Child Care

Part of Business of the House (26 February) – in the House of Commons at 9:46 pm on 13th February 2013.

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Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 9:46 pm, 13th February 2013

I am sorry, but I have a limited amount of time, and I want to press on.

The hon. Lady asked me who else supported the changes. They are supported by Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted, and by Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, who produced an important report called “Starting Strong” about the impact of improved qualifications on the attainment of children. Providing a teacher in an early years setting and providing high-quality staff can have a massive effect. A number of leading providers in the child care industry also support our proposals. I admit that not everyone is supportive. I can only say that we are giving people the opportunity to offer more places, it is not compulsory, and it is certainly not something that we will allow providers who do not invest in high quality to do.

We are also simplifying the system to make much more funding reach the front line. That is another important part of the proposals. Under the present system, local authorities and Ofsted are both responsible for quality, and quality assurance in different areas is at different levels. We are investing in Ofted and in more front-line inspectors from Her Majesty’s inspectorate to ensure that inspections are of genuinely high quality and focus on what is important. We have just changed the Ofsted framework so that it is much more focused on outcomes and the quality of engagement with children. There will be more emphasis on qualifications and the outcomes for the children.

All parties agree that the current system is not working. There are issues with the availability of child care. We want there to be more childminder agencies to help us provide more child care. Over the last 20 years the number of childminders has halved. They are a vital source of flexible child care for parents who do not work normal hours—MPs are one such group. We want childminders to be more widely accessible. Childminder agencies will be required to provide training, and they will be regulated and inspected by Ofsted. They can be set up in schools or nurseries. There will be great opportunities to expand the number of childminders and the amount of care available.

We will also allow good nurseries who hire high-quality staff to have more flexibility and to expand, again helping parents with availability. If a provider—a childminder or a nursery—shows that they are good quality according to Ofsted, they will be able to offer Government-funded places. There will no longer be a separate gatekeeper role for local authorities, which will also help us to expand the amount of child care available.

We need to go through a culture change in this country. Child care has been a low-wage, low-status profession. That is wrong, as it is an important profession in which lots of dedicated people work. Unfortunately, they are not rewarded sufficiently. We must look at what other countries do well in terms of remuneration and training. We are currently devising our early years educator qualification, and we are looking at the best practice in other countries and how we might adopt it.

The hon. Lady asked about funding proposals. I will consider the points she made about how we might improve the funding system. We must make sure we get the best value for money from the £5 billion we currently spend. The hon. Lady asked about the various different figures. They vary because the child care element of the working tax credit is a proportion of the spend that parents have. That must be tracked and estimated and it is not always the same from year to year because the budget is not fixed; it is a reimbursement of what parents pay. Therefore, there are various difficulties in calculating the total amount we spend and there are variable estimates. We do know, however, that we spend a lot through the system.

Interestingly, former children Minister Baroness Hughes of Stretford admitted that the funding had not been set up in an ideal way, as there are three separate funding streams that all feed into nurseries in different ways. She said that not enough of it goes through to the front line. We are looking at ways of fixing that. It is a complicated system, so it takes a while to do that, but I am working on it now. I would be very happy to continue this discussion with the hon. Lady after this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.