Oral evidence: Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, HC 279
Tuesday 26 January 2021
Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 26 January 2021.
Watch the meeting
Members present: Robert Halfon (Chair); Fleur Anderson; Apsana Begum; Jonathan Gullis; Tom Hunt; Dr Caroline Johnson; Kim Johnson; Ian Mearns; David Simmonds; Christian Wakeford.
I: Merle Davies, Director, Blackpool Centre for Early Childhood Development; Dr Javed Khan, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardo’s; Louisa Reeves, Head of Impact and Evidence, I CAN; Sonia Shaljean, Managing Director and Founder, Lads Need Dads; Claire Smith, Project Lead, TALK Halton, Halton Borough Council.
Witnesses: Merle Davies, Dr Javed Khan, Louisa Reeves, Sonia Shaljean and Claire Smith.
Q294 Chair: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming to our latest Committee session on left-behind white working-class boys and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. For the benefit of the tape and those watching on the parliamentary TV channel, could you introduce yourselves, with titles? Sonia?
Sonia Shaljean: My name is Sonia Shaljean. I am the founder of a not-for-profit CIC called Lads Need Dads, based in Essex. We provide long-term early intervention and mentoring for boys aged 11 to 15 who have absent fathers or limited access to a male role model.
Chair: Thank you. Merle?
Merle Davies: Hi, I am Merle Davies, director of the Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development. We are the backbone organisation of the Blackpool Better Start partnership, one of five sites in England funded by the national lottery to find out what works in the early years, and then to support the system change to make that happen. I am also on the national 1,001 days Committee, which has 160 members who are interested in this field.
Chair: Thank you. Claire?
Claire Smith: I am Claire Smith, project lead for an early outcomes fund project called TALK Halton. We were given money to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the early years with their speech, language and communication, in order to support learning and achievement when they get to school.
Chair: Thank you. Louisa?
Louisa Reeves: Hello. My name is Louisa Reeves, head of impact and evidence at I CAN, the children’s communication charity, which works nationally to support children and young people who have speech, language and communication needs.
Chair: And Javed? It is nice to see you again; you are a regular before the Committee.
Dr Khan: Hello, Chair. I am Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s.
Q295 Chair: We hope to finish just before 11.30. We have divided the questions up into sections that will last about 15 minutes each. Before we come to Apsana, who will take the first section, I would like to understand your view of the impact of school closures on young children and pupils, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds. Can we start with you, Javed?
Dr Khan: I think school closures have a very significant impact. Barnardo’s has said since the start of the pandemic that schools should be the last to close, and should be the first priority when it comes to reopening. We have seen from our range of services across the UK that it has a dramatic effect on children’s self-esteem, mental health and wellbeing, and on parents’ ability to cope. This is about not just service users, but our staff—we have 8,000 staff, many of whom have children. There is a good example there of how difficult parents have found it to home-school while trying to do their jobs, whether through Zoom or face to face, as some still have to. All in all, it has had a very significant effect.
The support services that children would normally rely on have also been stretched in this period. Resources have been depleted, demand has increased, and accessibility is much more difficult. On digital devices, the Committee has heard before how difficult the digital poverty agenda is at the moment. If you put all that together, today’s school generation are suffering in ways that we could never have imagined, and it is going to take a very, very long time to help them to catch up.
Q296 Chair: Have you any evidence—actual data—about how far behind children are? Has Barnardo’s been collecting data on that?
Dr Khan: We run only two schools, and they are special schools, so our direct data is very limited in that sense.
Chair: I will bring in the other witnesses. May I ask you all to be as concise as possible given the time constraints?
Sonia Shaljean: I am coming at it from a male perspective, because we specialise in working with boys. The big impact for them is their learning style. They are not naturally used to sitting in front of computers—neither are girls—and they do not thrive learning in that way. They have natural impulsivity, spatial and kinaesthetic learning styles, and a physical energy that are just not suited to remote learning. I feel that when we go to review this, we will find that boys are at a greater disadvantage because they are not naturally suited to this way of learning. Girls are suited to this way of learning. Classrooms are set up for girls, really. If we look at the way girls and boys are taught, sitting still, taking notes and listening carefully is a female-friendly approach to teaching; it is not conducive to the way boys learn. Not being able to get out there to clubs, and to play football, sport and so on, will really impact young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Chair: Thank you. Merle?
Merle Davies: The inequality is a concern for us. We are one of the poorest towns in the country, and we have a lot of parents who are low-skilled and are really struggling to home-educate. The children who are not in school and are in families who cannot educate are having real issues. Also, on access to social media, one of my schools just yesterday was saying that it still has 40 children who do not have access to tablets or ways of learning. It is about the poverty and the divide with families who are not able to home school in the way that other families can. I know it is difficult for everybody, and a lot of families are really struggling, but families that do not have resources and cannot buy in resources—
Q297 Chair: Have you done data on this in Blackpool to show what is going on?
Merle Davies: I am not sure. I would need to go back to the children’s services department to find that out. I can find out if they have that data.
Chair: Thank you. Claire.
Claire Smith: I would certainly agree with everything that everyone else has said so far, and would add to that the impact on children’s language and communication development. Socialisation, being able to make friends—all those really important social/emotional aspects—practising emerging language development, and the impact of having peers support language development have been massively missing. Although early years settings are now open, which is really important as a basis, children have missed out on so much in this last year.
Chair: Thank you. Finally, Louisa, please.
Louisa Reeves: I concur with everything. To pick out a few things on language and communication, the issue Sonia raised about boys and learning styles is also seen in communication. Adolescent boys in particular need that peer-group interaction. There is a lot of socialising that children are missing out on across the age ranges, and I think that will have a huge impact on not only their wellbeing at the moment, but their ability to form relationships, work together and have all those soft communication skills that we look for in the workforce, particularly in the 21st century. That is the top end of the age group.
In early years, as Merle said about children in areas of disadvantage, we are seeing the impact across our project in areas of disadvantage where we work in the north-west and the south-west, particularly in terms of the lack of to and fro of communication, and the lack of ability to build vocabulary and have those external experiences that help you build your language.
Q298 Chair: Do you want schools to open? What are your views about schools reopening?
Sonia Shaljean: Definitely. We would love to see schools reopen, but only when it is safe. This is a time of reflection, while the schools are closed; we can really look at how schools work, and how learning styles could be improved for boys in particular, because, year on year, boys are falling behind girls. One of the big issues of underachievement is gender. This is an ideal time for schools to take a good look at whether they are meeting the needs of all their children, and not just offering one particular learning style, and why boys are consistently being excluded. I think someone told me that every five seconds a boy is told off at school. Why is that? We can take everything as a learning opportunity.
Q299 Chair: Thank you. Javed, what is the route map to get the schools open again?
Dr Khan: We need a really clear plan for schools reopening as fast as possible, and that includes prioritising teachers for vaccination, giving them access to reliable testing, appropriate notice for schools and families, and no last-minute, knee-jerk reactions to public opinion or politics, whichever way you want to look at it. Schools also need additional support, when they do open, through specific investment around mental health resources. There is little point in driving children towards traditional academic learning when you haven’t helped them to cope, or given them the support for the trauma that they’ve experienced, as colleagues have just described.
Wrap-around services, in and around schools, are also important; detached youth work, for example, which I am a great believer in, has been decimated through the years of austerity. Our work, up and down the country, has shown that detached youth work, reaching children in places where they congregate outside of school, often helps give them the confidence to get back into school.
Q300 Chair: Would any other witnesses like to comment on schools reopening?
Louisa Reeves: Schools are open, actually. Schools are working really hard to support lots of children.
Chair: Absolutely. Everybody understands that they are open for critical workers and vulnerable children, and I salute the teachers and support staff who are doing everything possible to keep children learning, but you know what I am talking about.
Louisa Reeves: I do. To reiterate previous comments, we should perhaps focus less on exams, whatever form they may take, and focus more on building up the communication, the social skills, the interaction, the self-confidence and the attitudes to learning that will all be necessary.
Merle Davies: My point was the same: our headteachers would say schools are open. They just want to get all the children in; all the most vulnerable are already coming.
Chair: You know exactly what I was talking about. I absolutely acknowledge, every day—I see it in my constituency of Harlow—the efforts that teachers are going to, to educate the children of critical workers. I am talking about all those children who are, sadly, not in school.
