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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for picking up my point about the shift in rhetoric. We should be talking in this context not about poorly performing children but about children who start off with a disadvantage and the performance of the rest of us to help them to overcome those disadvantages, which is what the Bill sets out to do.

The noble Baroness knows that I am not able to support Amendments Nos. 1 and 3. I said in Grand Committee that we believe that the Government's wording is preferable, and that is what we support. However, in Grand Committee we added our names to Amendments Nos. 2 and 4, from which, by the way, I believe Amendment No. 5 follows. I shall not repeat
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what the noble Baroness said but it is inappropriate to have legislation to produce a new set of targets when we have not assessed the old ones. It is much more appropriate for local authorities to be assessed, given the multitude of assessment procedures and structures that are already in place to support them, rather than supporting a new set of targets and procedures to assess them. That is not to say that it is not important that they should be assessed but I believe that it is inappropriate to create a new set of targets because, as the noble Baroness rightly said, when there is a system people will work it and somehow get themselves into the numbers game and produce the goods, as it were. That is not necessarily in the best interests of the children in an area. We do not want local authorities to get into the numbers game. We believe that there is a much more appropriate way of expressing in the Bill how they should be assessed.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 1 and 4. The case has been well made on Amendment No. 4—targets have proved to be unsuccessful and, in some cases, highly undesirable.

What exactly do the Government mean by equality in this context? Before we decide on this amendment, we should understand a little more clearly what we are saying. Surely the Government will agree that all children are different. If they do not, the answer is fairly clear; but I suspect that they do agree with that. If children are all different, in what ways and how are we planning to make them more equal? That should be set out. We might be talking about making them socially more equal, giving them equal access to certain facilities or whatever. Then again, what do we mean by "equal"? Do we mean equal to their own potential, to the average potential or—I hope not—to the average potential of the least able? I hope that the Minister can respond to those questions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, perhaps the best way of beginning one's remarks in your Lordships' House is to eat humble pie when the Government are at fault, to recognise errors and to seek to correct them immediately. I immediately state that we do not stand by the phrase "poorly performing children". We believe that that is infelicitous wording and will look to change it to see that phraseology that we regard as straightforwardly pejorative is not used.

I shall deal with two other specifically factual queries for which I have answers. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked whether the current PSA targets will be put into law. We do not intend that to happen. We are reviewing how statutory targets should be set, and we do not intend to use the same form for those targets as is used for the current PSA.

The noble Baroness also asked what progress is being made with the joint area reviews. I am very sorry that I did not have the information to hand to be able to reply in Grand Committee. Fifteen joint area reviews have been completed so far. These have shown a mix of grades from grade 3, good, to grade 2,
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adequate, down to grade 1, which is inadequate. Four of the 15 authorities—Herefordshire, Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Bristol—have had services rated at grade 1, inadequate. Each joint area review includes recommendations to improve services to which authorities must publish an action plan in response. Of course, we will be particularly anxious to pursue those recommendations in the case of authorities whose services have been ranked as unsatisfactory—that is, at grade 1. I think that that reinforces the point that I made in Grand Committee. It is essential that the Government have the capacity to act in seeing that local authorities take their responsibilities seriously when independent inspectors rate their services as inadequate.

Amendment No. 1 concerns narrowing inequalities. The noble Baroness said in Grand Committee, and repeated again this afternoon, that the test required by the words "reduce inequalities" could be met "grotesquely"—that was the word that she used in Grand Committee—with no improvement at all in the opportunities for the least advantaged if the opportunities for the more fortunate were reduced. The noble Baroness immediately swept aside the fact that I made a full response to that by setting out the importance that the Government attach to raising standards and the level of provision for all children. I will repeat it now, because what we are saying in the Bill in this context is important. There is no point in creating a kind of scare that we could engage in grotesque means of achieving an objective if there is no evidence whatever that that particularly grotesque fear has any chance of being realised. The Government's record since 1997 is one of substantial investment in universal provision for all families with children under the age of five, and I shall go through what we have done to reinforce my point.

