Goodwill takes on DfE early years and social care briefs

By Derren Hayes

| 28 June 2017

New Department for Education minister Robert Goodwill MP is to take on responsibility for early years in addition to children's social care as part of an expanded ministerial portfolio.

Robert Goodwill MP will hold responsibility for early years and children's social care at the DfE

Earlier this month, Goodwill, Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, was handed the brief for vulnerable children and families previously held for nearly five years by Edward Timpson, who lost his Crewe and Nantwich seat by 48 votes at the general election.

The former immigration and transport minister has now also been given responsibility for early years and childcare, a brief previously held by Caroline Dinenage in her role as under secretary of state for women, equalities and early years, before her move to the Department for Work and Pensions earlier this month.

The decision will mean Goodwill will be responsible for delivering major government policies, including the England-wide rollout of 30 hours of free childcare for all three- and four-year-olds from September, the creation of an independent regulator for children's social workers, an overhaul of local safeguarding arrangements, and ensuring all children with special educational needs and disabilities transfer to a new support system by April 2018. 

Confirmation of Goodwill's expanded brief came from a senior DfE official at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools on Tuesday. However, the DfE has made no official comment.

The news has received a mixed reaction from organisations across the children and families sector.

Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England, said the move sent a "worrying message" about the government's priorities for children.

"Children's social care and the childcare sector are both facing some of the most urgent systemic and financial challenges in public policy and service provision - but are really very distinct from each other in nature, stakeholders and sector expertise," she said.

"We have long shared concerns that social care has become a shrinking presence and priority within DfE over successive restructures and reshuffles. To now roll two such enormous agendas, of such profound significance to millions of children, into one Ministerial brief, sends a worrying message, and will raise real concern for the quality and capacity to offer much-needed leadership for both."

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: "There's no doubt that childcare and early years is a challenging and complicated brief, and so the scale of the task facing the new minister should not be underestimated.

"While we recognise that there is natural crossover between the respective early years and vulnerable children and families briefs, the fact remains that we now only have one minister looking after these policy areas, where previously there were two.

"It's vital that the DfE ensures that it is committing the necessary departmental resources to ensure the smooth rollout of early years policy going forward."

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, said one of Goodwill's first tasks must be to secure more funding for providers to deliver the expanded free entitlement.

"With his constituency in North Yorkshire, which has one of the lowest funding rates in the country and includes early implementer nurseries testing out how they can deliver 30 hours sustainably, he should be aware of the issues which are troubling nurseries and other providers," she said.

"Unless providers are given the confidence to be able to deliver 30 hours, we have already warned that nurseries will pull out leaving parents without places for their children. We are clear that, unless there is enough investment to pay a fair hourly rate for ‘free' places, then nurseries must be allowed to make mandatory charges for meals and other extras to be able to balance their books."

Liz Bayram, chief executive of Pacey, added: "Given he [Goodwill] will have a much wider ministerial remit than his predecessor, we are keen to ensure early years continues to receive the focus and priority it deserves.

"The early years are critical to ensuring children, especially the most disadvantaged, receive the best start in life."

Goodwill is joined by Anne Milton as minister of state at the DfE. Nick Gibb remains as schools minister and Jo Johnson as minister for universities and science.

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