Claire Smith: To pick up on something that Sonia said, more boys than girls have communication difficulties, so that needs to be a massive focus. My point of view on what you are saying about boys in a learning environment is that they are more predisposed to have learning difficulties anyway, because they often have underlying speech, language and communication needs that are not adequately met. In my view, that needs to be a massive focus when children get back to school—ensuring that they have the communication they need to succeed.
Chair: Thank you. I will pass over to Apsana, who will chair the next section.
Q301 Apsana Begum: Thank you, Chair. Before I begin my questions, I want to declare that I was an employee at Barnardo’s. Thank you to the panel for joining us.
My first question is about the impact of the pandemic on disadvantaged white pupils. Do you think that there has been a differential disadvantage for disadvantaged white pupils, compared to those from ethnic minority backgrounds?
Sonia Shaljean: In answer to your question, 50% of the boys referred to our programs are entitled to free school meals—that is far above the average—and many live in overcrowded environments that are not conducive to home study. The strain on those families will have hugely increased; only yesterday, we saw the news about the increase of domestic abuse against children.
Conflict in the home is a big deal. Because boys don’t work well with remote learning, they are more inclined to do gaming, so there is a real conflict there. If single-parent mums have to go to work, they are often leaving their teenage son unsupervised for long periods of time in the day, when normally they would be at school, receiving support and education. That is a real concern of mine, particularly for single-parent families, because they have to keep going during this pandemic—many of them still have to go to work—and it proves that children are being left unsupervised and unsupported, and this will hugely impact their mental health when they do return to school. Particularly disadvantaged pupils, who are on free school meals, are being hit the hardest.
Q302 Apsana Begum: Would you say, then, that the single-parent set-up is something quite specific to, or very common among, white disadvantaged pupils, in comparison to disadvantaged pupils from ethnic minorities?
Sonia Shaljean: In this area particularly, the coastal area of Essex, yes. We serve Tendring and Colchester, and 89% of boys on our programs are from white, disadvantaged backgrounds; that is quite a high percentage. I can’t speak for the whole of the UK. I can only speak for this part of Essex.
Apsana Begum: Thank you. I will come to Louisa next, please.
Louisa Reeves: We are seeing an impact across ethnic groups. In the areas we work in, where there are large, mainly white, disadvantaged populations, we see some indication already of the widening gap in language levels—in comprehension, understanding and vocabulary—between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged groups.
People’s experience of the pandemic restrictions and the series of lockdowns have been very different. Some families have had quite a nice time at home. They’ve had dads and mums at home, and they have had time to talk to their children and perhaps do more in the way of reading and telling stories. Other communities have not had that experience.
We are seeing more concern about how much English is being spoken to some children at home. In some ways that cuts across ethnic minority and white communities. We see that in quite a few communities in areas of disadvantage, they do not have the habit of talking a lot to babies and young children. They don’t have the confidence in terms of being able to communicate. Children are starting school with poor language skills, and that is being exacerbated because they are not having the early years experience that they would have had in nursery or those early school experiences.
Q303 Apsana Begum: Are you saying that there is not a differential disadvantage—that it cuts across all ethnic groups? That is what is coming across in what you are saying.
Louisa Reeves: In terms of communication and language, yes, it seems to be cutting across all groups, but I think there is an underlying issue in some communities about just not being in the habit of talking to children—it is just not a cultural thing. We did a piece of work in Knowsley a couple of years ago. Knowsley has a majority white population. We were told stories by families there about how they felt that they couldn’t talk to their young children, because it was considered something that you didn’t do. You don’t talk to babies, and you don’t read books to babies, because they don’t talk to you.
Q304 Apsana Begum: Thank you. I will come to Claire next, please.
Claire Smith: I work in the north-west, where Louisa works. Liverpool city region is a largely monocultural area. It is really difficult to answer those types of questions accurately, because we don’t have the data to compare. We know about the children in our area who are white and disadvantaged; we know what the impact is on them.
As Louisa said, lots of the families that we work with in the north-west do not have that cultural tendency to talk to their children, or know why they should. They think communication happens automatically, and that it will just grow, as if by magic, without any input. That is significant in the north-west. I have worked in lots of areas of the UK, and I have found that in this area, that has been a massive challenge to overcome. It has been more of a problem because of lockdown, as children have spent more time at home than they would normally.
Q305 Apsana Begum: Thank you. I will come to Merle next.
Merle Davies: Again, we are very much a white society—87% white British, and 6% white other. A lot of our other communities come in to take up jobs, and I don’t have the data on those communities because we are very much a white disadvantaged community. We have 48% of our secondary pupils and 37% of primary pupils getting the pupil premium through deprivation.
What we have seen, very much like Claire and Louisa, is in the early years. It is not having access to professionals during that time—the social isolation. Speech and language, as has already been said, is a big issue for us. Those developmental meetings aren’t happening. Those contacts aren’t happening.
We are committed to the early years in the town, and we have a health service that hasn’t been redeployed. They have been offering four face-to-face contacts during lockdown. Some people aren’t taking them up, and you can’t do assessments over Zoom and over the phone. We have two-year-olds who missed their developmental reviews last year. They won’t be seen before they go to school; in Blackpool we do a three-year-old review that other people don’t do, but they probably won’t get that this year, either. We have children with speech and language concerns in particular, because we just cannot do speech and language assessments over Zoom; we have to see them in person.
On social isolation, you were absolutely right, Louisa, about talking. We talk about serve and return—that interaction between the parent and child—and that parental engagement is just so important. Trying to encourage that during this period is really difficult because the professionals do not have access.
Something that has come up a lot with our parents and professionals, even this week, is this: for really young children, we concentrate on the 1,001 days, as I say, and in the past, really young children and new babies would be passed around the families to be held. That is not happening. We have young children who see only the people in that household, and they are becoming fearful.
Chair: There is so much to say, but if you could all be as concise as you can, I would really appreciate it. I am sorry to ask that, but it is because of time and broadcasting limits.
Q306 Apsana Begum: Javed, Barnardo’s reaches far and wide geographically. Do you have any data that shows any differential impact on disadvantaged white pupils, compared with those from ethnic minority backgrounds?
Dr Khan: Hi, Apsana. In an average year, we support about 359,000 vulnerable children and young people, families and carers. About 80% of those—about 287,000—are white children and their families, so we have a lot of experience of what we are finding. Of course, the most disadvantaged are most affected by covid-19, which is what we have seen all over the place.
In terms of data, I will just home in on one example. Since the pandemic began, we have been running something that you might have heard of called the See, Hear, Respond programme. It is funded by the Department for Education and run by Barnardo’s through a consortium of more than 80 large and small national and local partner charities across the country. Within that, we have supported more than 28,000 white “hidden vulnerable” children and young people. They are children who were not otherwise on the radar of the systems before covid began, so they had no social workers or education and healthcare plans.
As a result of the barriers that white children supported by the programme face around education—including, of course, digital poverty, as well as overcrowding and, for younger siblings and parents especially, additional care duties—75% of them said that they felt left behind at school with no way of catching up. As a result, 32% of them are what we call school-avoidant; 46% said that there was no point because there would not be any jobs around when they come out of school anyway; and—this is the most startling figure—86% of those said that their parents had either been made redundant or were on furlough, and that was having a dramatic effect on their families. We are particularly concerned, through the programme, about young people who did their GCSEs last year and did not go on to any other education or dropped out of the system.
Q307 Apsana Begum: Thank you. I have one more question. Please raise your hand if you want to come in, rather than the question going to each panel member. What can be done to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on disadvantaged white pupils specifically? Javed, you mentioned a programme that you have been delivering during the pandemic, and I know that Barnardo’s does a lot of work on trauma-informed approaches. I am also interested in learning about the early years providers and the financial crisis they face. Louisa, you mentioned single-parent families, childcare and so on being factors at play. Can anybody say anything about that? Can you give the Committee something to take away on what can be done to mitigate the impact? Claire, did you want to come in?
Claire Smith: For me, children’s communication underpins all their learning and development as they grow through school, so it is important to get in there in the early years in particular, and to do some communication catch-up and recovery programmes to ensure that this generation of lost children get what they need. That is really important, because otherwise we will see the impact of covid on that generation of children for years and years to come. Recovery communication programmes for that group of children are particularly important. That is just one thing—there are hundreds of things—but that would be my contribution.
