terms of their early intervention strategies. If we can baseline more effectively and be clearer about which are the places that are doing relatively well compared with others, and benchmark, we can use that kind of transparency to work on the culture change. Sorry, I did not get your point about resources.

Q329 Alex Cunningham: It is not necessarily a resource issue, then. Or do we need more resources, or particular resources?

Professor Feinstein: I think it is about the nature of decision making.

Q330 Alex Cunningham: Okay, that is fine. Susan, in Ofsted’s written submission, it said that there was no direct evidence of the use of evidence­based interventions in children’s centres. How are you going to move this forward now? Are you looking more closely in future, as far as the quality is concerned, for more evidence­based work in the centres? What are you doing about it?

Susan Gregory: We are looking for centres that are able to evaluate where they are, where their strengths are, and what they need to do to adjust where there are weaknesses; and how they are accessing very successful practice, looking at other centres, what they are doing, how they are accessing research evidence, and how they are finding out how they can improve what they are doing and really offer the best that is possible for their children and families.

Chair: If we could pause for the period of the bell, to help Hansard?

Alex Cunningham: I cannot remember which day of the week it is, never mind what I was going to say next.

Susan Gregory: One of the really important roles that our HMI will have in the improvement work is to work with centres, and to identify where there is strength and effective practice. For example, I went to some schools with I CAN to have a look at the work they are doing on speech, language and literacy access. There are some terrific programmes that they are running that would be enormously helpful to primary schools. Equally, there will be programmes based on research that centres are using that we ought to be aware of-and will become aware of-to which we can signpost centres we work with.

Q331 Alex Cunningham: But, to date, you have not really found widespread evidence of evidence­based work?

Susan Gregory: No.

Q332 Alex Cunningham: Save the Children favour an endorsed list of programmes. The NSPCC says that the Early Intervention Foundation has an important role to play in improving evidence­based and shared learning. The Government want the centres to use more evidence­based programmes, as was said before. How do the centres choose appropriate programmes that will best suit the needs of particular groups of children?

Professor Feinstein: How do children’s centres choose?

Alex Cunningham: Yes, how do they choose? Everybody wants to offer them a programme, and is saying, "This is the best programme for you." How do they actually choose and make sure, and do they have the expertise to do it?

Susan Gregory: Some do, and some do not. It depends on the leadership, and the strength of the leadership, the creativity and the innovation that a very strong director or manager or centre leader can bring to the practice that is there.

Q333 Alex Cunningham: Do we have that expertise in the vast majority of our centres, or do we need to make radical changes in that sort of area?

Heather Rushton: It is also around the centre’s relationship with the local authority, and where local authorities are choosing to focus on recommending specific programmes. In some of the programmes that we have the evidence of, Sheffield has used REAL and PEAL, and they both have had significant impacts on children’s language and the role of parents. There are other examples where colleagues have come across-and I do think it is a "come across"-neuroscience and physiological developments that actually impact on children’s development. I think it is very variable. It is a very variable picture. I have no evidence about individual children’s centre managers, but I do have evidence around local authorities and that hierarchy of colleagues who are talking about what works and what the focus might be. Nottinghamshire have got a huge focus on language improvement across all of its children’s centres. Some of the London boroughs had a focus on using better data to inform the choice of programmes, so there is a STAR programme that has been implemented in Southwark with outcomes that have improved children’s performance in the lowest­attaining percentage by 95%.

Chair: Sorry, I will cut you off.

Heather Rushton: It is a variable picture, but it is not just the children’s centres in isolation. It is actually how they are working with others.

Q334 Alex Cunningham: Bearing all of that stuff in mind-that there are different things happening in different places at different quality levels and everything else-I just wondered if there are effective programmes that have been achieving success, particularly for disadvantaged groups.

Heather Rushton: I am just going to read.

Alex Cunningham: That is okay.

Heather Rushton: The Incredible Years, which was referred to previously, is one that has been referred to a lot. There are some very specific programmes that have been cited in Graham Allen’s previous report that colleagues have picked up and are using. Not all of them need to be randomised control trials, and it is about linking into the work of Ben Goldacre around how you can take practice and actually take it through a randomised process in order to know whether it has made a significant difference or not. I think we are making progress with the whole issue and concept around control groups.

Chair: Alex, sorry, I probably need to cut you off now and give David just one question to end the session.

Q335 Mr Ward: We have spoken earlier on about universal provision or targeted provision. Could you tell us how you see that within the context of local authority budgets and what is happening? We all know what is happening in those budgets. Are decisions being made, in your view, on reductions in universal provision due to the austerity measures?

Professor Feinstein: Clearly, they are. I recognise the logic around greater need for targeting, given constraints on budgets, but I just have two concerns. One is that, without the connection to the universal, you lose the ability to target effectively, as was said before. I think there has got to be the right balance between targeted and universal, and we do not quite know where that is, so that is something we can look at more. The other thing, which I am not sure was said before, is that there is no guarantee that, if somebody closes a children’s centre, the money gets rolled back in to support a higher quality children’s centre somewhere else. The risk is that people are making these strategic decisions but it is not actually as part of a big plan, and we just end up losing children’s centres.

Heather Rushton: I would like to reiterate what Caroline was talking about. A third of poor children do not live in poor areas, so we have to be very careful that we are not just targeting in that way. The challenges that affect early years are not exclusive to poor families; so issues around post­natal depression, domestic violence, parental alcohol-related issues and special educational needs do not come in neat and tidy pockets either. I think the Committee would be interested in the work of NESTA and the Innovation Unit, because there are six local authorities that are looking at providing what is actually required for the early years in a way that actually demonstrates an efficiency by thinking outside the box and doing different things. Those six local authorities were given a target of saving up to 30%, and the report actually does conclude that some of those authorities were able to do that. I think there are other ways of doing it, other than just cutting, in order to achieve the efficiency.

Chair: Thank you for that positive note on which to end, although Ian is going to take us to another positive note.

Ian Mearns: Just on the stat that you quoted there, Heather-a third of poor children do not live in poor areas-the two­thirds of poor children who do live in poor areas also live in communities where an awful lot of other children who are not quite as poor if they meet the threshold, but are still relatively poor live as well. It is all about compounding the issue in some neighbourhoods. I understand the point, but one must not forget that poor neighbourhoods are relatively poor per se.

Chair: Ian, like me, likes to make statements. Thank you all very much indeed for giving evidence to us today.

Prepared 12th June 2013