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Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to a very useful debate. I am sorry that I did not propose this amendment in Grand Committee, although I mentioned several times the pressures that local authorities thought that they would find themselves under. I hope that the Minister will recognise that I acknowledged when I moved the amendment the significant sums that the Government have invested in childcare. I thank him for his reply and very much welcome his remarks on the voluntary sector.

There are some big issues here, however. Without resources, will "reasonably practicable" mean minimal? We must be very careful about that. I understand that if I pressed the amendment to a vote, which I am not going to do, it would mean that some local authorities could do nothing. That is not in anyone's best interests. But it is very important that we do not set local authorities up to fail and equally important that we do not let them get away with doing the minimum. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, was absolutely right—as is the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who is very keen on training. The whole of child development depends on services of high quality, which will depend on training. That is something that must happen.

I end by saying that the Government's favourite think tank, the IPPR, has a paper out today called Equal Access? Affordable and appropriate childcare for every child, which also says that without significant additional investment, the Government will be unable to ensure equal access to affordable, appropriate and high quality childcare and early years service. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 8:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we return to the much debated question of quality. The amendment inserts the additional words,

and refers to childcare provision in Clause 6(1) and Clause 22(1), for England and Wales.
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We debated in Committee how the term "quality" is noticeably lacking from the Bill. Yet research has shown that,

It is a continuous process, and quality assurance accreditation is playing an increasing role in the private, voluntary and independent sector, despite Ofsted's failure to take such schemes into account in its inspections.

We are committed to providing high quality, affordable, flexible and sustainable childcare choices and we need that quality assurance so that parents will feel safe in the knowledge that their children will be well cared for. It has to be affordable, because we currently have the most expensive childcare in Europe, with a typical nursery place costing one-third of average earnings. It has to be accessible, not only in costs terms but because childcare needs to be flexible and sustainable, offering real choice to parents.

In the Minister's response in Grand Committee, he stated that he agreed with our objectives and said that,

We debated exactly what "quality" means at great length in Grand Committee, and I do not propose to rehearse the arguments here today. Suffice it to say that I hope the regulations cover some of the areas we covered, such as parental involvement, ethos, suitability and training. I also hope that thorough training on attachment, which again we discussed at length, will be considered where very young children are catered for, and that inspectors will have a good working knowledge of this area.

Talking of inspectors, I ask the Government to seriously consider exploring with Ofsted how they can take quality assurance schemes into account. However, we feel that the best way to signal that quality counts is to cement this commitment on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, my amendments in this group are Amendments No. 10, which relates to workless households, and Nos. 11 and 15, which relate to quality and suitability.

Amendment No. 10 would add to the duty of local authorities to have regard to childcare provision for workless households, subject to adequate resources being available. I accept that the Government's main focus in the Bill, as clearly outlined by the Minister in Grand Committee, is providing childcare so that parents can go out to work and take the family out of poverty. That is all well and good, but my main focus is on the child's best interests. In that case, you have to remember that the children of workless households can also benefit greatly from good quality childcare.
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Indeed, given the stresses and strains of life in such households, they may well benefit more than other children.

If some parents either choose to stay at home or have heavy caring commitments to either a disabled child or an elderly relative, it is not right that the other children in the household should lose out by not having their needs catered for. Government Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 emphasise the needs of disabled children, but other children in the same households are often very disadvantaged, and if their parents do not go to work, the Bill ignores them.

Addressing the needs of such families is very cost-effective. We know that having a break from child caring can improve parents' mental health. That could save costs on the NHS. Access to appropriate childcare is a cost-effective form of support, and may prevent the family reaching crisis point, possibly resulting in a residential placement. Having the opportunity to associate with their peers is vital to the development of children's social skills, as evinced by the EPPE project and other studies. If the Government want to reduce inequalities—the prime objective of the Bill—they should start with the children of workless households.

Amendments Nos. 11 to 15 would introduce the word "quality" into the duty in different ways. My Amendment No. 11 was No. 28 in Committee, and somehow the word "must" in Amendment No. 28 has become "may" in No. 11 today. That is a mistake, and I am not quite sure how it happened. My intention is that local authorities must have a duty to have regard to quality.

Amendment No. 11 also introduces the concept of suitability for the communities in the area. I will not repeat the arguments I made in Committee about the need for settings to have regard to the child's cultural needs and his ethnic persona. Part of the objective of good quality early years learning is to help the child develop his sense of self, and to interpret the world around him in relation to that self. If the child has no role models among the staff, or the setting takes no regard of his particular culture or persona, that is not in the best interests of that child.