Louisa Reeves: To add to that, a strategic approach is absolutely essential for support. Public Health England has now launched its early years speech, language and communication pathway. There is an additional measure that can be used for two-year-olds, specifically to look at communication needs. Knowing the scale of the problem is essential, so local authorities need to pick up that pathway and build in those catch-up programmes along the way. We have been running a DFE-funded project called Changing the Conversation about Language in a number of different areas of disadvantage in the country. We have worked to develop that pathway very early on so that we have got support for newborn babies, which, as Merle says, is absolutely essential at the moment.
Apsana Begum: Merle and Javed, very quickly—in a nutshell, please.
Chair: I want to get on to the next bit, so just Merle, because Javed spoke a moment ago.
Merle Davies: I will mention just two things very quickly. One is support for early years providers to spend more time with three-year-olds whose development has been delayed—they have not had their two-year-old development sessions. We need to, if we can, put more support into those providers to spend more time with those children to bring them up to speed.
The other thing, which is a longer-term one, is a better qualified workforce. At the moment, disadvantaged children in early years settings actually have a workforce who come from that disadvantaged community, so we need really good-quality, proper training, so that those children get the best workforce possible.
Chair: Thank you, Apsana. Tom, I am going to bring you in. If other Members want to come in, please just say that in the WhatsApp group and I will bring you in.
Q308 Tom Hunt: This question is to all the panellists. What do you believe may be the principal causes of the attainment gap between disadvantaged white pupils and their peers?
Dr Khan: Disadvantaged white children underachieve at school for many reasons, and I say this as a former teacher and director of education. Many of those reasons are not directly linked to their race—I am talking about poverty, intergenerational disadvantage and lack of local opportunities. Geography clearly has an impact, too. The evidence shows, for example, that white pupils in the north-east have some of the worst educational outcomes, yet pupils from all backgrounds in places like London do better, irrespective of their race.
It is also relevant that some of the most deprived local authorities, I would argue, have seen the highest reductions in funding in recent years, leading to very large reductions in spending on children and young people’s services, which has to be understood as having had an impact.
There will be other factors at play, of course, when we look at attainment gaps between disadvantaged white pupils and other pupils. I don’t think there is any simple answer to this and I would urge the Committee not to jump to any conclusions. You wouldn’t be holding this inquiry if there were an easy answer, of course.
We need to be aware that some disadvantaged white communities—say, in parts of the north of England—have been let down for generations. In some places, traditional manufacturing jobs are long gone and there has not been much public or private investment. All of this has led to what I call the poverty of hope, where young people cannot see a way out of the circumstances in which they are born and being nurtured. That could be to do with housing, health, job opportunities, a lack of role models, a lack of focus in their family on the value of education—all of this affects their own personal self-esteem and commitment to their own futures.
Tom Hunt: Would anyone else on the panel like to comment? Merle?
Merle Davies: I would like to support exactly what Javed said. In Blackpool, we have had £186 million-worth of revenue cuts over 11 years. When we compound that, it actually comes to £1.2 billion, which is about £1,300 per head of population. We know anecdotally that is much more than in a lot of the more affluent boroughs around us, or in London, as Javed said. The directors of children’s services have highlighted to the Government their concern that the problem with the financial sustainability of the early years sector, which was a concern before the pandemic, has now been exacerbated by it.
The other things, certainly for us, are aspirations and role models. You cannot want to be a brain scientist if you have never met or heard of one. We need there to be role models in our communities and we need to raise aspirations, so that people know what they are actually able to do.
Sonia Shaljean: A significant contributory factor to underachieving and left-behind pupils is fatherlessness. We hear about gender, ethnicity and place, but very little is focused on the issue of fatherlessness, which is a global pandemic alongside covid. Some 2.9 million children in the UK are living in single-parent homes, 90% of which are headed by a women, and 1.1 million children have little or no contact at all with their father.
There is much research that suggests that not having a father at home has a negative impact on a child’s overall academic performance. They are more likely to underachieve and drop out of school, when compared with children living in a two-parent household, and they are less likely to pursue higher education. A father spending time with his children sends a message to them that they are valued. The opposite is true if they are absent.
That is one of the main reasons why I founded Lads Need Dads. I had worked across the fields of criminal justice, alcohol, drugs, homelessness and anger management for over 20 years. Males were vastly over-represented in all those fields. Added to that, the men I worked with grew up with an absent father—some 76% of our young people in prison in England and Wales grew up without a father. We need to look at ways to provide early intervention to break that cycle and to acknowledge that males are high-risk when you look at all of those issues. We can start to address that in the early years and in our education system as well.
Q309 Tom Hunt: Thank you very much. We have previously heard from panels in this inquiry that disadvantaged families from ethnic minority backgrounds may perceive disadvantage and how to raise outcomes for their children differently from disadvantaged white families. To what extent do cultural differences contribute to the attainment gap between disadvantaged white pupils and their peers, and what needs to be done to close that gap?
Merle Davies: It is interesting; some families would not see themselves as disadvantaged. If I think of some of our estates, those families would not see themselves as disadvantaged because they just see people like them in the street with them and having a job is probably something to aspire to. It is a very different kind of aspiration.
Q310 Tom Hunt: When you have a child living in a disadvantaged background, whether they are white or from an ethnic minority community, what they are experiencing is extreme disadvantage. The term “white privilege” has obviously been discussed in the media quite a lot and unfortunately has become quite divisive. Some people have a very clear understanding of what they mean by white privilege, and others don’t.
Javed, I understand that Barnardo’s produced a guide, “White privilege - the guide to parents”, which has been quite controversial. I understand what you mean by that because, if you are from a low-income background, whatever the colour of your skin, you are experiencing extreme disadvantage, but it is worse if you are from an ethnic minority background because you have that extra challenge as well.
Ultimately, if you are from a disadvantaged background—you will know more than anyone else because you are supporting a lot of those white kids from very disadvantaged backgrounds—it seems quite strange when you have all of those challenges in front of you and all of those disadvantages that you are then being sent a guide about your own privilege.
Have you reflected on the decision to produce that guide, and whether it was the right decision? Have you had any contact with the Charity Commission? I understand that it contacted you after you published that guide.
Dr Khan: I am glad that you asked the question. I also recognise that four in five of the children that Barnardo’s support, on a very large scale, are white—280,000-plus, as I said earlier. They are certainly not privileged children. Their families are not privileged and none of them should feel any guilt about who they are in any way whatsoever.
I agree with you that the term white privilege is not an ideal phrase. I personally do not like it. For some people, it creates barriers—I am talking about people who want to engage in the debate, want to learn and want to contribute to creating a more harmonious society in this great country of ours, but they find it difficult to get past that phrase, so I get that.
However, as you know, it is a phrase that is commonly used at the moment. Ever since the killing of George Floyd, from mainstream children’s media like CBBC and Newsround, to Radio 4 and local councils, where we operate—they all talk about white privilege. It is in that context that we have used that phrase as well. At a time when the issue was widely discussed, when children from all communities asking parents about it, and it was on all of the news flashes and so on, we simply provided advice on our website to help families to engage with that discussion. That is what it was.
In terms of Barnardo’s commitment, we support all disadvantaged children and young people, irrespective of their race, colour or creed. For many years that is exactly what we have been doing.
Tom Hunt: Thanks for that. The decision to produce that guide has caused quite a lot of anger in response, as you will be aware. I think there probably are a lot of children and families who are struggling enormously and find it somewhat ironic to be sent a guide about their own privilege. Jonathan Gullis would like to ask a question now. Jonathan?
Q311 Jonathan Gullis: Thank you, Tom. I will build on what Tom was asking and also ask some broader questions. My issue with talking about this idea of white privilege is essentially critical race theory, which in itself is political activism. We saw Kimi Badenoch talk about that at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons—superbly, in my opinion. What I worry about with this is that we are telling people that somehow the colour of their skin should determine their life chances and outcomes, which I don’t think is fair. It also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, in my opinion, and I don’t think this is a good thing, particularly for students from BAME backgrounds.
Martin Luther King talked about judging a person by their character rather than the colour of their skin. By having the term white privilege and having resources to educate people about it on your site, my fear is that it actually goes against those very principles and will create more divide than it will bring people together to talk about the different challenges people face in disadvantage. You are right, Javed. I have taught in London and I have taught in Birmingham. I have taught in predominantly white areas and predominantly black and Asian areas. Disadvantage exists across all those communities. I appreciate the work that you have done relentlessly for students in those communities. I also appreciate that children from a black or Asian background in London will have different challenges from those of a kid in Stoke-on-Trent, which I represent.
