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Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 48:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

"early years" strategy

(" .--(1) An authority or person to whom a grant is made under arrangements under section 1 shall comply with such requirements as may be specified by the early years strategy prepared by the local authority under subsection (2).
(2) An early years strategy shall be prepared annually by each local authority to whom a grant is made under section 1 or in whose authority a person to whom a grant is made under section 1 has his premises, and shall specify requirements on providers of nursery education to whom this Act applies.
(3) In carrying out such a strategy each local authority shall consult any relevant body within its boundaries for the purposes of ensuring that children aged three and four within its boundaries shall have nursery education made available to them, with particular emphasis on children with the greatest need.
(4) In subsection (3) "relevant body" means--
(a) every health authority the whole or part of whose area lies within the area of the authority;
(b) every National Health Service trust which manages a hospital, establishment or facility in the authority's area;

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(c) any organisation which represents schools in the authority's area which are grant-maintained schools or grant-maintained special schools;
(d) the proprietors of every such school providing primary education in the authority's area which is not so represented under paragraph (c) above;
(e) such voluntary organisations as appear to the authority to represent the interests of people who use or are likely to use services as specified in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989;
(f) any other persons to whom a grant is made under arrangements under section 1;
(g) such other persons as the Secretary of State may direct.
(5) In drawing up such a strategy, each local authority to which this section applies shall have regard to--
(a) the local authority's children's services plan, as specified in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989; and
(b) the local authority's review of daycare, childminding and out of school provision as specified by section 19 of the Children Act 1989.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment arises out of a curious situation. Attempts were made to table various amendments trying in some way to link together the provisions of the Children Act and those of this Bill. Unless some effort is made to co-ordinate the various services undoubtedly some children will fall through the net. The obligations of the local authority to provide for children in need and those at risk--I am talking now mainly about children in need--are not in any way meshed into this Bill. The example is the child about whom I spoke on an earlier amendment who is costing the local authority £4,000 at the moment to provide nursery education. Now there will be a provider who will get £1,100 from a voucher, but the obligation of the local authority to provide the other £2,900 will have to be meshed in with that. Questions arise as to whether this Bill will in any way relieve the local authority of its obligations. I do not want to go into details at this hour of the night. It is the kind of situation where it is particularly important that there should be co-ordination.

The proposal behind this amendment is that the local authority should be required to produce a strategic plan for the provision in its area. The arguments for it are particularly relevant in areas where there are very small numbers of clients; for example, in remote rural areas and where there are minority ethnic groups who may need special provision. It is probably an amendment that the noble Lord will not like. It may be one that we should discuss between now and Report stage if there is any hope of getting some sort of a solution. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: It is an amendment that I do not like. It proposes the development by the LEAs of an early years strategy. It looks to me very much like another attempt to put local authorities very much in the driving seat, to use a form of words I used in connection with earlier amendments. Unlike the amendments that we debated earlier concerning development plans and the suggestion of placing a new duty on local education authorities to provide nursery education, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, does at least recognise the important part that providers and agencies, other than the local authority, play in the provision of nursery education. It is certainly very good to see that

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local authorities will have to consult such a wide range of bodies in carrying out their early years strategy. Consultation with those other bodies does not require local authorities to take their views into account nor feature other sectors in the strategy as it is developed.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Minister would seriously benefit from visiting a wide range of local education authorities. He will find that they have co-ordinating committees on provision for under-fives on which health authorities are represented and on which the local education authority has its own representatives, including those of the voluntary sector and the pre-school playgroups. It is about time that the Government came down from their ivory tower and went out and visited local authorities. I see two former colleagues from local government circles, the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Dixon-Smith, on that side of the Chamber and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on this side. I know that they can all tell the noble Lord that there is already co-operation. It is not something to which the Government have to keep referring.

Lord Henley: I am not quite sure of the point of that in relation to this amendment, but I can tell the noble Baroness that I am a former member of a local education authority--not, I appreciate, with the great distinction of the noble Baroness. I have nevertheless served for a number of years on a local education authority. I can also assure her that in the course of my work in the department I visit a number of local education authorities and see officers and members, and I intend to continue doing so.

The simple point that I was making is that I do not like the amendment, but I like it slightly more than the previous one moved by the noble Baroness. In effect, it puts LEAs in the driving seat and I can only repeat that the Government believe that the manner of the expansion of nursery education should be determined by parental choice, not by LEAs.