First, the value of child benefit—the main benefit that all parents receive for their children—has gone up by 26 per cent in real terms since 1997, and total government expenditure on child benefit is now approaching £10 billion a year. In 1997, most women were entitled to just 14 weeks' maternity leave. That has now more than tripled to 52 weeks' leave for most and, from April 2007, all employed mothers will be entitled to 52 weeks' leave. In 1997, women who qualified received just 18 weeks' statutory maternity pay. We have since upped that to 26 weeks' pay for all employed women and, from next April, it will be 39 weeks' pay. That increase alone is worth around £1,400 to each working mother. As the House knows, our ambition is to raise the level still further to a full year's pay by the end of this Parliament.

We have also significantly raised the level of payment. In 1997, the flat rate for statutory maternity pay was £55.60. We have now nearly doubled that to £106, and it is shortly to rise again to £108.85. In this financial year, the Government will be spending £1.4 billion on statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance, which goes to all mothers, irrespective of their income and family circumstances.
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In 2003, we also introduced a brand new entitlement for employed fathers to take two weeks' leave with statutory paternity pay. Again, that had not been available previously; we introduced it as a completely new and universal entitlement. We have done the same in respect of adoption leave and pay. There has also been a huge increase in support for families, up to a considerable level of the income scale, through the introduction of the new tax credit regime. Again, although that is not completely universal, it has covered a very large proportion of the population.

Specifically in respect of nursery provision for three and four year-olds, in 1997 there was no national scheme of provision for three year-olds and only a patchy scheme of provision for four year-olds. There is now universal entitlement to nursery or equivalent provision for all parents of three and four year-olds, which is very largely taken up, and we have extended the number of hours for which that is available. Perhaps I may give an indication of the scale of commitment that the state has been making to all families in this respect. In 1997, state funding for nursery provision was £600 million a year in respect of free entitlement. That has now risen to £2.9 billion, nearly a 500 per cent increase. I therefore do not believe that we can be accused in any way of neglecting the generality of parents and their needs in framing the new duties under the Bill.

3.45 pm

If there is not an issue about the Government seeking to level down, which emphatically there is not—we are emphatically seeking to level up—we then move on to the issue of how we close the gap between the least fortunate and the more fortunate. We regard that as a very important priority. In Grand Committee on 19 April 2006, the noble Baroness said:

That may underpin the difference between us on the amendments. I was very glad to have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in this respect. Not only do we want to set this as an attainable objective; we want to provide a very strong imperative for local authorities in how they act in this area by having in the Bill the requirement to narrow gaps in attainment, which will have that effect.

The research is very clear. The research by Leon Feinstein shows that there is a very close correlation between outcomes at an early age and later in life. Of the cases that he studied, there was a striking relationship between early test scores at 22 months, 42 months and five years and later achievement at A-level or better. Importantly, analysis of the highest and lowest achieving groups showed that the gap evident at age 22 months became ever
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wider as the months and the years went by. The noble Baroness will be familiar with the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education project, which concluded:

especially where they are with,

which is precisely what we are seeking to achieve in the extension of comprehensive provision for children under five. The EPPE study also concluded that early education,

On entry to a reception class, the difference in those having attended two years of quality early education and those not is between four and six months' development. That powerfully reinforces the case for a concentration of effort on families who are least advantaged.

At present, we set out our approach to reducing inequality by concentrating attention in the Sure Start programme on the 30 per cent most deprived Super Output Areas—that is, areas identified through the index of multiple deprivation, a sophisticated tool which measures a wide range of factors including income, employment, health, education and skills, housing and services, crime and the living environment. We chose these precisely defined areas of particular deprivation as an important starting point—I stress "starting point"—in our drive to reduce inequalities, targeting the integrated services of Sure Start children's centres in these areas. This is, however, only a starting point, which is precisely what the Prime Minister meant in his remarks last month—that we have a good deal more to do because we are still in the very early stages of developing under-fives provision. We certainly do not regard ourselves as having yet achieved our objective of eradicating the circumstances of disadvantage that afflict too many families, particularly those at the bottom of the income scale.

At present, for example, some 25 per cent of young children from deprived backgrounds do not live in the 30 per cent most deprived Super Output Areas. More importantly, barriers to achievement are not limited to social and economic causes. Special educational needs, health, English as a foreign language and other issues of that kind all have a role to play. Under the Bill we wish to develop a new framework, so that instead of authorities having to concentrate exclusively on children from the most disadvantaged areas, they must reduce inequalities by improving outcomes for the young children most at risk of achieving poor outcomes at large.

