Today, the coalition Government announced its plans for a number of policy areas. Among these, were plans for Early Years.
Cuts in Sure Start provision were to expected, from the Conservatives, the LibDems were committed to maintaining a universal service. They are now backing cuts. Now, the coalition states:
“We will take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention, increase its focus on the neediest families, and better involve organisations with a track record of supporting families”
On the surface, this sounds appealing, as is the pledge to introduce payment by results for Sure Start. However, it is a worrying development. It is worth remembering that one of the original purposes of Sure Start was the empowering of parents, particularly in deprived areas. Sure Starts were also diverse, precisely because they responded to local circumstances and need. The payment by results may well turn out to be an excuse not to fund those projects which do not appear to have a measurable outcome. Not only is it likely to take several years for the results of early years interventions to be seen, many outcomes are likely to be ‘soft’ outcomes, such as parental empowerment. It is also worth remembering that in a survey of its members, last year, the Conservative Party found that over half of its members wanted the abolition of Sure Start.
There is a pledge to continue to provide free nursery care for pre-school children in England. However, it is the Government’s intention that this is “provided by a diverse range of providers”, which again sounds nice, suggesting choice. It is likely to mean less regulation, (getting rid of ‘red tape’ is also a more general pledge, so, less need for an Early Years trained specialist perhaps?) with providers of all description competing to offer services in child care. Inequality in the quality and accessibility of childcare is likely to increase, with those who are able, subsidising places where poorer families cannot afford to send their child. What incentive there will be for providers to be located in poorer areas is not known.
In addition, the vetting of those who have contact with children is to be scaled back to “common sense levels”, again,maybe popular, but what does ‘common sense’ mean. The CRB system is not perfect, but scaling it back is unlikely to improve the safeguarding of children.
The new Government also intends that society becomes more “family friendly”. Thats nice, though we shouldn’t forget that David Cameron voted against the extending of maternity leave and against paternity leave when the last Labour Government introduced these for the first time.