I just want to get across my concern with this. When you see institutions such as Edinburgh University back in 2019 having a conference called “Resisting whiteness”, where white people were banned from speaking, that does create a real issue and divide among communities. It means that this report sometimes gets looked at in the wrong way. We saw on BBC News today that white working-class students from disadvantaged backgrounds are the least likely to go on to university, which I think is a huge concern—not that university is the be-all and end-all of success. I just wanted to make that point, but I will give you your right of reply.
Sonia, you talk about the work you are doing. I just wondered whether you could give a bit more detail about any figures or stats you have on the impact of fatherlessness. I think that issue of the breakdown of the nuclear family has come up as a common thread throughout our time.
Sonia Shaljean: I quickly want to refer to the male privilege issue. I think that we are not doing enough to address the new wave of feminism that is infiltrating our schools and the messages that boys are hearing from this—that they are toxic, with this narrative of toxic masculinities going around. Together with the white privilege term, they go hand in hand. That message and narrative is being taken into universities and cascaded through.
I am not surprised that there are fewer white males going to university, and not for that particular reason. If I were a white male going to university, I would hear debates about the fact that just by being male and white there is something wrong with me. That needs challenging. It is even cascading into primary schools and it is really worrying. I just wanted to get that off my chest. Your question was regarding fatherlessness and statistics or particularly the work we do. Can you be a bit more specific?
Q312 Jonathan Gullis: We are trying to find out what causes this underperformance in education. The family structure—the nuclear family—seems to have come up regularly. I know that when it comes to geography and place, there is quite a big debate. It is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy for us to say that white working-class people aren’t aspirational. I worry that we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think they are aspirational, but it is access to opportunity that is the issue by geography. It is interesting to hear about the family aspect, because it is something we have teased out throughout this inquiry.
Sonia Shaljean: It is a major disadvantage to not have your father around—for any boy across any background, any race and any class. There have been so many studies into this, particularly in America—in fact, they are the leading lights on fatherlessness and its impact. We need to be doing more to research the impact of fatherlessness on our nation, particularly on our boys, because boys are at a greater disadvantage in every area—and not just education, but mental health, alcohol, drugs and offending. There is that common thread of fatherlessness, as you said, and we do not like to admit it, but it is there.
Chair: Can we answer as quickly as possible, because there are a lot of questions?
Tom Hunt: There are quite a few questions from members of the Committee, so is it okay if I move on? I want to quickly bring in Kim and then Christian.
Q313 Kim Johnson: My question is to Sonia. I wanted to pick up the issue about fatherlessness. I know that statistics say that most fatherless families in this country tend to be black families. We are having this big debate about being white, working class and left behind. Clearly, if you are talking about fatherlessness and educational attainment, there has got to be some correlation between that and black children as well. I have to say, as one of the few black MPs on the Committee, I find the whole debate about critical race theory and undermining the impact of race on black people in this country a bit concerning. If you could answer that question, Sonia, that would be great.
Sonia Shaljean: As I was saying, in my area, coastal Essex, 89% of our service users are from white backgrounds and 11% are from non-white backgrounds. However, I think that if I ran Lads Need Dads in London, it would be a very different matter, as you say. So I do think it is relatable to the area where you live as well, regarding ethnic breakdown, obviously. Regarding fatherlessness across the board, it impacts anyone from any background. I know in London, if there are more black, Afro-Caribbean single-parent families, that is representative of how many live there. It may not be if we take it across the board in the whole of the UK. However, it is a factor in how boys learn. They have a lack of motivation, a lack of purpose, a lack of self-belief. We get boys come to us who even question whether they can climb a wall or a tree, or ride a bike—very simple things like that.
Chair: In a nutshell, can I ask everyone to be more concise, please? Thank you.
Tom Hunt: Christian?
Q314 Christian Wakeford: Thanks, Tom. What could the Government do to encourage disadvantaged white families to take full advantage of the services and opportunities available to them to support their children’s outlooks?
Louisa Reeves: I think we need to make services more accessible for all families. One of the things that we have found when we have done some co-production work looking at challenging this lack of talk that goes on with young families is that parents that we have worked with in areas of disadvantage have told us that they feel quite criticised quite often by services that they are accessing. We need to make sure that they are much more open and that they are physically accessible, so you do not have to travel on several buses to get to a community clinic or a community centre. We need to help parents feel less judged about their parenting. Quite often, parents in the communities we serve feel that they are being criticised by the way that advice and support is presented. I think it is all about communication.
Christian Wakeford: Javed?
Dr Khan: We have to recognise that, historically, the families in communities we are talking about have been labelled “hard to reach”. I hate that phrase. We need to turn it on its head and, rather than place the responsibility on the families or the individuals, we need to work harder as a consortium of service providers to reach in and connect with those communities where they are. The barriers they face include things like poor transport, high cost of transport, income poverty, digital poverty, lack of information, low literacy and learning difficulties. Just a few weeks ago I was helping someone fill in a universal credit application, and the process is a minefield. I found it really difficult. Imagine what unsupported people are having to go through, and the stigma, shame and embarrassment they have to face alongside anxiety and mental health issues.
What we need is universal services and targeted reach into communities. These are families who will not necessarily come to a service because they will not think it is for them necessarily—or they will not even know it is there. We need to go where they are and employ local people from their local streets: people whom they trust and can help us build relationships and reach into communities in ways that we have not done enough.
Christian Wakeford: I have Merle and Claire, and then a separate question for Sonia, if that is okay, Chair.
Merle Davies: Carrying on from that, one of the issues for our families is that they are suspicious of professionals. Recent reports have shown that families turn to their peers and their families for information. We have built up a service called community connectors, which is local people who we train—just as you were talking about, Javed—as part of our effort to get people into the workforce. We have local people who are recognised by their own community as people they trust, and we get them to help those people access services. We have very recently been doing deliveries of resource bags for one-year-olds, toddlers and ready-to-school. The resources are irrelevant, really; what it has done is given contact with parents and connectors, and those connectors are able to have the conversations about what those families need and connect them into services. They can also get them provisions like the free vitamins and health vouchers that they are not getting. They believe and listen to their own peers and people from their community, and that is what helps us get them into services.
Chair: David Simmonds has a question, and then I want Javed to answer Jonathan Gullis’s question about white privilege. I will come in after that.
Q315 David Simmonds: Thanks, Chair. A lot of our panellists have mentioned resource, and Merle in particular talked about reduction in funding. Could you clarify the point that, although there has been a significant reduction in the revenue support grant that is funnelled into some areas, that has largely been backfilled by a combination of business rates retention and other figures? Can you give us an indication of not just what has been removed from one section of the budget but what has arrived in addition, through things like the troubled families programme, which might have been helpful, so that we have a more accurate picture than just mentioning the bit that has been lost without the bit added back in?
Merle Davies: In fairness, you are absolutely right: we have had troubled families, and the troubled families grant has been really important for Blackpool. We have done a lot of work with troubled families. I can send you the figures later, but what we do know is that we have had significantly less money come in. Certainly in terms of covid, the money we have had to backfill some of the things the council have had to do is less than we have had to spend, so it has had an impact on parenting and services, and especially on the services we can offer at the universal level. I can get those figures for you.
Chair: Thank you. David, are you okay?
Q316 David Simmonds: I would like to ask this to Merle, who has huge experience of Blackpool. A number of people have mentioned London, where my constituency is, and I think it is important to clarify, if you can, Merle, that the funding position, where we have seen this shift, recognises that many parts of the country never had the additional funding that Blackpool and other places enjoyed. So it is not the case that they have been relatively well treated because they have had fewer cuts; they just never had any additional money to begin with, so their starting point was significantly lower than the parts of the country you are referring to.
Merle Davies: I think Blackpool’s funding has always been extremely low. As I said, we are one of the poorest towns and, when we look at it per head, it is still one of the lowest. I can get those figures.
Q317 Chair: Javed, I would like to come back on Jonathan Gullis’s question, but could you answer his specific question on white privilege and so on, please?
Dr Khan: Many points were raised by Jonathan, but I will try my best. I think it was a question about the Charity Commission. Yes, we have engaged with the Charity Commission, and our trustees are absolutely clear that the charity has behaved within its objectives—what we stand for—of supporting vulnerable children in terms of helping families understand the issue of “white privilege.”