In this country we have many cultural communities: White, Black, Arabic, Travellers, Jewish and eastern European, and many different religions. It is vital that settings make the effort to recruit and train staff from all these local communities, or, if that fails, that they at least have regard to the child's needs in that respect.

I hope that the Minister will have regard to the strong feelings of the House on quality. All the studies show that good quality childcare benefits children, and bad quality childcare harms them. The Government have shown their commitment to the right kind of care in many ways, including the development of the early years foundation stage. It seems more than surprising, therefore, that the word "quality" is absent from the Bill. There is a strong feeling in the House that it should be included somewhere in the Bill, as a matter of principle. Guidance is not good enough. As we said earlier, the Bill should contain reference to the
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principles underpinning the legislation. The word "quality" is another of those underpinning principles, which is why we have returned to it on Report. I hope that the Minister has moved on a bit about this since Grand Committee and can reassure us further.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, before speaking to Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 in my name, I express my shared concerns about quality. The Minister referred to the EPPE research, which focused principally on the over-threes. The NICHD research in the United States, which looked at the under-threes, found that there was a significant increase in aggressiveness among children who had prolonged exposure at a very young age to poor quality childcare. Those are the three main factors.

Professor Melhuish is one of those charged by the Government with evaluating the Sure Start programme. In his estimation, the American research underestimates the impact of poor quality childcare on the development of the youngest children. Certainly, from the point of view of the work of the Oxford Parent Infant Project, I would think that there will be considerable concern about poor quality childcare for the under-threes. Having said that, I recognise the benefit of good quality childcare to many children, especially the over-threes. I strongly support what the Government are doing with their childcare workforce development programme, which is welcome. One might not wish to be starting from where we are, but the Government are trying hard to move forward on the agenda of improving the workforce.

Amendment No. 31 deals with the closure of settings in regulations for the purpose of staff development. That might be once a month, in an evening for two hours, to permit staff non-contact time to discuss with their team the children's welfare. Amendment No. 32 permits regulation on staff supervision, which would permit regular, individual, one-to-one mentoring of staff by senior practitioners. I thank the Minister for the interest that he has shown in my concerns in this area and for the opportunity to discuss this with him outwith the Chamber. The purpose of speaking to the amendments is to allow him the opportunity to place on record the assurances that he gave me earlier.

Why is support for staff development important? First, we have in earlier discussions recognised that the key person approach is fundamental to the emotional well-being of under-threes and is important to older children in these settings. It is well recognised that good supervision of staff is important for the proper implementation of that key person approach. Unfortunately, many staff entering these settings may carry with them baggage from their own childhood. They may have experienced neglect or other difficulties, and there is always the danger, as anyone experienced in this area will tell you, that they may play out some of those earlier experiences on the children that they care for now. Good support to such staff is important in preventing that happening.
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Such mentoring support and supervised staff work discussion groups are probably the best training that staff can receive because it is all targeted on their experience and on reflection with a senior practitioner about what they do day to day. There is no risk of irrelevant training.

There is also an important economic benefit. In a setting with 60 places for children, the staff costs might be £250,000 per annum. There is a high rate—about 10 per cent per annum—of staff absences through sickness in the sector. There is plenty of evidence that good supervision and support for staff can significantly reduce such absences. If it were to halve their number, that would be a saving of £12,500 per annum, which could then be used to pay for that proper staff support.

4.45 pm

Across the social care world, individual mentoring of staff or a staff team discussing the welfare of their children together is absolutely normal and expected. I was grateful to the Minister for the assurances that he gave me on the matter. How will he make clear the importance of staff in the early years foundation stage having that time away from the children for individual supervision or staff team discussions? The Government's transformation fund is their special investment in the training of staff to bring them up to a higher level. Can he assure the House that in the guidance on the fund's expenditure it will be clear that, for instance, staff might be given time and a half to attend work discussion groups and the monthly staff meeting, which takes place after work, and that such continued professional development will be accredited, so that the funding can be used for that important part of the support of staff? Finally, is the Minister considering how Ofsted might be encouraged to look at staff development and support? It does not currently and it might well need additional resources to do so, but it might be helpful if it did. The Commission for Social Care Inspection inspects in that area in its work in, for instance, children's homes.

I recently spoke with a clearly troubled young woman who was going to start a career in childcare. That is a common experience for those involved in working with vulnerable young people; young people who have experienced neglect often wish to go into the social care world or to work in caring for children. They can bring a special commitment and insight to that work, but definitely need to be well supervised and supported if they are to be successful—to thrive in their work and to give good care to the children. I look forward to the Minister's response.

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