Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks

As questions continue to mount over the Conservatives' policies on Sure Start, one of their media proxies has launched a vicious attack on the scheme.

As questions continue to mount over the Conservatives’ policies on Sure Start, one of their media proxies has launched a vicious attack on the scheme, saying it has “failed” and “should be scrapped”. In January it had been reported that “only a few” of the 3,500 centres would survive if David Cameron won the election.

The TPA and the Daily Mail cite studies to claim Sure Start has done “more harm than good”, has “frittered away money”, and that “single mothers, teenagers and jobless parents who went through Sure Start learned less and were more prone to behaviour problems than those who didn’t”.

Left Foot Forward rebuts these claims, using evidence from the Institute for Study of Children, Families and Social Issues (ISCFSI), Ofsted, and the National Audit Office, starting with an evaluation of Sure Start in 2008 – led by the same team that in 2005 had produced the negative findings cited by the Mail.

The ISCFSI report, one two major impact studies of Sure Start, which compared children in early Sure Start areas with those in other areas, found evidence of moderate impact on 7 out of 14 measured outcomes, comparing outcomes for children who lived in SSLP areas in the evaluation with children who did not in the Millennium Cohort Study at age nine months and three years, finding:

Parents of three-year-old children showed less negative parenting while providing their children with a better home learning environment;

• Three-year-old children in Sure Start areas had better social development with higher levels of positive social behaviour and independence/self-regulation than children in other similar areas;

• Behaviour was better in Sure Start areas as a result of better parenting; and

Three-year-old children in Sure Start areas had higher immunisation rates and fewer accidental injuries than children in other similar areas not having a SSLP.

It further found that children living in Sure Start areas:

• Enjoyed better health outcomes (they were 50 per cent more likely to have received all immunisations; and 30 per cent less likely to have had an accident in the year preceding the data collection);

• Experienced lower levels of problematic parenting;

Experienced a higher quality home learning environment;

• Lived in families more likely to access children and family services;

• Showed greater positive social behaviour and independence/self-regulation – partly due to better parenting; and

The positive effects appear to hold across the population, as opposed to particular groups of children and families as earlier evidence suggested.

Also that year, Ofsted surveyed 20 Sure Start centres in deprived areas in late 2008 and reported that:

• In 11 of the 20 centres visited, the impact of the integration of services on improving outcomes for children, parents and families was good or outstanding. In only one centre was the impact inadequate. Nearly all of the centres had established an effective balance between providing integrated services that are open to everyone and those that are targeted towards potentially vulnerable families;

Parents strongly preferred a single site, one stop shop model for children’s centres. This is impractical in rural areas, where families, especially disadvantaged families, may not be able to afford to travel to a centre remote from their homes;

• In the centres visited, children with early learning difficulties/and or disabilities were well provided for, with good early interventions and prompt referrals;

The key work of the centres in reaching the most potentially vulnerable children and families was developing well; and

• Children’s centre teachers, speech and language therapists and day-care staff were successfully improving the quality of day-care provision in the centres visited.

More recently, the National Audit Office provided a memorandum to the Select Committee in January 2010 with some additional data. Its findings include:

The overall effectiveness of 98 per cent of the childcare in [children’s] centres was judged to be good or outstanding in Ofsted inspections up to July 2009 – this is based on an NAO analysis of Ofsted data for 150 centres;

• Since 2008 the proportion of children under five achieving a ‘good level of development’ increased by three percentage points, and the gap between the lowest achievers and the average has decreased by two percentage points – this period coincided with a rapid expansion of children’s centres;

• Take up of Sure Start services is ‘close to maximum capacity’ [though some flexibility is needed to be responsive] – there is 85% take up for early education or daycare; 80% for parental outreach; and 75% for drop-in and health services; and

• Nearly three quarters of local authorities say that the current level of Sure Start funding is important or essential to the financial viability of early learning and full day care provision.

There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence highlighting the benefits of Sure Start, like the NetMums “3 Men and a Baby” politics survey, conducted in December, which received 5,900 responses. It was a wide-ranging survey asking about politics – whether people will turn out and vote (more said they would this time) who for, and why; they looked at the issues – what was important to people and what they felt about services and initiatives from the current Government, finding:

• 4,727 were from England and answered the Q on Children’s Centres;

• Of these, Children’s Centres were considered to be relevant by 68% (to 3198 people);

• 71% of these said that Children’s Centres had ‘helped’;

Only 29% said they’d felt “let down”; and

• Of all the government initiatives NetMums asked about – which covered, among others, schools, maternity care, GPs and tax credits – it was the children’s centres that got the highest level of satisfaction, followed by maternity leave / flexible working rights (69% felt helped, of those whom it was relevant to), and then tax credits at 60%.

