Nadhim Zahawi answers MPs’ questions relating to his Children and Families portfolio.
By 2019-20 we will be spending £1 billion extra annually to deliver 30 hours a week of free childcare and pay our higher funding rates. Those rates were based on our review of childcare costs, described as “thorough and wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have commissioned further new research to understand providers’ current costs.
Last Friday I visited Bright Sparks nursery in my constituency, which is rated “outstanding” and is long-established. The staff told me how difficult they are finding it to make ends meet under the new funding regime, and that is borne out by a report by the National Day Nurseries Association. Can the Minister tell us how nurseries are supposed to remain open when facing that shortfall? I am glad to hear that he is looking again at the costs, but I hope it will be a thorough look.
We continue to monitor the costs and, as I said earlier, we have commissioned further research. The evidence that we currently have shows that the majority of providers are willing and able to deliver the extended entitlement. Some 340,000 children have benefited from 30-hour funding places in the scheme’s first year, so it is certainly a success story, but the hon. Lady is right that we have to monitor what pressures there are.
On 31 August the Daily Mail ran a front-page story stating that a third of nurseries could shut because of school funding levels. Given that there are actually now more nurseries in other settings providing free childcare, does the Minister think it should apologise and issue a correction for gullibly following the lines being peddled by the Opposition Front Benchers and for misleading so many parents in such a worrying way?
I am grateful to my predecessor for that question. I think I will leave it to the Daily Mail to decide what it does. Suffice it to say that the number of non-domestic providers has remained stable.
I am sure the Minister can guess what I am going to ask about.
Among early years provision, the jewel in the crown for social mobility is our maintained nursery schools. The Minister will know from the conversations that we had before the summer that the supplementary funding that they receive from the Government is due to run out before the comprehensive spending review, so does he have an update for the House on what he and the Treasury are doing to ensure that our maintained nursery schools have a secure future beyond next year?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Maintained nurseries offer a valuable service to communities such as hers and others around the country, and we are conscious of the value that they provide. Both I and the Secretary of State have visited a number of them. Decisions about the future funding of maintained provision will be taken at the spending review, but I repeat that it would be premature for local authorities to make decisions about the future of their maintained nurseries before seeing the spending review outcomes.
The National Day Nurseries Association survey last week exposed the scale of closures caused by underfunding the 30-hour entitlement—a rise of nearly half over a year. Bright Beginnings in Stockport said that
“the reality is we can’t provide Outstanding nursery care on the funding provided.”
The Ark nursery in West Sussex said that it was
“closing because of a decade of underfunding.”
Windymiller, in my own constituency, on the estate where I grew up, closed its doors a few months ago due to funding pressures. Those are not outliers. Four in 10 providers fear that they will have to close in the coming year. These are viable businesses that just cannot square the circle of frozen funding and rising costs. If the Minister will not listen to us, will he at least listen to them?
Let me attempt to address that point specifically. National average hourly funding rates for local authorities for three and four-year-old entitlements increased from £4.56 an hour to around £5 an hour in April 2017. Our rates compare very favourably with the published research on the costs of childcare by Frontier Economics, which shows that the mean hourly cost of delivering a place is £3.72 an hour. I know that this is technical, but it is worth listening to, because the hon. Lady keeps going back to points that she clearly has not followed the details of. The research also showed that the average cost of two-year-olds’ places was £4.30 an hour, and our average funding rate is £5.92 an hour. All local authorities saw a 7% increase in the two-year-old rate in April 2017. We continue to monitor this, but those are the facts, and I hope that she will look and them and think about what she is saying about them publicly.
Latest Ofsted data confirm that 94% of providers were rated as good or outstanding, up 20 percentage points since 2012. We have recently published new criteria to raise the quality of level 2 qualifications and are investing £20 million in professional development for early years practitioners working in disadvantaged areas.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Pen Green Centre in Corby on recently winning The Times Educational Supplement overall best school award? Has he given thought as to how best practice at that particular setting can be shared more widely?
Maintained nursery schools make an important contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children. As I mentioned earlier, I have visited a number of these schools, as has the Secretary of State, and Pen Green is at the forefront of what maintained nursery schools do. Its award is well deserved and I offer it my warmest congratulations. Our research on the value offered by maintained nursery schools will inform spending review decisions about their future funding.
Children from the poorest families in this country are much more likely to suffer a major brain injury by the age of five. Nobody quite knows the precise reasons why that is the case, but the statistic is replicated by the figure for children between the ages of 14 and 21 from poorer families. That is a major reason why many children fall out of the educational system and end up in prison. I urge the Minister to look at the new figures. Will he meet me and people from the United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum to discuss what we can do to ensure that children, in particular from the poorest areas and the poorest families, get a better chance in life?
Legislation and guidance regarding looked-after children—for example, on such children having their own social worker—is vital to safeguarding their welfare. The recent guide for local authorities published by the Department refers to this legislation and guidance as myth, and actively urges local authorities to dispense with their statutory obligations, thereby cutting vulnerable children adrift. Worse still, only this morning the Minister responded to those criticisms by advising that statutory guidance is open to interpretation. Is it now the Department’s policy that statutory guidance in relation to vulnerable children no longer needs to be followed?
I responded very clearly to the myth-busting document. We consulted directors of children’s services and with Ofsted before we published the myth-busting document, and we made it very clear this morning that no legislation has changed, or is going to change, in any way.
We have allocated £1.5 million from the tampon tax fund to that and are looking at further evidence, to see whether there is a link to absenteeism from school.
High-needs funding for children and young people with complex special educational needs, including those with autism, is £6 billion this year—the highest it has ever been—and an increase from £5 billion in 2013. We have increased overall funding allocations to local authorities for high needs by £130 million in 2017-18 and £142 million in 2018-19, and we will increase this further, by £120 million, in 2019-20.
Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the national assessment and accreditation system for children’s social workers?
NAAS is progressing extremely well. In early results, it has had a satisfaction rating of something like 86% for those very excellent social workers who have been through the system, and we look to continue that success.
Following his meeting last week with the Family Rights Group to discuss the care crisis review, will the Children’s Minister now consider developing a long-term strategy for reducing the number of children being taken into care?
My hon. Friend had a debate on the care crisis review last week. We recognise that the number of care order applications and the number of children in care have risen, meaning more work for local authorities. That is why we are working across Government, as I articulated in that debate in Westminster Hall last week, to ensure that local authorities and the courts have the resources that they need.
Nationally, only 6% of care leavers make it to higher education in comparison with the nigh-on 50% of young people who go to university year on year. This is a tragically low figure. What steps is the Department for Education taking to ensure that those leaving care have the same life chances as any other young people?
Care leavers are an important part of the overall strategy for support for children in need, which we have reviewed. Very importantly, we are also launching the care leaver covenant on 26 October, with which we will continue to maintain further support for care leavers; obviously, we have already extended the system of personal advisers to the age of 25.
Under this Government, children with special needs are six times more likely to be excluded than their peers. In Norwich, headteachers have described provision for special educational needs as a complete mess because of a funding shortfall. Will Ministers commit to increasing funding support for these children to ensure that they get the education they do not just deserve, but is their right?
The Government have launched the most ambitious SEND reforms in a generation and are committed to improving outcomes for children with special educational needs. More than 98% of statements of SEN were reviewed by 31 March deadline for introducing education, health and care plans. The hon. Gentleman talks about funding, but we have given £391 million to local areas to support implementation of the new duties in the Children and Families Act 2014.