Pushing early years and early intervention back up the agenda

Posted by Dan Breslin / Wednesday 14 November 2018 / Early intervention Children's centres Inequality
young boy looking straight to camera on white backdrop

This morning the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a final report on its inquiry into evidence-based early years interventions. It might sound heavy as subject matter but it is very timely, covering an incredibly important period in a child’s life which has been overlooked by government for too long.

The need for a national strategy on early intervention

There are a number of valuable recommendations but the Committee’s call for a national strategy on early intervention is one of the most welcome. Importantly, Committee Members are clear that the strategy should be based around seeing ‘effective early intervention as an opportunity to make long-term cost efficiencies — as well as improve people’s lives — rather than a demand on resources.’

This echoes a new paper from of the Early Intervention Foundation, calling for a reassessment of how we understand the benefits of early intervention, which our chief executive Julie Bentley welcomed a few weeks ago.  

There is also a real appreciation of the challenges when it comes to data collection and how this is used. It is no secret that there are difficulties when it comes to data – different systems used by different services creates a patchwork of information. It means families may be missing out on help when they need it. It is great the Committee want data recording to be addressed through the development and delivery of new strategy.

Criticism of leaving children’s centres in the lurch

There is an important recognition of the importance of Children’s Centres and the current uncertainty surrounding their future and the lack of Government leadership. The Committee is calling for clarity about whether the Department for Education has dropped or simply shelved the Children’s Centre consultation first announced in autumn 2015. If the consultation is to go ahead, the Committee wants it to go ahead soon and is recommending the Government launch the consultation inside three months. It is great to see this level of urgency. Two in three (65 per cent) local councillors told us that the lack of direction and funding for children’s centres is why they are being scaled back by councils.

The Committee also picks up on analysis from Action for Children about the impact of the delay in the consultation. Ofsted inspections of centres have been suspended since September 2015 – pending the outcome of the children’s centre consultation. Our analysis found that more than a 1,000 centres are now overdue an inspection because of this delay. This is despite nearly 9 in 10 parents (86%) thinking it is important that Ofsted inspect local family support services to make sure that services are safe and high quality.

The pressure on early intervention funding

The current squeeze on local authority budgets hasn’t escaped the Committee’s gaze. Between 2010/11 and 2019/20 the early intervention grant is set to fall 72 per cent. Committee members are right to highlight that in the current funding climate early intervention activity is being sacrificed in favour of statutory services local authorities have to provide. They are also right to underline the need for a gradual shift from late to early – and for upfront investment from Government to enable savings to be made in the long-term.

There is a lot to welcome in the Committee’s report. MP’s haven’t held back in putting some awkward questions to Government – especially regarding children’s centres – or being bold in calling for a new national strategy. All eyes are now on Ministers as we wait for their response.


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