Birkbeck Professor Edward Melhuish, who led the ISCFSI study, responding to claims Sure Start centres have failed to improve school results, had earlier told Left Foot Forward that:

“The problem is that Early Sure Start programmes were targeted on 0-4 year olds. This year 11 year olds were born in 1998, they would have been 4 by 2002. The very earliest Sure Start (60) serving around 3000 children had their funding agreed at the end of 1999 but they were not operational til 2002.

Thus this year 11 year olds are far too old to have been affected by the earliest sure start programmes. Even then the earliest 60 programmes would have only affected 3000 out of 650,000 children taking Sats in any one year.”

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24 Responses to “Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks”

  1. OxfordSpring

    Shame that the ‘attacks’ you say come from Tories actually come from newspapers and independent reports – rather weakens your arguments from the start.

    I must congratulate you on taking evidence from the ONS and Ofsted out of context to a ludicrous degree. That’s quite an art I must say.

    David Cameron is committed to the idea behind SureStart and those centres which serve that purpose. The online campaign, backed by the Labour party, is simple scaremongering.

    Lying to parents just isn’t cool. Please stop please.

  2. VoteVoteVoteForNigelBarton

    I am not the biggest fan of New Labour, but SureStart is an important programme they have got right. It works.

  3. Jessica Asato

    RT @leftfootfwd: Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks:

  4. Philip Painter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks:

  5. Dave Cole

    RT @leftfootfwd: Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks:

  6. Save Sure Start! « Same Difference

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  7. Liz McShane

    OxfordSpring – do you not consider the Daily Mail to be part of the Tory media wing?

  8. Jo Cox

    RT @leftfootfwd: Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks:

  9. LabourList

    RT @leftfootfwd: Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks:

  10. Steven M

    cue the pathetic tsunami of tory bloggers slavishly following the party line. Lick lick slurp slurp, that’s the true sound of the tory blogosphere. Come on guys, you can do better!

  11. uberVU - social comments

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  12. Greychatter

    Funded by Unite?

    Through my working lifetime I have experienced the Disater of Labour Policies Three time. Every time Labour/Socialist/Left wing get into power they line their own pockets and leave the Country in mess. Anyone thinking of voting Gordon Brown/Labour forget it the only hope for this country and future generations if A Conservative Governmet. Vote Tory.

  13. JoshC

    OxfordSpring, who is lying to parents again? Who is taking quotes out of context? The TPA and the Mail both use the 2005 NESS report to back up their claims, despite that report quite clearly stating in its conclusions that the Sure Start programme at the time was simply too recent to be able to make any meaningful conclusions:

    “The fact that SSLPs had been in existence for only three years when children / families were studied and perhaps not even entirely bedded down and therefore not fully developed, further cautions against drawing too strong conclusions from the first phase of the Impact Study designed to provide early insight into the effects that SSLPs might be having on children and families.” Early Impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on Children and Families, November 2005.

    They use that report because the 2008 report, which supersedes the 2005 report, found clear evidence of improvements that could be attributed to the efforts of Sure Start. Why use an old defunct report? Because it ostensibly supports their claim of ‘failure’… at least if you ignore the context.

    LFF does not take the quotes out of context as you claim.

    “David Cameron is committed to the idea behind SureStart and those centres which serve that purpose. The online campaign, backed by the Labour party, is simple scaremongering.”

    Ask anyone working in a Sure Start if they agree with this and they’d laugh in your face. I should know, I’ve worked for Sure Start for 5 years in 4 of the most deprived areas in Britain as measured by the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (all in the Top 5%) and we’ve all talked about the Tories poor understanding of Sure Start.

    For example, his pledge to raid the Sure Start outreach budget to fund ‘Sure Start Health Visitors’. Firstly, there are no such thing as Sure Start Health Visitors. The Health Visiting Service may often be based within Children’s Centre and do work alongside Sure Start Workers occasionally but they do not do the same job as a Sure Start Outreach Worker or a Sure Start Family Support Worker. The hint is in their job title. They are solely interested in health related issues. They also tend not to have much contact with children over 12 months old which is a problem if they’re supposed to do Outreach work for Sure Start who work with children up to 5 years old (and older now) and with their families.

    They won’t help isolated parents to become involved in their community and make friends. They won’t work with families to overcome problem behaviour in their children or to find permanent housing or to flee to a women’s refugee to escape domestic abuse. They won’t encourage and help parents to access adult education to gain basic skills like the ability to read or do simple maths. Some of them would like to but I know they won’t do these things because firstly they simply don’t have the time to do them, secondly it isn’t part of their job description or what they were trained to do and thirdly they come to Sure Start Outreach Workers when they meet a family who needs this kind of support.