Our intention was set out in the outline statutory guidance placed before the House before the Easter Recess. In fulfilling their statutory duty to reduce inequalities, we expect local authorities to identify the characteristics of young children who have the poorest outcomes in the foundation stage profile, and to identify the factors preventing them achieving their full potential. We have no intention of labelling or
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stigmatising particular groups of young children; rather, we intend to recognise and address the issues hindering them and children in similar circumstances. With this information about the barriers to achievement in their area, local authorities can decide how best to target their resources at the groups most at risk of low achievement.

The causes of multiple deprivation in the most disadvantaged areas will, I am sure, remain important, but we want authorities to tackle the barriers to achievement which are most appropriate to their area and its particular circumstances. The outline guidance that I made available to the House suggested what some of these might be, and it will be for local authorities to determine the factors most relevant to them.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 2 and 4, on statutory targets, and the noble Baroness's concerns about those targets. As I explained in Grand Committee, targets would be based on the foundation stage profile and its successor under the Bill, the early years foundation stage profile. This is a wide-ranging assessment of young children's achievements that has been developed in conjunction with many early-years practitioners and is very widely respected. I also made that available to noble Lords in Grand Committee.

Since 2003, the foundation stage profile has been recorded for every child at the end of the summer term in their "reception year", the year in which they have their fifth birthday. This information is passed to local authorities, who use it to assess the impact of their work with settings and identify aspects of provision that need further improvement. It is certainly not a large step to suggest that targets at local authority level for improvements in foundation stage outcomes should be the next stage. Authorities are already challenged by strategic advisers over their performance in the foundation stage, and are asked to consider how they can contribute to the Government's PSA target on improving foundation stage outcomes and narrowing gaps. Setting statutory targets for foundation stage performance is the next step in challenging authorities to secure good outcomes for the children in their area.

As I stressed in Grand Committee, we will seek to agree these targets with local authorities. In Grand Committee, I made available a draft outline of the statutory guidance on the duty to improve well-being and to reduce inequalities in outcome for children up to the age of five. Paragraph 20 of that guidance is explicit that there should be a proper process of consultation with local authorities. It states that,

There is a proper process in train to ensure that we proceed, so far as possible, by agreement.

The Local Government Association, which I know has been making representations to both noble Baronesses, made clear its concern over statutory targets at an early stage. However, its fears are not shared in the feedback we have received from local
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authority early years specialists themselves, those who are most closely engaged. As the House may know, we have established a group—the Childcare Implementation Project—which specifically consults early years practitioners in 12 local authorities. It has supported our suggestion of statutory targets for the foundation stage, believing that this will raise the status of early childhood services within their authorities. That is precisely the point I made in Grand Committee. Early years practitioners themselves do not wish to see the attainment of improved outcomes for under-fives as a lesser priority for authorities than is the case, for example, for attainment in schools.

As I said, the foundation stage develops essential skills in young children, particularly social interaction, communication and such prerequisites of literacy and numeracy as counting and phonics, as well as physical development, creativity and exploration of the world. The foundation stage has the potential to open up a huge world of opportunities for young children regardless of their background. Conversely, failure to develop these key skills in the early years will make subsequent education much harder to access, increasing the likelihood of poor achievement. Without a good start, children are all too likely to fall behind their peers and face an ongoing battle to achieve the same outcomes as their contemporaries. It is precisely because we want to give such priority to achieving improvements in this area—an objective shared on all sides of the House—that it is appropriate for local authorities to set targets in this area.

Amendment No. 5 seeks to ensure that the two duties in Clause 1—the duty to improve the well-being of young children in their area and the duty to reduce inequalities between young children in their area in the matters set out in the following subsection—could not be met at the expense of each other, which I know has been a concern of the noble Baronesses. We believe that the objective which the noble Baroness has set out is fully met by the wording of the Bill and the ingenious use of the word "and". If the noble Baroness looks at Clause 1, she will see that it sets out the two duties and links them with the word "and". It states that an English local authority must,

There is no "or" there. There is no way that a local authority could legitimately interpret its general duties under Clause 1 to give it an opportunity to meet one at the expense of the other. The legal requirements set out in that clause are explicit.

I am delighted to be able to end by giving such complete satisfaction—I hope—to the noble Baroness. I hope, on that basis, that she might feel able to withdraw her other amendments as well.

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