The blog that we published was, by and large, taken out of context in social media posts by some notable activists, which led to an outpouring of racist abuse, including aimed at me personally, for whatever reason. Given that Barnardo’s is a charity that has been around for 155 years and supports hundreds and thousands of vulnerable children, 80% of whom are white, underprivileged, disadvantaged children, that did seem very unfair. All we were doing was responding to an issue of the day, as we do on a range of other issues related to family, disadvantage and poverty. We were trying to help families understand the thing that they keep hearing about on television, which is white privilege, and how they can help their children understand what it is all about.
To be clear about “white privilege” means for us, I said earlier that I don’t like the phrase. Until somebody comes up with a better one, I would love to hear if you have ideas on that. What it means for us is simply that lots of children and adults are disadvantaged, poverty stricken and all kinds of stuff, as you know.
If you happen to be non-white, there is one additional disadvantage that you face. All the data show that you can be disadvantaged additionally simply because of the colour of your skin. That can show itself in a range of ways throughout your life. That is what we were talking about. I would like to think that we live in a country where we will embrace that kind of debate and discussion and not shy away from them.
Chair: Have you finished, Jon?
Q318 Jonathan Gullis: I want to say something quickly, Chair. I don’t think we’re shying away from it. I’m keen to have that debate and discussion. As I said, Javed, I fully accept there are challenges faced in the BAME community that will not be faced in the white community. I think disadvantage exists across the board and those challenges are largely geographical and about access to opportunity.
My big concern is that, by even explaining it, we are pushing what I would see as critical race theory, which I believe is a political ideology and activism, and which I fear is going to create, as Sonia referred to, the idea that somehow, if you are white, you automatically have inbuilt racism, which I don’t think is necessarily fair. Like you, I do believe we are in a very equal and fair society overall. I believe this is a debate and discussion we should have, and I am more than happy to have that with you in future.
Tom Hunt: Obviously, it’s disgusting that you have experienced racist comments following this discussion. Like Jonathan, I’m aware of the fact that of course, unfortunately, we still live in a society where racism exists. It appals me that young kids in my constituency will face race barriers. I just think that, when you have a charity such as Barnardo’s that should be focused on helping the most needy, as you do, and bringing people together, I would be cautious about trying to engage in what are controversial, divisive political debates. This has proved to be one. That’s all I’d say on that.
Chair: Javed, would you respond to that briefly?
Dr Khan: I understand the concerns. Everybody lives and learns. We were simply responding to an issue of the day, as we have done on many other issues. I would also put on record that we don’t subscribe to any political ideology. We are a charity and that’s not our purpose. Whether it is woke or critical race theory, that’s not what we do.
Q319 Chair: I understand that. Could I just make a point, Javed? I come from a Jewish background, so I understand antisemitism and racism. I have experienced it myself and I’m sorry that this happened to you.
There is absolutely a problem with racism; there is no doubt in my mind about that. But I do think you made a grave mistake in doing this in the way you did. It was more than a blog. It says blog but it is clearly, “White privilege—a guide for parents.” The reason I object to it is that many of my constituents are white working class. Some of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds, live in accommodation that is not as good as it should be—to put it politely—and struggle in their everyday lives. They read on your website: “What does everyday white privilege look like?…you wake up in the morning, in a house you are more likely to own, where you’re more likely to have enough space for everyone you live with. You start getting ready for a day of work…where you’ll be paid on average 23.1% more than Black workers…You’ll feel safer at home in your local area”.
I just think that is not acceptable, because you are ignoring the fact that the people reading that will think that you are saying that they have white privilege. They don’t read critical race theory but they do read the words “white privilege”. It is a huge mistake to present it in the way you have done. I think it’s wrong and I think it’s insulting to disadvantaged white people in my constituency, if you don’t mind me saying. I have respect for you and your organisation. I urge you, when talking about the scourge of racism in the future, not to do it like this, but to do it in a different way.
Dr Khan: I listened to your comments very carefully; you know I have a lot of respect for you. Barnardo’s exists to support the very constituents you are talking about, and that’s what we’ve been doing for decades. We haven’t stopped doing that. This blog doesn’t get in the way of that.
We’re a learning organisation like everybody else; we watch, we learn, we respond, and we will evolve. But there are examples in history where we have brought really controversial issues to the fore in terms of public debate. It was in 1994 that Barnardo’s was talking about child sexual exploitation when that was not a phrase that anybody accepted. It was only very recently that, in legislation, children who are being exploited by grooming gangs have stopped being called child prostitutes.
These are big debates that we need to have as country, but we are learning from experience. Our intention was not be political, not to be woke, not to adopt any kind of political ideology from anywhere else, but simply to help parents as best we thought we could.
Chair: As I say, I think disadvantaged white working-class parents in my constituency will understand the difference between a child prostitute, God forbid, and being called “white privileged” when they struggle in their daily lives. That seemed to be the implication of the way in which you wrote your pamphlet, and how parents understand it. We are going to move on to Fleur now. Thank you for being patient, Fleur.
Q320 Fleur Anderson: Thank you, Chair. I would like to move on to an issue that I know is a very important to all of you and has been raised many times in our inquiry up to now—early years provision and the importance of getting it right before children arrive at school, and the gap that already exists.
There are many reports on this, as you will know. For example, the Education Policy Institute did a report before covid showing that there had been gains. There was a closing of that gap 10 years ago and in the early parts of the last decade, but that that gap was now not closing—that was pre-covid. Then, if we were on track, it would take 500 years to close the disadvantage gap for children by the time they leave secondary school and which already exists when they arrive at school.
I will ask you both of these questions at once so that we can go around everyone without me having to come back for another round. I want you to focus on the interventions you think matter most in early years provision. If you were to be writing this report, what would you say are your top recommendations for what works best? That can include health visitors, what we’ve learned from Sure Start centres, what works best in family hubs—all those areas that you are all involved in. What, in your experience, has worked to close that gap, and what would you recommend as interventions for the future, to actually stop the stagnation of closing that gap for early years? Can I go to Claire, first?
Claire Smith: I work exclusively in early years at the moment. One of the big things that struck me working through the TALK Halton project is that it’s been a multi-disciplinary project. I’ve worked with health visitors, early years practitioners and adult learning and education altogether. That coming together with the early years workforce, I think, makes the biggest amount of difference. Looking more strategically at commissioning, to think about how services join together—that has a big impact on families.
I have also done a lot of work with training and support of the early years workforce, which is enormous because they feel like they are very undervalued, and they’re not well paid. So actually raising the profile of the importance of early years and giving them enough money will make it look like this is a very valuable thing. They don’t think that what they do has the same value as schools. They think that they’re seen as second-class citizens in the education world. From my point of view, if you get it right in the early years, you have got it right for life, so actually making sure that early years practitioners are well educated and supported and properly funded, and that they are able to work together with that wider workforce across health, education and social care, is critical.
Sonia Shaljean: For me, it is reading and writing. One of the largest educational underachievements for boys in particular is reading and writing. These key skills are important for all children and impact on educational attainment across all subject areas. Another issue is the ratio of male teachers and support staff in schools. In primary, you have one male teacher to eight females, and across secondary only 24% of the workforce are men, compared with 76% who are females. For boys coming from fatherless homes, where they are not seeing a male role model in the home, they are also going to school and not seeing many male role models there either, so we need a strategy in place to meet that need—not just to acknowledge it, as we do, but to actually do something about it, because this has been happening for decades and decades and we have not really addressed it properly.
Q321 Fleur Anderson: There is some overlap here with a report that this Education Committee did in the past on tackling disadvantage in the early years. Javid, can you say anything about the differences between the outcomes of ethnic minorities and white children in the early years?
Dr Khan: I do not necessarily want to comment on that specifically without the data. However, you asked for examples of what works and what could work best. At Barnardo’s, we are great believers in the value of family hubs. We think that is the way forward, in terms of 0 to 19, but with a significant emphasis on early years and pre-birth. I base that comment on the fact that we currently run 70-plus children’s centres and family hubs, supporting more than 100,000 children and young people in families who by and large are almost all white. We also run a child and family wellbeing service, in partnership with the county of Essex, which has more than 130,000 service users. What we have learned from that is that to be most effective in improving outcomes, we think the family hub approach is the answer, but there are some caveats within that. They need to be universal and non-stigmatising at the point of access, so that anyone can ask for support, including those not known to statutory services.
