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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord explain why the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was so free of his time in answering journalists' questions on television but is so shy of giving any of his time to come here and answer the precisely similar questions of Members of this House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, not being a television watcher or weekend radio listener, I do not know exactly what was said. However, I would assume that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer was answering questions about the Dome generally. He

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would not have been in a position to give details of the deal. If I am wrong about that and your Lordships are able to point to a single syllable where the noble and learned Lord we are talking about disclosed details of the deal, I would be very happy to read it.

Lord Renton: My Lords, bearing in mind that this is a matter of public interest in which a great deal of public finance is involved, is it not right that Members of this House and those of another place should have the right to influence the Government's attitude in the negotiations?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the one thing that is not lacking in this context is advice from your Lordships or from the other House.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is always so very helpful and courteous to the House. Perhaps he will extend the huge benefit of promising us two or three minutes of the time of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have already done so three times. However, I shall try again. My familiarity with the English language is limited, of course, so perhaps I should read it out:

    "No deal has been signed [full stop] The time to make a Statement to the House is once the deal is signed [full stop] The Government will make a Statement to the House as soon as a deal is signed [full stop]".

No further holes in the Dome will be dug.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I omitted from my question the words, "this week, please."

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, again, I do not control much in your Lordships' House, and the calendar is not among the items that I do control. This week is ticking to its inevitable demise. I do not know—I cannot say—when the deal will be signed. If your Lordships are of the view that the House should be recalled, I shall mention it to the Chief Whip.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will comment on past deals. In view of the record on past deals, how can he be so sure that this deal will be signed?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am not sure. The one thing about which I am sure is that I am not sure about the Dome.

Education Bill

3.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 72 [Interpretation of Part 6]:

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 262:

    Page 49, line 21, at end insert—

""the pre-foundation stage" means the stage in a child's educational development between birth and the age of three;"

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 262, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 263 and 265. Amendment No. 262 would formally establish a pre-foundation stage to education in this country. On reflection, that stage might more appropriately be called the "family learning stage". Amendment No. 265 would define the pre-foundation stage in terms of the age of the child and it would also encourage the Secretary of State to give guidance to parents as to how they can fill their role most effectively as their child's first educator.

This Government are, indeed, to be congratulated on making nursery education available to all three and four year-olds. But education does not start at the age of three; it starts at zero. The importance of what a child learns in the first year or two of its life—the period of education in the family—cannot be over-estimated. Perhaps I can make my point, without taking up too much of the Committee's time, by telling a brief anecdote.

Three weeks ago I was left in charge of a grandson who has just passed his first birthday. He took a fancy to some brightly coloured objects on the table—fragile objects, as it happened. He worked out that by climbing on the sofa and then on to the arm he could reach them. So, with a great deal of repeated effort, he climbed up and reached out. I said, "No, Alfie". He turned and looked at me. He worked out whether or not I meant it and then continued to look at me to see whether I was going to look away. When I did not, he tried again. I said, "No, Alfie". Therefore, he had another idea and beamed a lovely two-toothed smile at me in the hope that that would make me give way.

I foretell with confidence that when that child goes to school he will have the necessary confidence and social skills to cope with the problems of entering nursery or primary school. He will also have the background of early learning which will ensure that he succeeds. That child is a privileged child because during his first years he will have had the time, the love, the stimulation and the security which he needed from his parents or, when they were both working, from first-class childcare.

I am sure that the Committee will share with me the wish for every child in this country to have those advantages. Noble Lords will ask whether that is realistic and, in terms of 100 per cent success, clearly it is not. But we could do a great deal better than we do at present in that respect.

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Nearly all parents start out by wanting to do the best for their child. Many are hungry for help or desperate for support. Many excellent initiatives, such as Homestart and PIPPIN, have shown that help can be given without stigmatising the parents. These two amendments would give the Secretary of State for Education the power to provide support, help and guidance to parents in their role as their child's first educator.

