Presentation on theme: "SureStart A UK Government initiative originating in the Treasury - described by Tony Blair as being one of New Labour’s greatest achievements."— Presentation transcript:
SureStart A UK Government initiative originating in the Treasury - described by Tony Blair as being one of New Labour’s greatest achievements.
The scheme was officially launched in 1998, and immediate parallels were drawn with President Johnson’s Head Start programme in the United States and its equivalent in Australia. It was also very similar to the Canadian province of Ontario’s Early Years Plan. The project was overseen by the Department for Children, Schools, and Families, in combination with the Department for Work and Pensions. SureStart local programmes were opened in a series of rounds, with Round 1 beginning in 1999, and Round 6 – the last – starting in 2003.
Analysis The following comments have been selected on the basis that they provide you with insight into the complexities of a) arriving at some final judgement of the scheme’s effectiveness, and b) identifying ‘pressure’ points were an economic critique similar in spirit to Mitchell’s can begin. The key enabling legislation is the 2004 Children’s Act.
The aim of this initiative was to give children the best possible start in life. Funds and other forms of intervention were to be coordinated locally so as to improve childcare, early education, child health, and the various forms of family support. The emphasis was to be on ‘outreach’ and community development. The programme was designed to cover the needs of families from conception through to a point when the children were four years old. These aims were extended subsequently through a combination of Government announcement and tacit policy change so as to create a context for additional and unspecified forms of support up to the age of fourteen – or sixteen in the case of children with disabilities.
The scheme’s principal aim was to alleviate the consequences of child poverty. As a result, those UK districts identified in the first tranche of funding were selected according to an index of deprivation drawn up by H. M. Treasury. But although deprived areas were identified centrally, the facilities offered by each SureStart centre were open to all families living within the centre’s self-defined catchment area, i.e., there was no means testing. Each project was initially given considerable autonomy. The intention was for them to be responsive to the wishes of parents and the guidance of the various local organisations involved in each centre’s co-ordination. Local level decision- making was expected to dominate the identification, not only of policy, but also of the volunteers to be employed and the services to be provided.
H. M. Government’s Green Paper, Every Child Matters, published in 2003, argued for a switch away from local programmes towards a system having much greater local authority control; the revised centres were to be called SureStart Children’s Centres. The location of these would no longer be restricted to the most deprived areas of the country. Of the 524 SureStart centres that were operating when this proposal was implemented, most accepted the thrust of the reform and became SureStart Children’s Centre’s, and the Labour Government’s stated aim at the time was to have 3,500 such centres in place by 2010. In 2005, one of the original designers of the SureStart programme, Norman Glass, saw fit to write an article in the Guardian praising the Labour Government’s continued focus on the significance of the early years, but also deploring the changes being made. He argued that by cutting the funding made available to each child, by shifting the emphasis of intervention from child development to child care, by stressing the importance of getting mothers back into work, and by taking control away from the centres, they were letting economics once again dominate the life chances of the most deprived children.
The revised ‘children’s centres’ were to provide:- In the 30% most disadvantaged areas within the scheme integrated learning and childcare for a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year; and support for a childminder network. In the 70% least disadvantaged areas, where the centre decided not to make any early years provision, drop-in activity sessions for children, such as stay-and-play. Family support, including advice and support on parenting, information about the local services available, and access to specialist services including parental outreach. Child and Family Health Services, such as antenatal and postnatal support, information and guidance on breast-feeding, child health and nutrition, and also smoking cessation support, speech and language therapy, and other specialist services. Links with Jobcentre Plus to encourage and support parents and carers who wish to consider training and employment.
Evaluations (1) Even when SureStart was first introduced, it was stressed that its funding would eventually come to an end; and the ‘tapering’ of centre funding had began before the fall of the Labour Government. Various responses to this threat to centre survival were made, including absorption by the district council, registering the centres as charities, and creating commercial organisations capable of entering into service level agreements with local authorities (and perhaps providing support for children over four years of age). It is therefore extremely difficult to know what to make of any evaluations. Even the original SureStart centres were highly variable because of their local character, and their subsequent evolution has not made the task of comparing like with like any easier.
Evaluations (2) From an economic perspective the issue is not simply value for money, but the extent to which these centres have contributed to greater social equity and the improvement of life chances for the most deprived children. However, the issue of effectiveness should not simply be restricted to the relative success or failure of one or other centre design. You will need to take a wider view and ask yourself if the policy as a whole attacks the root causes of social inequality, or simply papers over the cracks in society.
Published Evaluations to Consider – (Nearly all of these exist as e-documents and have also been briefly covered by papers, journals, and TV reports.) The National Evaluation of the project continued until the recent change of government. The general finding was that there were positive, albeit modest, improvements in the lives of all family categories included. A 2007 study published in the British Medical Journal looking at SureStart interventions in Wales claimed that courses teaching parenting skills had reduced the incidence of problem behaviour in the children concerned. A University of Durham study concluded that SureStart in England was ineffective; there were no observable improvements in schooling outcomes. And so on – the e-journal/paper links highlight further problems. As indicated in the previous slide, you need to keep your eyes on the ball of social equity in order to avoid being sucked into the uncertainties of each study – most do not really ask hard questions about the centres so you may end up having to rely on dear old Marx and Engels themselves! An alternative is to investigate the early English socialists – utopians, utilitarians, and Christians – you could do a lot worse than starting with Robert Owen’s factory schools.