Frank Field’s not-so-new ideas

Today Frank Field published his report on ‘preventing poor children becoming poor adults’: 

Here are some of his recommendations and my comments:

 

“1. The Review recommends that government, national and local, should give greater prominence to the earliest years in life, from pregnancy to age five, adopting the term Foundation Years. This is for several reasons: to increase public understanding of how babies and young children develop and what is important to ensure their healthy progress in this crucial period; to make clear the package of support needed both for children and parents in those early years; to establish the Foundation Years as of equal status and importance in the public mind to primary and secondary school years; and to ensure that child development and services during those years are as well understood.”

The Early Years Foundation Stage http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/eyfs/ http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/earlyyears

was introduced in September 2008 and all childcare settings must abide by its guidance. “The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets standards for the development, learning and care of children from birth to five. All registered providers of Early Years care are required to use the EYFS statutory framework.” Mr Field doesn’t seem to be acknowledging its existence much in this document.

 

 “6. The strategy should include a commitment that all disadvantaged children should have access to affordable full-time, graduate-led childcare from age two. This is essential to support parents returning to work as well as child development.”

I look forward to hearing about the funding that childcare settings will receive in order to provide graduate-led childcare from age two. At the moment, a subsidy is received by settings to assist with recruiting and retaining graduate level leaders in nurseries (the Graduate Leader Fund). The amount varies widely as it is left up to local councils how much they pay. And it is ending in March 2011 – hopefully this emphasis from Field means they will continue with it. Otherswise, nurseries can’t afford to pay graduate wages. Tax credits for working parents are the other way in which childcare has been subsidised to enable those on low incomes to work. I had heard these are being cut. 

 “8. Sure Start Children’s Centres should re-focus on their original purpose and identify, reach and provide targeted help to the most disadvantaged families. New Sure Start contracts should include conditions that reward Centres for reaching out effectively and improving the outcomes of the most disadvantaged children.

9. Local Authorities should open up the commissioning of Children’s Centres, or services within them, to service providers from all sectors to allow any sector, or combination of sectors, to bid for contracts. They should ensure services within Children’s Centres do not replicate existing provision from private, voluntary and independent groups but should signpost to those groups, or share Centres’ space. This should encourage mutuals and community groups to bid and help ensure that efficiencies are made. Non-working parents should spend one nursery session with their children. The pattern of provision that has been developed in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in order to meet local needs of the most vulnerable children should act as a template to those providers in England who have successfully won contracts.”

Targeted help is already given via an ‘enhanced Health Visiting service’ which means that some families have lots of support from Early Years Visitors and are encouraged to take up services. The services are mostly there for anybody in the area to use though. That helps remove stigmatisation and resentment amongst less deprived parents who feel people on benefits are getting ‘something for nothing’. This talk of bidding for contracts, i.e. privatisation, is depressing. How can it be economically sensible to have ‘middle-men’? I am getting bored of saying it but properly funded state provision is vital in education and healthcare. Otherwise, it is very difficult to maintain consistent high quality and there is almost always a conflict of interests because any private company needs to make a profit. It’s a way of driving down wages and other terms and conditions of staff to franchise services out.

 

“10. Local Authorities should aim to make Children’s Centres a hub of the local community. They should maintain some universal services so that Centres are welcoming, inclusive, socially mixed and non-stigmatising, but aim to target services towards those who can benefit from them most. They should look at how they could site birth registrations in Centres, provide naming ceremonies, child benefit forms and other benefit advice. Children’s Centres should ensure all new parents are encouraged to take advantage of a parenting course. Midwives and health visitors should work closely with Centres and ensure a consistency of service is provided, with continuity between the more medical pre birth services and increasingly educational post natal work. Children’s Centres should seek to include parents’ representation on their governance and decision­making bodies.”

I am pretty sure most of the above already happens in children’s centres with the exception of birth registration and naming ceremonies. Continued Sure Start funding is needed to maintain this though. 

12. The Department for Education, in conjunction with Children’s Centres, should develop a model for professional development in early years settings, looking to increase graduate-led pre school provision, which mirrors the model for schools. The Department should also continue to look for ways to encourage good teachers and early years professionals to teach in schools and work in Children’s Centres in deprived areas, through schemes such as Teach First and New Leaders in Early Years.”

 

I’m glad to see Early Years Professionals mentioned, although without the capitalisation for some reason. Here is some information on Early Years Professionals (I am one of these) from the Curriculum Workforce Development Council which is losing its government funding   

“13. Local Authorities should pool data and track the children most in need in their areas. A Local Authority should understand where the children who are most deprived are, and how their services impact upon them”

 

Locally we use IDACI (Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index)   to work out where the most deprived children are living and target support via a funded 10 hours per week for disadvantaged 2 year olds scheme (note that this isn’t a new idea but has been piloted in some LEAs, mine included).  

“14. Local Authorities should ensure use of services which have a strong evidence base, and that new services are robustly evaluated. Central Government should make a long term commitment to enable and support the bringing together of evidence around interventions, learning from examples such as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the Washington State Institute. We understand this will be covered in more detail by the Graham Allen Review on early intervention.”

It is interesting to see NICE mentioned as I thought it was being cut.

 

“16. The initiatives for the wider society should be taken up by the Behavioural Insight Team based in the Cabinet Office. This Review recommends that it leads, along with key Departments, an examination of how parenting and nurturing skills can be promoted throughout society.”

Not another quango being formed, surely!

 

“20. The Department for Education should ensure that parenting and life skills are reflected in the curriculum, from primary school to GCSE level. This should culminate in a cross-curricular qualification in parenting at GCSE level which will be awarded if pupils have completed particular modules in a number of GCSE subjects. The Manchester Academy is currently developing a pilot scheme which could be used as a basis for this GCSE.”

I wonder what will be kicked off the curriculum to make space for this?

“22. Existing local data should be made available to parents and used anonymously to enable the creation of Local Life Chances Indicators which can be compared with the national measure. In order to make this local data as useful as possible, information collected by health visitors during the age two health check, which this Review recommends should be mandatory, and information collected as part of the Early Years Foundation Stage (following the results of Dame Clare Tickell’s review) should be as similar as possible to the information used to create the national measure.”

I am sure there will be a Health Visitor who can set me straight on this but from what parents tell me (and 85% of mine are disadvantaged parents – I saw the stats from the LEA last week), they don’t do a 2 year old check. Around 3 years, parents are asked to fill in a questionnaire which, if they want to and if they remember, they give to me as nursery manager to add something to saying if I have any concerns. That’s it. I think there would need to be a huge increase in funding for Health Visitors (which I think Cameron has mentioned before) to make sure this is done and done properly. But I have a feeling that if a lot of money is diverted to Health Visitors, it will be taken from other parts of the Sure Start budget. In nurseries we already assess children and compare progress and attainment to the developmental norms given in the Early Years Foundation Stage. I hope there isn’t going to be another layer of bureaucracy created so that these assessments fit in with the ‘national measure’.

There is lots in the document that I agree with but the ‘pitch’ implies that it contains many new initiatives when in fact they already exist. The problem is the threats to funding the continuation of these initiatives.

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