Lord Northbourne: The problem we are discussing highlights the fact that the responsibility for children and their families falls across no fewer than seven departments of state. That is the root of the problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Nursery education grants: inspections etc.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 50:

Page 4, line 33, after ("education") insert ("with particular reference to--
(i) qualifications and training of staff;
(ii) staff-child ratios; and
(iii) space regulations and guidance").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to give the chief inspector a duty to report to the Secretary of State on objective measures of inputs to quality listed in the amendment. This would help to

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develop a better defined and more robust inspection regime that makes specific reference to those indicators of quality--a little less of the light touch, a little more of the heavy hand.

The chief inspector's duty in the Bill to report on the strengths and weaknesses of early years education should refer directly to the inclusion of judgments on the qualifications and training of staff. The nursery voucher scheme will very suddenly plunge us into a new system where providers, who have previously been expected to do no more than fulfil Children Act requirements to satisfy the fit person requirement, are now expected to provide a curriculum that will lead to the SCAA desirable learning outcomes. In ensuring that the providers are "fit" persons, the local authority will only be required to "have regard" to a number of important considerations, among which is,

    "qualifications and/or training in a relevant field such as child care, early years education, health visiting, nursing or other caring activities".

As the father of a nurse who is well qualified in health visiting, I can assure the Committee that she would not exactly welcome being stuck in a situation for which she would feel that she was not properly trained.

It is clear that there is no real qualification requirement. In what must be the most crucial indicator of quality the SCAA desirable outcomes for children's learning study found that the children who had attended LEA nurseries,

    "engaged in more purposeful and complex activity in reception class than did the children who attended playgroup; they chose more 'demanding' educational activities. Nursery children were more likely than playgroup children to initiate contacts with the teacher that were 'learning orientated' while the playgroup children approached the teacher for help".

This begins to demonstrate the quality of the children's experience in playgroup by comparison with that in nursery education--a quality determined by the quality of staff in both environments.

That is complemented by a second study, carried out by Kathy Sylva at the Institute of Education, working with Siraj Blatchford and Johnson. The study found that the staff in the social services sector of nurseries had too little knowledge of the national curriculum to lay down firm foundations for it during the pre-school years. In contrast, teachers in the education sector were well informed about the national curriculum pertaining to primary school children and devised nursery school programmes based on assessing the educational needs of children and fostering learning tailored to individuals. Some recent evidence pertaining to the importance of qualifications in the teaching of this age group is contained within the Audit Commission's splendid little report, Counting to Five. That study examined 50 settings, and on page 25 the report states:

    "The inspectors' reports did not highlight any single feature common to all the highest grade settings, but two were mentioned in relation to many of them, one of which was: staff trained specifically for working with young children".

If this is true, surely we should acknowledge this important facet of high quality provision by making certain that, above all, the chief inspector has it firmly in his sights.

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Earlier amendments today have raised the issue of staff: child ratios and space regulations. This amendment simply suggests that the chief inspector should report on the national picture in those areas to assist in assessing progress and identifying and developing national trends.

Amendment No. 57 is intended to introduce a set of basic minimum standards against which all nursery providers are inspected. It would exert considerable pressure on the Secretary of State to establish those common criteria relating to staffing numbers and qualifications, training and experience as well as those relating to indoor and outdoor space regulations, which have been a sore point with us all along in consideration of the Bill. Such aspects are much more reliable and long-term indicators that basic standards are being met than any kind of half-day snapshot of a nursery teacher or any other staff can be. They are also quantifiable indicators by which parents can compare and thereby make more meaningful choices. We are all for choices but let us have meaningful ones.

Although in the new arrangements there is an apparent commitment to give Ofsted overall responsibility for inspecting all nursery providers, it remains distinctly possible that the criteria against which each provider is measured may be different for different kinds of institution: for example, maintained nursery classes as against play groups. Such differences would be unacceptable, and the amendment seeks to remedy that. We know that staff can be put on show for inspectors. What happens when the inspectors go is rather like the Sunday after "Songs of Praise" has visited a parish church. On television day the church is packed but the following Sunday the congregation comprises the usual three old ladies and one small child. Similarly, in these situations there can be an under-performance as a result of being inspected. However, more qualifiable aspects of standards, like child:staff ratios, cannot be changed for the day and they are not subject to human responses or judgments. We believe that the amendment would help by requiring inspectors to inspect those quantitative factors and to inform parents of how the situation with one provider compares with a national set of common criteria. If you like, it is a league table. It also allows greater feasibility for initial inspection prior to registration. I beg to move.

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