Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] — Sure Start Children’s Centres

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 27th April 2011.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education 1:33 pm, 27th April 2011

I believe that money additional to the early intervention grant has been budgeted for to cover the years 2012-13 to 2013-14, and we are currently discussing with the sector how to ensure that the money is spent most effectively. Rather than having a top-down approach to delivering support for children in the early years, we need to work in partnership, not just with local government, where there are many brilliant leaders, but with those in the voluntary and charitable sector who have a huge amount to add.

I mentioned Anand Shukla and Anne Longfield, but I am also very grateful to people such as Bernadette Duffy, who runs the Thomas Coram children’s centre, which has helped the coalition Government to move forward in developing a framework to ensure that children in the foundation years receive the support that they really need. For example, all of them have worked with us on the response to the report by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and the interim report produced by Mr Allen. In both reports a compelling case was made—this argument was also made eloquently in the first half of the speech by the right hon. Member for Leigh—that investment and the right interventions in the earliest years can have a dramatic effect in closing the opportunity gap that has grown up in this country.

All of us will have been struck by some of the figures released by the coalition Government and analysed by the Financial Times this week that show that social mobility in this country is still not moving in the right direction. In particular, we see evidence in some of our most deprived areas of children who have not reached an acceptable level of child development by the age of five. In those deprived areas, children who are falling behind continue to do so. I want to ensure that as much as possible we have a cross-party approach to dealing with that problem. Again I have to say that steps were taken by the Deputy Prime Minister, in the launch of his social mobility strategy, to outline exactly what we need to do to tackle these problems. All of his suggestions, particularly the emphasis on intervention at every stage in the life cycle and the prioritisation of early years, would seem to commend themselves to people of good will in every party.