A Strong Team in place: time to take the fight to the Tories

“I left school at 16, pregnant, with no qualifications. Some may argue I was not a great role model for today’s young people. The direction of my life was set but something happened. Labour’s Sure Start centres gave me and my friends, and our children, the help and support we needed to grow and develop. They changed the lives of three million children and their parents.

The Tories have now closed more than 800 Sure Start centres, and more to come. Shutting the door in the faces of our children and their parents. Unlike the Tories, Labour will never turn our backs on our children and their families.”

This was the opening salvo to Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner’s Conference speech. We believe it is the strongest endorsement of Sure Start from Labour since the 2010 General Election.

We are hopeful that this paves the way for a reinvigorated approach to Sure Start from the shadow frontbench: not just defending Children’s Centres, but confidently setting the agenda for a Sure Start renaissance.

Angela will be brilliantly supported in this by the new Shadow Early Years Minister, Tulip Siddiq. Tulip is without question one of the stars of the 2015 intake, as well as being a new mum.

We’re also delighted to see long term Sure Start supporters Sharon Hodgson and Sarah Champion land important roles at Public Health and Women & Equalities respectively.

What a contrast with the Tories. Education Secretary Justine Greening didn’t mention Children’s Centres once in her Conference speech. In fact a passing nod to childcare was her sole reference to the early years.

But even that was better than Theresa May. For all her hogwash about creating a Great Meritocracy, the PM totally ignored the single most powerful determinant of a child’s life chances: the quality of support and stimulation they receive in their early years.

Instead we are offered tired old cliches about grammar schools unlocking social mobility.

This flies in the face of all the evidence: grammar schools are not just divisive, they are utterly ineffective. The evidence is clear: if you want to transform young lives, the key window isn’t at age eleven, it’s before children are even five. As Melissa Benn has powerfully argued, this fact sits very uneasily with the Government’s record on Sure Start.

Labour’s unflinching opposition to new grammar schools is very welcome. Even more welcome is their new Childcare Task Force. We look forward to this piece of work taking shape and we hope it will pay as much attention to wraparound care and family support as to nursery places and funding.

Meanwhile on the frontline, austerity continues to bite painfully. New figures show a £90m cut to Sure Start spending this year: a 12% cut in a single year.

With brutal cuts undermining their soaring rhetoric, it’s pretty clear that what the Tories are offering isn’t a Great Meritocracy at all – it’s nothing but a Great Hypocrisy.

It’s time to fight back.

Michael Pavey
Director, Labour Friends of Sure Start

21st October 2016

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