There should be a hybrid model of physical as well as digital—not just the old-style Sure Start centres and buildings in every community, but services in every community, building on the key learning from covid. They need to be well integrated with other local services, including children’s social care, health, education, the local jobcentre and the police. If a white pupil is underperforming, or if there are other issues in their life, that would help schools to work with other services to identify the potential factors at home and to engage their parents in their education.
The whole-family approach really is important, from pre-birth to 19, including for families with multiple children and young people as well. We have reach-in services—I am moving away from the phrase “outreach”, which I think is outdated—where we commit to working inside communities, not expecting communities to come to us, as I mentioned earlier, built on trust and employing local people. The charity sector has a key and significant role within this, because we can provide that trust that sometimes the statutory services do not have. We are co-designing—a phrase that a colleague used earlier—with communities, so that it is tailored to their needs.
Q322 Fleur Anderson: Thank you. I think we will come back to that when we talk about funding for centres like this as well. Do you have data on the difference that family hubs make?
Dr Khan: Yes, we do. We can send that in.
Q323 Fleur Anderson: That would be very helpful. Thank you very much. Merle?
Merle Davies: Certainly, for Blackpool this is where we are focused. We focus on babies and pregnancy and infants: that very young part—the first part of life—which we think is really important. We also have a partnership with all the statutory organisations, the community and the voluntary sector, looking at what we need to do, jointly, to make a difference. That has meant that we work with the four cornerstones. We work with the community. We actually talk to the community. Everything that we do around these services is co-produced with them. The commissioning is now done with the community, so that we actually ask service users what they want from service. That has been shown in our health visiting service, which we completely redesigned with health visitors and community members to look at what was needed—that is why we now have eight mandated visits. We also use evidence-based programmes, but we do not just take them off the shelf; we actually work on them with the community to find out what will work with our own community members.
It is actually about working with people, and getting the services that we need for them. We have Community Connect, which I talked about, and the early years park rangers. All our services have a focus on those early years, to see how we can direct training and support to them. We also have a trauma-informed approach across the whole town, as I mentioned earlier, where we work with all services to work very differently, because we know that the community has a range of stressors that we need to try to reduce for them. All our services are trained in trauma-informed approaches, as well as in our community. We have community members working with other community members to talk about child development, building a brain, and serve and return activities. We use the community to do a lot of training and work in our communities as well as with professionals.
Q324 Fleur Anderson: Are you able to see in Blackpool the difference that you can make and the closing of that disadvantage gap? Is that how you measure it or are there better ways?
Merle Davies: We are starting to measure. At the moment, one of the things that we are looking at is how we change services to use systems that we know will work and make long-term change. This is embedded long-term multi-generational disadvantage—it is not a quick turnaround—but we are seeing some differences. In some of the work that we have done on dental caries, which we could do quite quickly, we have made a 25% reduction just by introducing a lot of work around toothbrushing in early years settings. We are seeing some closing in the early child development gap at five years old when they go into primary school. We are hearing parents talk about early child development in a way that they did not before. We are hearing them understand the difference that their talking makes. We do an awful lot of work with dads, getting them to do their reading every day, and they now understand that it makes a difference to the child. We are seeing small things that we hope will build up to make a long-term impact in children’s development in Blackpool.
Fleur Anderson: Thank you. Louisa?
Louisa Reeves: That partnership approach between statutory, charity and family is great. I would say that the focus needs to be on language and communication. We knew before covid that in some areas of the country more than half of children start school way behind where they should be with their language. If you do not have age-appropriate language skills, you cannot learn to read and write; you cannot get off first base. In early years, there is a focus on communication and language—we know that that is really important. We need to skill up the workforce in early years, particularly on what is typical in terms of language development, to raise the aspiration in communities on where children should be. We also have evidence of I CAN’s own targeted interventions, which really help children to catch up both in the early years and through school.
Q325 Fleur Anderson: Would anyone like to comment on the early years pupil premium, for example, and whether you would recommend any changes to that to better support disadvantaged young children before they reach school?
Merle Davies: To repeat what I said earlier, we could have some additional ring-fenced funding for three-year-olds to help them catch up, especially this year, because we know that a huge amount of work will need to be done with them.
Q326 Fleur Anderson: Javed, how do you fund your family hubs?
Dr Khan: By and large, they are funded through local authorities. There are some very innovative, creative and long-term thinking councillors out there with whom we are working in partnership to co-design the service that I referred to. Funding is such a critical issue. How we are funding our hubs, for example, is the model. We know that the Government are thinking about that at the moment. Fundamentally, it will require multi-year funding commitments from Government. Short-term sticking plaster solutions have been tried and tested, and have failed. The most vulnerable families—white families in the context of today’s inquiry—need long-term sustained support to help them through the major challenges that they face. That can only happen when you put in multi-year funding agreements.
Fleur Anderson: Thank you, Javed. Claire?
Claire Smith: In Halton, we invested in something called the WellComm kit, an intervention and assessment toolkit for looking at children’s speech, language and communication. We bought it for all our early years practitioners in Halton, so that we could get some kind of idea of how many children had speech, language and communication needs.
Our first data collection was 50%, or 40% more than you would expect in any given population of children who would have a communication need. As Louise has pointed out, unless you have adequate communication skills, you cannot learn to read, to manipulate numbers or to do verbal reasoning at school—you do not develop the language skills that you need for school. So half our population have a speech, language and communication need.
One of the advantages of the WellComm toolkit was that it also has an intervention package, so settings, health visitors and practitioners have been able to take some responsibility for sorting out children’s speech, language and communication. What we discovered, Merle, was that our two-year-olds were most at risk at this moment in time—more than the three-year-olds, because the two-year-olds are at that age where they have had the critical early language period, but which they have missed through covid. We need some sort of recovery package for our two-year-olds, because they are very, very at risk of having long-term speech, language and communication needs—about 30% of our two-year-olds have needs, which is incredibly high.
Fleur Anderson: Thank you for that and the support package for two-year-olds. Sorry, we have a lot of questions, Merle, so I will go to Kim.
Q327 Kim Johnson: My question is to Claire. As you know, Claire, the Labour party in the 1970s invested vast amounts of funding into early years—and in particular into the development of Sure Start children’s centres. However, the last 11 years of draconian austerity measures have resulted in the demise of those centres, which brought together all numbers of staff and an integrated approach to support children and their families to improve their life chances. Will you tell us what you think needs to happen now? What do the Government need to do to draw back some of the facilities that were available at that time?
Claire Smith: In Halton, we are very lucky, because we still have some children’s centres. I agree with what Javed said about fully integrated working in communities, and with what Merle said. That is the way forward. It is using, maybe, some of those centres as a hub, as we have been doing, but there needs to be more than expecting families and children to come to those hubs; those hubs need to go out to children and families. We need to think about how we work together. Families have huge numbers of contacts in the early years, but it is easier for them to form relationships with one or two people, rather than lots and lots of different people. If you fully integrate commissioned services, they can manage that better—accessing services—because they have fewer people to deal with. I agree with everything that Merle and Javed said, and I would be really interested, Merle, in hearing more about what is going on in Blackpool.
Fleur Anderson: Thank you, Claire. In my experience, where the hubs are is crucial, as Javed mentioned earlier. We used to talk about being a buggy-push away, not several buses away. We saw that as key.
Claire Smith: Pram-pushing distance.
Fleur Anderson: Yes—that one phrase we keep using. That is really useful. Merle, then I will come to you, Caroline.
Merle Davies: As the person who set up the children’s centres in Blackpool, I absolutely agree. They have been crucial to Blackpool, and we have been fortunate that, like Claire, we kept our children’s centres. We set them up so that, although they were run by the council, when the cuts came, we were able to look at how to fund them differently. We have always been able to keep them. Three have just moved into family hubs, and the others are still our spokes, so we still have those services in Blackpool. They are so important. I think someone said something earlier about universal services. We know if something is universal, and that was the real plus about the children’s centres—everyone went. In fact, a lot of parents from outside the borough tried to go, because the centres were so good, and still are. The services they deliver are excellent. It is having that access to services, which anyone can go in to use, and having those conversations in which people pick up things, just by meeting people in that café, talking to them and so getting access to the services. I absolutely agree: if we can do more to fund children’s centres and family hubs—that universal provision—that would make such a difference.
