Of course, this is not a new issue; we are simply shining a light on it. We recently published extensive data showing the poor educational outcomes for children in need. A call for evidence has been launched to develop our understanding. My Department is also working with three What Works centres to build our national evidence base on improving those outcomes.
That was a bit of a poor answer. The number of children’s centres has halved since 2010, 350 Sure Start centres have closed, children’s services departments in local authorities are struggling with budgets and getting enough staff, and more children are being taken into care, so that answer is quite frankly not good enough. What are the Government going to do to ensure that we have more early intervention to prevent those problems from happening in the first place?
We are determined to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. The early years are crucial to getting that right. The gap continues to narrow, having gone from 19 to 17 percentage points. In our ambitious £800 million plan, “Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential”, we committed £100 million of investment to help close the gap further. Councils decide how they use children’s centres in the overall provision, and I have seen great work being done in Wigan, Hackney and Staffordshire. It is not simply about bricks and mortar.
Will the Minister confirm that the excellent review of the outcomes of children in need will look not just at educational outcomes, but at employment and other outcomes?
I can confirm that.
I would like to associate myself and the Liberal Democrats with the tributes paid to Dame Tessa Jowell. She was an inspiration, particularly in the area of early-years provision.
Looked-after children in Oxfordshire could have to wait for up to six months to get into the secondary school that they need to, primarily because local authorities do not have the directive powers over academies that they do over maintained schools. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the most vulnerable children do not miss a day of school?
I also pay my own tribute to Dame Tessa Jowell, who was a constituent of mine and helped me in this place when I arrived here as a young novice.
Those most disadvantaged children, to whom the hon. Lady referred, are actually given priority during the admissions process.
What about Shakespeare?
Well, we cannot mention Shakespeare in every question, but I am sure that the Minister will take his opportunity ere long.
It was wonderful to see “Three Girls” triumph at the BAFTAs yesterday, and that was also a demonstration of what happens when agencies fail. Schools and colleges must have regard to the Department’s statutory safeguarding guidance, “Keeping children safe in education”. Ofsted has published a document setting out the approach inspectors should take to inspecting safeguarding. Inspectors will always report on whether arrangements for safeguarding children and learners are effective.
In my constituency, the schools that serve our 16 and 17-year-olds and that have sustained the biggest cuts were graded level 3 by Ofsted, which means that they are now deemed to require improvement. Does the Minister agree that the average of £300 less per pupil is having a negative impact?
The same safeguarding duties apply for 16 and 17-year-olds as for children of any age. That would be the message that I would send to the hon. Lady’s school.
Sixteen and 17-year-olds are overrepresented in the secure residential estate. Instead of addressing capacity issues, last year, in the face of opposition, the Government changed legislation so that the most vulnerable children from England and Wales can now be placed in Scotland, miles away from their families, friends, schools and the health professionals who support them. Written questions that I have asked show that the Minister has made no attempt to look at the impact of this dire legislative change. Why is that?
Placing any child or young person more than 20 miles away from their area requires the agreement of the director of children’s services. Children should always be placed where appropriate and the director of children’s services must make that decision.
The Government recognise the important role that family and friends play in caring for children who are unable to live with their parents. We have set clear duties on local authorities to support children living with family or friend carers, regardless of their legal status.
I find that answer particularly interesting because that tells me that the Government are doing absolutely nothing. Three quarters of kinship care families experience severe financial hardship. Does the Minister agree with me that kinship carers should get the same rights and allowances as foster carers, and will he take a first step by agreeing to discount tax credits from the benefit cap for kinship carers?
Kinship carers actually have access to benefit entitlements in the same way as birth parents.
On Friday night, I held a crime forum in Corsham, and outreach to carers and parents by schools was regularly discussed. Corsham high school already employs a person to do this outreach, and a lot of charities also work in this space. Are there any plans by the Government to review support and to share best practice, which can encourage social mobility?
As part of our social mobility action plan, we are looking at all these issues. I would be very happy to discuss them with my hon. Friend.
By 2019-20, we will be spending an extra £1 billion annually on higher funding rates to deliver 30 hours of free childcare. The rates are based on our review of childcare costs, which was described as both thorough and wide-ranging by the National Audit Office. We have commissioned new research to understand providers’ current costs.
According to Ofsted, the number of childminders dropped once again in the last three months of 2017. We now have over 15,000 fewer childminders than there were in 2012. Does the Minister believe that funding levels have played a part in this dramatic drop-off? If not, how does he explain it?
We are spending record amounts on childcare—£6 billion in total. If we look at parents who got their 30 hours of childcare for three and four-year-olds, we see that 377,000 codes have been issued for the summer term. The system is working.
Evidence to the Treasury Committee shows that the Government’s scheme is making childcare cheaper only for those already using it and failing to bring parents into work. How have Ministers created a system that pushes child carers into poverty and out of business, and prices out the poorest families in most need, like those in north Liverpool?
Mr Speaker, you will not be surprised that I disagree with those words. A lone parent has to earn just over £6,500 and a couple just over £13,000 to be eligible for the 30-hours three and four-year-old offer. The Secretary of State spoke about the two-year-old 15 hour disadvantage offer and that same 15 hours for three and four-year-olds as well. The evidence is clear that the money is being targeted at those who are in most need.
The latest evidence that the 30-hours policy is underfunded came in the shape of a survey of providers conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers. It showed that a quarter of providers believe that 30-hours children have displaced three and four-year-olds who are entitled to only 15 hours of free childcare—the children most likely to be disadvantaged. Will the Minister tell us whether this was in the plan for this policy? If not, does he not agree with the chorus of voices telling him it is time to relieve the financial pressures on providers so that the poorest children do not miss out?
This year, we will be enhancing our annual survey of childcare and early years providers with more detailed research on provider finances and childcare costs. This will provide us with robust, up-to-date evidence on childcare costs. I remind the hon. Lady that funding to local authorities for three and four-year-olds, delivered through the early years national funding formula, has increased from £4.56 to £4.94. As of April 2017, our funding rate to deliver the entitlement for two-year-olds increased by 7% in every local authority.
That is a really important question. We are piloting new approaches to mental health assessment for children in care. The pilots seek to address concerns about the current mental health assessment for children and young people entering care, and to build on the recommendations of the expert working group on mental health.
This Government have launched the most ambitious reforms of special educational needs and disabilities provision in a generation, and are committed to improving outcomes for children with SEND, especially those who are deaf as well.
We have made £200 billion available to local authorities in the spending review, and high-needs funding has actually risen from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year.