Children's minister to be recalled before committee

Nursery The committee said the government's response to its report was "inadequate"

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Children's Minister Liz Truss is being recalled to a committee to fill in what MPs see as "the gaps" in government policy on children's centres.

The Education Select Committee said it was "disappointed" by an "inadequate" government response to its report on these key early years services.

Chairman Graham Stuart said ministers had not properly addressed the report's recommendations and analysis.

A spokesman said the minister was happy to answer any further questions.

Mr Stuart said: "This is a hugely important area, as it is widely accepted that the early years are the time during which good interventions can make the most effective difference to children's lives.

"We called on the government to take early years seriously and we feel that the response has failed to engage with that challenge."

He added: "The committee has therefore decided that it will ask the minister to give evidence on the response, to fill in the gaps where recommendations and analysis have not been addressed directly and to explain the thinking behind the responses that have been made."

'Too vague'

Mr Stuart said his committee's report, published in December 2013, had been widely welcomed as an important piece of work.

It said the way the government defined the "core purpose" of children's centres was "too vague" and "broadly worded and should be reviewed to focus on achievable outcomes for children and families and to recognise the difference between centres".

It added: "This should include reaching clarity on who centres are for - children or parents - and what their priority should be."

The report said standards in children's centres should be taken as seriously as they were in schools.

It also said local authorities and health professionals should do more to seek out the most vulnerable children and raise their awareness of the centres.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said it wanted to see a strong network of children's centres in place across the country, offering families access to a wide range of local, flexible services.

"A recent survey showed that under this government, a record number of parents - more than one million - are now using children's centres.

"Councils are best placed to decide how to organise these services and we are increasing funding for early intervention to £2.5bn to help them meet local need."

She added that free part-time early education was being extended to 260,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds and the number of hours offered to three- and four-year olds had been extended to 15 hours a week.

Helen Donohoe, director of public policy, at Action for Children said: "We share the committee's disappointment with the government's response to this key report.

"It fails to say how the government will ensure that children's centres are best equipped and held accountable for improving outcomes for children."

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