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Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 26th March 2009.

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[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

[Continuation from column 756]

On resuming—

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families)

I beg to move amendment 407, in clause 187, page 106, line 9, after ‘the’, insert ‘health and’.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 408, in clause 187, page 106, line 9, at end insert—

‘(d) raising the achievements of disadvantaged children as defined in the relevant Children’s Trust Board’s Children and Young People’s Plan.’.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families)

These are the final amendments to clause 187. They address two of the most important issues facing Sure Start children’s centres: having health as a true partner, and focusing on giving children from the most disadvantaged families the best possible opportunity to achieve their potential. On health being the elephant in the room, amendment 407 clearly places health on the inspection report that Ofsted will produce. I am sure that the Minister will argue that health is a subset of well-being, but if our language were a little more direct in legislation we might achieve better outcomes for children.

The final amendment would ensure that children’s centres have a pivotal role in helping the most disadvantaged children, and any Ofsted report regime would have to have the outcomes for disadvantaged children at the heart of what they are doing. This is an important opportunity to send clear signals about the outcomes that we expect from Sure Start children’s centres. The purpose of these two amendments is to probe the Government’s intentions, because the information about how the new Ofsted inspection regime will work is patchy.

Photo of Sarah McCarthy-Fry Sarah McCarthy-Fry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families

The hon. Lady has anticipated some of my comments. I certainly agree that it is important that Ofsted inspections and reports cover health outcomes, and they are already covered by new section 98B(2)(c), which requires Ofsted reports on children's centres to assess the contribution they make to improving the well-being of young children. Under the Childcare Act 2006, which the clause amends, “well-being” is defined explicitly as including

“the physical and mental health and emotional well-being" of children.

We are well aware of the greater gain to be had from effective support for the most disadvantaged families, and I agree that Sure Start children’s centres have a particular role to play in raising the achievements of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have been very clear from the beginning that local authorities must improve the well-being of young children in their area while reducing the inequalities that exist between them. It follows, therefore, that in asking Ofsted to inspect children's centres, we want to understand the impact that they are having on the outcomes for the poorest children. I expect Ofsted to draw on a variety of sources of information and evidence when coming to their opinion of how effectively a centre is performing.

Officials and Ofsted are currently working to design an inspection regime for Sure Start children’s centres that will work within the current inspections frameworks. The finer details will be settled following a range of pilot inspections that Ofsted plans to conduct shortly. We will certainly consider whether any specific provision for disadvantaged children should be made within the regulations governing the inspection framework. I hope that the hon. Lady will be satisfied with that.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families)

I thank the Minister for her comments. I am reassured that she will bring the matter to Ofsted’s attention. It is important to establish ways of ensuring that the most disadvantaged children receive the support that they need and deserve. At the moment, the system is not doing what it could to support them, and raising the matter with Ofsted and perhaps addressing it in regulations with a specific requirement to examine the work of children’s centres in supporting disadvantaged children will achieve a better result for them. I await further information on how Ofsted intends to take the matter forward. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Clause 187 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 188 and 189 ordered to stand part of the Bill.