I now turn briefly to Amendment No. 263. This amendment seeks to make it clear that grandparents and other members of a child's extended family are not precluded from providing nursery education to that child. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising the issue of the crucial—as I am sure all Members of the Committee will agree—period in a child's development between birth and the age of three. I assure him that I agree that this is a very important stage in children's lives. We know that development and learning are rapid during those years, and the support given to a child at that stage can reap many rewards later.

Therefore, I hope that I can assure the Committee of the Government's real commitment to finding ways of supporting the crucial early years of a child's development. We certainly aim to encourage early years workers and parents to recognise and support that development in ways that are appropriate to the particular needs of babies and toddlers.

We are, in particular, learning the lessons from Sure Start. Parents are very much involved in the management and delivery of local Sure Start programmes. As of this week, 263 such programmes have been approved and are delivering services to children under the age of four and their families.

However, we are not convinced that the creation of a pre-foundation stage of the national curriculum for children between birth and the age of three would be either helpful to, or welcomed by, parents. The needs and interests of babies and toddlers are, of course, very different from those of three, four and five year-old children in the foundation stage.

Of course, I agree that parents and grandparents have a key role in their children's education. Indeed, the foundation stage guidance emphasises the importance of that role in providing a child's first and enduring level of education. We shall continue to do all that we can to encourage and support that.

However, I am not convinced that guidance from the Secretary of State to parents about how they should best carry out that role at home would be appropriate. In the main, they are best placed to judge how to meet their particular needs and interests in these earliest years.

I turn to Amendment No. 263, which seeks to extend the duties for the foundation stage to parents. Clause 73 will impose duties to implement the foundation stage curriculum on all those outside the maintained school sector who are receiving public funding to

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deliver early years education. We believe that that is right and proper. We are funding early years education places in the maintained, voluntary and private sectors in order to give parents choice. If parents choose, for example, a private nursery or playgroup, they need to be assured that their child will have the same opportunities for high quality learning experiences as they would in the nursery or reception class of a maintained school. This clause will give them that reassurance.

As I said, the foundation stage guidance emphasises the importance of parents as the child's first educator. It encourages all early years settings to work closely with parents and sets out the key role that they play in young children's education. We shall continue to do all that we can to encourage and support that. But I do not believe that we should be extending the duties of the foundation stage to parents and grandparents.

I hope that with the reassurances that I have given, and by pointing to the Sure Start project, the noble Lord will see that we have been attempting to do what he is looking for and will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: The Minister will forgive me because I should have risen to speak earlier. I thought that all three amendments would be taken together. They allow the maximum flexibility for an education authority to provide financial and other help to families where—and only where—it is thought that the earliest-possible intervention could make a difference in allowing a child to benefit more fully from later compulsory education. Although health and social care are clearly important at this early stage, so too is educational input.

A vulnerable child's ability to benefit more fully from the education system can change his life and help the Government to achieve their aim of getting more bright children from deprived backgrounds into university.

In Committee on 14th May (at cols. 264 and 265 of the Official Report) the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, stressed that similar support will be needed for looked-after children—whose educational performance is currently abysmally low—in the form of admissions forums and so on. Amendment No. 262, by deliberately focusing on the early years, when good attention could begin, would prevent at least some children needing to be taken into care. All that will need more resources, co-ordination and more locally based social services, health and police resources in identifying children most at risk at an early stage.

The Minister has spoken about Sure Start. On a previous occasion, there was a question mark over which department's purse funds this kind of early help, which I believe amounts to £499 million. Can the Minister give concrete examples of Sure Start's success and the ways that such initiatives are proving of benefit to children and communities? Are the considerable sums needed available, including for educational expertise? If at least some deprived

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children and their parents can be equipped early enough to benefit properly from the education system, that will undoubtedly assist them, the economy and communities. The horrendous prison population might decrease instead of increase. We were told yesterday that the current prison population of 72,000 is the highest yet—and of the appalling financial cost per prisoner of £31,000 per annum.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider the importance of early educational input into a special group that has been causing problems for the country's education system for more years than I like to think about—certainly through all my adult life.

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