    Most importantly though, they won’t run the dozens of different groups that Sure Start Outreach Workers do. They won’t run Baby Massage, Breastfeeding Cafe, Positive Parenting, Babysplash, Talking Toddlers, Music Makers, Women’s Conversation Group, Dads Drop-in, Stay & Play, the Cooking Groups for beginners or for parents and toddlers, the Parent’s Voice group, the Holiday Activities during half-term or many other. These groups are all Outreach groups. These groups are the whole essence of Sure Start. They all improve the lives of the children and their parents in small (and not-so-small) but significant ways and all of them contribute to the Outcomes identified in the Every Child Matters framework.

    David Cameron and his chums in the media would have us believe that Sure Start Outreach can be done by Health Visitors. That is a lie told to people who are ignorant about how Sure Start works. Cutting the budget for outreach (which is effectively what he will be doing) will kill Sure Start.

    BTW, if it looks like I’m having a go at Health Visitors please believe me I’m not. They do a wonderful job under difficult circumstances. It’s just a totally different job than what Cameron seems to think it is.

  14. Johanna Thomas-Corr

    RT @leftfootfwd: Defending Sure Start against vicious right-wing attacks

  15. John Slinger

    In my view, David Cameron is committed to SureStart in the same way as he’s committed to the NHS -i.e. largely for reasons of political expediency. He knows it is electoral suicide to question the best example of socialism in action that this country has ever devised. If you want to see what right wing politics is all about, take a look at the Tea Party Movement in the States and their rabid attacks on President Obama’s attempts to make the American healthcare system just slightly more humane.

    Never believe the Tory propaganda. There is a reason why it was Labour which set up the NHS…namely, we believe in state action in order to counter the appalling effects of the untamed market on ordinary and poor people if everyone is left to fend for themselves. The Tories opposed virtually every piece of reforming legislation during the last century.

    Are Tories really committed to making Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe as Oliver Letwin is reported to have said? Give me a break. They opposed all the measures Labour brought in to extend maternity pay and benefits, extend paternity rights, give people the right to request flexible working, etc. At the time they argued that business simply couldn’t afford to make working life more compatible with family life. Funny how they’ve changed their tune now that mumsnet is on the scene. It’s pathetic and laughable and it would be funny were it not so vitally important that schemes like SureStart, state-run, yes, I repeat, state-run, taxpayer-financed schemes are not axed.

    We only need to tweak these Tories a little more and the sheep’s clothing will fall off. My prediction – between now and the election, the mainstream Tory party will not be able to resist forcing the leadership to show their true blue colours. Matthew Parris’s column in The Times shows just what a challenge these NuTories are facing – So get ready for demands for cuts to public services, talk of privatising the NHS, anti-EU rhetoric, pro-business anti-family measures, and all the rest of it. Perfect fodder for our election campaign as people realise that it is only Labour who can be trusted to stand up for ordinary people, in ordinary jobs, on ordinary incomes, living in ordinary houses.

    And for all the Tories reading this – I go to a Dad’s club on Saturday mornings at the local state-run Children’s Centre. It’s superb. And the other dads who are there will no doubt support the party committed to maintaining the service not cutting it. Elections are about more than airbrushed posters and focus groups. They are about ordinary people’s experience of life and their view as to which party has the interests of wider society most at heart. That is certainly not the multi-millionaire Tory shadow cabinet.

  16. Liz McShane

    Greychatter – if cameron and his cronies had been in charge of the economy over the last 18 months then you would really know what a titanic type disaster that would have been – even people in the City are scared of them!

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  19. Richard Lane

    @Life_learner Interesting article outlining substantial benefits of Sure Start Centres

  20. Richard Lane

    @Life_learner Interesting article outlining substantial benefits of Sure Start Centres @Life_learner

  21. Tracey Connor

    I work very hard with all my work colleagues and alongside other early years professionals within a Sure Start childrens centre. We provide quality early years provision and care for all children and their families. Throughout all childrens centres parents are offered extensive support in a vast variety of areas in order to empower them to improve their childrens and their own quality of life and improve life chances. All that we do is to ensure that we are meeting the governments Five Every Child Matters Outcomes of: Staying Safe, Being Healthy, Enjoy and Achieve, Make a Positive Contribution and Enjoy Economic Well-Being for all children. So before any of you attack the Sure Start childrens centres PLEASE consider ALL the fantastic work that we do and the vast improvements that we make to children and their famiies lives. Also PLEASE consider where would the families go and who would they turn to when trying to escape domestic violence? Or when a parent/carer has approached breaking point and is angry and frustrated with their child? There are many more issues a parent could be facing; for these families our childrens centres are their only escape, they trust us and turn to us for help!! Before all you “so called know it alls” throw at us UNTRUE and FALSE allegations that we do not make a difference to children and their families lives. WHY dont you all ask the people that matter; ask the families if they think we make a difference and just maybe then you may understand the importance of all we do within a childrens centre.

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  23. Sam Quarton

    @TomkinsOliver 'Better learning environment, better health outcomes'. #LevelingThePLayingField.

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