Fleur Anderson: Caroline, you want to ask a question.
Q328 Dr Johnson: As a paediatrician, I completely agree that early years is crucial. I am really pleased that the Government have kept the early years provision open through the pandemic as a result. I note you mentioned the issue of male role models, and I wondered whether you saw a difference in the proportion of male teachers in areas where children are making more progress. Are there more male teachers in private schools, for example? What evidence do you have that a more gender-balanced workforce with young children in schools is beneficial for children’s progress? If it is beneficial, how can we attract more men to work in primary schools in particular?
Sonia Shaljean: Who is that aimed at?
Dr Johnson: Sonia.
Sonia Shaljean: Going back to reading, they are fundamental to everything that we do, and fathers serve as important reading models, especially for boys. If the only people that boys see reading are mothers or female schoolteachers, they might think that that is not something they are required to do or is as important as for girls, so we need more males modelling that, particularly fathers. Obviously, if the father is not there, we need males to take that role in some form. Sorry, remind me what your question was.
Q329 Dr Johnson: Is there evidence that having more men in primary schools makes a difference to outcomes for children?
Sonia Shaljean: We need more research. We need to go back to the fact that males need males to identify with. Boys need to be around males as much as they are with females. There has been research looking at why there are not enough men in the workforce, and it is because of the pay. If they are still the main breadwinner in a family, maybe we need to make the salaries a bit more attractive for men to go into that workforce. We need to have more input in raising the profile of teaching and drawing more men in, as we do when we try to increase the workforce for women to join the police and the fire service. We do not have the same impetus to advertise and to have campaigning for more men to enter education as we do to equal out in other areas where females are under-represented. As I referred to before, only 24% of men are in teaching professions and yet 76% of women are, so the issue is how we can address that, because we would if we were looking at other areas that were overpopulated by men. We would look at why are women being under-represented, so I think we need to do much more work in that field.
Q330 Dr Johnson: I agree with you. Any comments from the other witnesses on that?
Claire Smith: So much depends on the quality of the person delivering the education. Making sure that we have quality educators in the early years is just as important as making sure it is represented by males and females, because that is who the children spend a huge amount of time with. If those people know what they need to know about play and talking and communication in the early years, and they can deliver that at a high quality, that will make a massive difference. It is really hard to get high-quality practitioners into early years because the pay and working conditions are so poor. That needs to be looked at, and we need to celebrate early years achievement, as it is on the continent. They really value their early years workforce, and I don’t think we do in this country in quite the same way.
Fleur Anderson: Jonathan has a question
Q331 Jonathan Gullis: It was just a brief one. We know there is a major issue with particularly low-income families who have the 15 hours entitlement but do not take that up in full. In Stoke it is one of the biggest challenges that we have. Only about half the hours are being taken. Does anyone on the panel have an opinion on why that is?
Fleur Anderson: Slightly broader than that, do disadvantaged white families find it challenging to understand and support their full entitlement to childcare such as the free entitlement to early years, and accessing the family hubs, the health visitors and all those services that you have been talking about? Do you think there is a problem there? It has been mentioned before in this session about understanding. For early years, what do you think can change that? How can they get that understanding? I did not find out about my local children’s centre for about three years, and—oh!—that would’ve changed my life. How can we change that?
Merle Davies: I feel like a broken record at times. It goes back to our community. We know that families go to their friends and their peers for information, so we need an informed, peer-led workforce in those communities. We know that with our grants, as I said earlier, families are sceptical. They are not sure about what it means. They want somebody to talk it through and find out what they can get. When our connectors are talking with families, that is when they start to help them to understand what support is available and to access that support. It is about having someone that bridges that gap between communities and the professionals offering the services, that trusted friend they can use and go to.
Q332 Fleur Anderson: Does anyone else want to come in on that?
Dr Khan: On the theme of broken records, it is not surprising that this is what you are seeing after so many years of austerity, when children’s services funding has been decimated and non-statutory local services have disappeared. Support for those already at crisis point has been limited, so it is no surprise at all.
The answer has to be, as Merle was saying, a co-production. Charities have often plugged the gap in the past, where the local councils just have not had the money. That is becoming much more difficult now, because our resources are depleted now. In a post-covid world we are likely to face a perfect storm of increased demand and lack of resources, because all the billions and trillions that have been spent will have to be paid back over a long period of time. The only answer to that is interdependent strategic partnerships between the statutory providers, the charities on the ground and the communities that we exist to serve. All that must be brought together in a way that is co-produced, so it is not done to people but done with them.
Fleur Anderson: Thank you.
Chair: Thanks, Fleur. I will bring in Jonathan Gullis, who will chair the last session.
Q333 Jonathan Gullis: Thank you, Chair. The first questioning perfectly opens up what we are looking at last, namely, holistic services and early intervention. I spent eight-and-a-half years as a secondary schoolteacher. One big issue, as you said, was that we deal with kids who are struggling at the crisis point, rather than trying to pick it up earlier.
One of my biggest issues is exclusions. Alternative provision is really lacking in this country. I don’t think there is a proper national strategy there. I always refer to Solihull Academy. I would need to look at the data to see how successful they are, but there you had 13 secondary school heads coming together to develop an alternative provision school to give that targeted support to students with poor attendance or who were at risk of potentially being excluded, to ensure they were not.
Javed, I will come to you first, because I know Barnardo’s has done a lot on early intervention for a long time. I would love to hear what you have found to be successful in that and what best practice you see in other parts of the country.
Dr Khan: Earlier, I spoke about family hubs. That was a great success. We have seen an enormous impact from that. We will send in the data to the Committee on the specifics on that.
You mentioned school exclusions. As a former director of education, I ran an education service in a London borough that was also facing enormous challenges around school exclusions. When I started there, we were the second-worst of 32 London boroughs. Within two years we had become the second-best. We did that, as you just touched on, through a collegiate approach through the schools and colleges, all realising that they must be interdependent. We committed that no child shall be excluded.
There were instances where individual children needed to find a different place to learn, because of all kinds of practical issues, social mixing with their friends and other issues. But we did not lose them from the system. The recognition was that alternative provision is not the answer, except in the most exceptional cases. That had a dramatic effect.
We also involved the communities and parents in ways that they were previously not involved. We involved community organisations that provided wrap-around support to them. This is a theme of what I have been trying to say to the Committee about wrap-around support for schools, whether early years provision, primary school or secondary schools.
Teachers cannot do this alone. We expect them to be teachers and help kids learn, as well as be social workers, community workers, family liaison workers and, now in a covid world, health workers, too. It simply is not possible. They do not have the time or capacity. Morale is already an issue. We have to think about the wrap-around support that these places of provision need in order to support the children in the way we need to help them.
Jonathan Gullis: I think Javed has hit the nail on the head. It is very much like Hilary Cottam’s “Radical Help”. I am a late convert to this, as I said. If we could get on a wall, write down all the support that children can have and make all these services realise the amount of overlapping that is already going on, we could find much more efficient ways going forward that empower communities. I am wary of time—I appreciate others will come in—but I will quickly let David and Caroline ask their questions, and then we come back. In that way, people can answer three questions, if they wish to.
Q334 David Simmonds: I have a finance-related question as well. I am conscious that we have representatives of both the charitable and voluntary sector and local authorities. I know the charitable sector is charity in its own right, but it is also often a contractor of local authorities, so it is paid to deliver services. I am interested in the panel’s view about how effective the arrangements, as Jonathan just touched on, are for having strategic oversight and ensuring that, at a local level, you have in place all the things you need to support your local community. What do you think about the current mix and patchwork of contracts? Barnardo’s, for example, will run a sexual exploitation project in one local authority area, and it will run an alternative provision project in another local authority area. A local authority will do it in another part. Is that fit for purpose? Do we need to have a greater degree of local oversight, to ensure that children are not falling through the gaps that that risks creating?
Chair: Who would like to come in first? Javed?
Dr Khan: I am happy to. You may have heard me talk a little bit about this before. I think there is a need for a systemic rethink of the whole approach. I say this as a former chief officer in local government; commissioning was one of my responsibilities. The whole system is not sustainable at the moment, not just because of the oversight issues that you have rightly raised, which we have to rethink as well, but specifically because of how local issues are identified, assessed and analysed—the solutions, and then the delivery. At the moment in most places, unfortunately, it is a small group of people who work for the council who do all of that on their own behind closed doors. Where we and others like us get involved is when we receive attenders. Then we use donors’ money to compete against other charities. There is only one winner, and everybody else has wasted their resource.
