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Truss recalled over Sure Start
A parliamentary committee has taken the unusual step of summoning an education minister back to give more evidence, after describing her response to its report into Sure Start children's centres "inadequate".
The House of Commons Education Committee's report in December warned that Government policy on early years education was ''short-term and disparate'' and that Sure Start centres suffer from a ''lack of clarity'' about what services they should offer.
Childcare minister Elizabeth Truss gave evidence to the committee's inquiry in October, but has now been called back to explain the thinking behind the Department for Education's official response to the report, published today.
In her response, Ms Truss insisted the Government had developed "a clear core purpose for children's centres which focuses on improving outcomes for young children and their families, and reducing inequalities" and highlighted an increase in funding for early intervention from £2.2 billion in 2011/12 to £2.5 billion in 2014/15.
The cross-party committee's Conservative chairman Graham Stuart said: "The committee is disappointed by the inadequate response provided by the Government to our report on children's centres. 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.
"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.
"Our December 2013 report was widely welcomed as an important piece of work and many agreed with our call for greater clarity on the core purpose of children's centres. We intend to continue to explore how children's centres can be made to deliver better results for young children and their families."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We want 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 so that they can choose what works best for their child.
"A recent survey showed that under this Government, a record number of parents - more than a 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 £2.5 billion to help them meet local need.
"We are also extending free early education to 260,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds because the evidence shows high quality early education helps ensure children do not fall behind their peers before they reach school. We have also increased free early education for three and four-year-olds to 15 hours a week, encouraged schools to offer more childcare and made it easier for good and outstanding childminders to offer free early education."
Ms Truss is understood to be happy to return before the committee to give more evidence.