We have to turn that on its head. We have to develop local strategic partnerships where Barnardo’s and others like us are invited into the camp right from day one—where we help bring all of our national experience of what works and what doesn’t into a local commissioner’s mind, advise them on what works and co-produce the solution. This is working in many places. In Essex County Council, we are doing exactly that in partnership—co-produced solutions. If you go to Newport in south Wales, or to other parts of London or the north-west, you will find examples where Barnardo’s has been able to develop those kinds of co-produced solutions, where we are investing our own resources from our fundraising alongside the resources of the council and other partners. It can be done in a very different way, in terms of the way you set it up. It helps respond to your challenge, David, about local oversight. It is not simply the council that has that responsibility, but it recognises that to do this well, it has to be an interdependent coming together of all those who have a stake.
Jonathan Gullis: Caroline, do you want to quickly come in and ask your question? I want to make sure we get it on the record.
Q335 Dr Johnson: I wanted to ask about how we target white disadvantaged children in rural areas. I represent a very rural constituency where instead of having, as you may have in cities and towns, clusters of areas of disadvantage, disadvantaged children can be spread out quite widely. How do you meet the challenge of identifying and targeting those children, so that they get the support that they need as well?
Jonathan Gullis: Is there anyone in particular who would like to come in on that?
Sonia Shaljean: I hear that, and I do believe that we need some kind of flagging system in all schools across the country. We at Lads Need Dads are working on a research project at the moment across a number of primary and secondary schools. We are sending out surveys to teachers to explore their perceptions of teaching boys in particular and fatherlessness, and whether that has an impact on disruptive behaviour, underachievement, attendance and exclusion in schools.
So far we have received a thousand surveys back. Wouldn’t it be sensible to have a flagging system in every school at transition from year 6 to year 7, which identified boys without fathers as having an additional need, and if we could know that boys without fathers are at higher risk of underachieving, exclusion and disruptive behaviour? In that way, teaching staff and heads of year would be aware that, say, Billy, who has no father, had fallen behind others in his behaviour at primary school and was underachieving. He could then be given extra support and wrap-around care early, so that we are not looking at him being excluded in year 9 or 10, and all the problems that follow from boys being excluded, when they are then more at risk in their communities of potentially going into crime and joining gangs. We could fix this with a simple flagging system across every single school in the country, and then measure the findings. We could then explore whether exclusions were going down because we were identifying those at-risk children. We cannot get away from the fact that boys without fathers are at more increased risk than any other group.
Jonathan Gullis: Before I go to Tom, Fleur I saw that you wanted to come in on that specific question.
Q336 Fleur Anderson: Thank you. On that point, at the moment we have the system of SATS and school reports, which are sent on at transition. But you are saying that that is not enough for the flagging system, and that there is something missing?
Sonia Shaljean: It is the identification of boys without fathers, if we know that they are at a higher risk.
Fleur Anderson: Okay. Thank you.
Jonathan Gullis: And Javed, I just saw your hand go up.
Dr Khan: I completely agree with Sonia, but I think it is more than an absent fathers issue. The evidence that I have seen over the years in my various roles is that primary schools are reluctant to share some of the issues with the secondary school, and with good intentions. I don’t blame the teachers or headteachers; they don’t want the child to carry the stigma into their secondary school. They want them to be given a fresh start and so on, but that good intention is flawed. When things go wrong, the secondary school will always say, “If only we’d known, we could have done more.”
Q337 Jonathan Gullis: Javed, you have just quoted me; I was a head of year for four and half years, and I would say “Why didn’t I know this in advance.” I think you make a fair point; it is about how that data would be transferable without labels being attached to those individual kids. That is really challenging, because we are all human and if we see something that is negative, we easily fall into the trap of thinking, “Oh dear. This is going to be a difficult one.” Louisa, first, and then I will come to Tom.
Louisa Reeves: I will touch briefly on all those issues. I think identification is key. We know that two thirds of children who are at risk of exclusion have unidentified language needs. If we looking at flagging up needs, particularly on transition, language needs to be part of that. In terms of the rural communities question, we did a project last year in the Fenlands, and a lot of the key to the success of that was, again, about using the local community. We based a lot of our work in rural areas, so that people did not have to come very far. We used people who were known to families and known to the local workforce. It is all about those trusted relationships, wherever you are; obviously there is a challenge in rural communities because there is further to travel. I think there is something about the thoughtful use of online resources to support that work, but we need to be aware of digital issues.
In terms of commissioning and joining up services, I echo all that Javed has said, but in terms of language and communication joint commissioning is absolutely key. We need to join up the commissioning in education with that in health, so that we can have universal, targeted and specialist support services.
Chair: Jonathan, just before you bring in Tom, Tom, is your question on this section, or is a general one?
Tom Hunt: I think it is an important one, but to be honest with you, it is difficult to really slot in.
Chair: I will ask my question on this part, if that is okay, and then I will bring you in. Are you finished, Jonathan?
Jonathan Gullis: Just to say that I think some really good points have been made about early intervention, and I certainly believe that that is where we have lacked in terms of proper policy ideas going forward. It is a bit of a local authority postcode lottery draw in terms of the success of that and we need a national overview and strategy. I am happy to work with all of you on that because it is an area that I am passionate about.
Chair: I have just seen that Kim wants to ask a question.
Q338 Kim Johnson: Thanks, Rob. My question is about how we get around developing these services after 11 years of draconian austerity measures. In Liverpool, we have lost 63% of our funding and a lot of our voluntary and community organisations that would have been involved in this type of work have died a death. What do we need to do to develop these services going forward?
Chair: Who would like to answer that one? Merle?
Merle Davies: I suppose in Blackpool we have very few national charities. We have the NSPCC, which is a lead organisation for A Better Start, and the Salvation Army. We do not have big charities; we have very small local charities.
We have to do a lot of work, as I said earlier, on working with our communities. We are doing a big piece of work to try to bring all our communities together to look at what voluntary support can be in there. The national lottery put a lot of funding into our community groups. We were talking earlier about our football community trust, which is working with schools at the moment, really getting in there and working with some of our pupils with real issues and finding out more about them. It is about how we work at a community level.
One of the things we have lost is community development. My background is in community development. We do not grow community development workers any more. We could start to get those community development workers back into our towns to work with our communities and create the community activism that will support other communities and develop them. The national charities are fantastic. The ones we bring in support us, but we need to do more with local communities to get them more engaged as well.
Q339 Chair: Before I bring in Tom, specifically on this early intervention, in the previous Committee before the 2019 election, I went to Manchester and saw that they actively look at data from every family of every child that is born and look at troubled families. They then visit those families on a regular basis almost from day one and identify those families most in need.
One of the witnesses said that everything points back to early invention for all the problems that we are talking about. I forget which one of you said that, but I absolutely have learned that as Chair of the Committee. Do you think that is something that should be brought in across the country? Is it feasible and affordable? Who would like to comment on that—all of you, it looks like.
Merle Davies: It is critical. We are doing a big piece of work at the moment with Oxford and Swansea Universities. We have always looked at data, but what local authorities don’t have is a way of sharing data. It is about how we bring together health, social care, children’s services and school data. I worked in central Government many years ago and we were struggling with it then. We have still not cracked that. As a country, we still do not share data. We share bits of data, but we do not get all the data behind families. Wales has done a big study over 30 years and contacted all the services that families have had and seen how it has impacted them. In England, we can’t do that at the moment. If we can do something there, it would be fantastic.
Sonia Shaljean: If we want to look at an economical way of addressing these issues, we need to invest in volunteer projects such as, for example, Lads Need Dads. We are dominated by our workforce of volunteers—90% of our workforce is volunteers. It is a good, economical model that needs more investment. We have loads of people in the community who are willing to step up and help. We could not do what we do without our volunteers. It has huge impacts on the families we work with. It is an easy, economical model that needs to be invested in.
Q340 Chair: Thank you and thank you to all your volunteers as well. Often it is the volunteers who make an organisation. I get your point completely.
Louisa Reeves: Early intervention is not just in early years. I think we need to bear in mind that you can intervene earlier at any point in a child or young person’s career through school, and it is important to bear that in mind.
Sonia Shaljean: Absolutely, well said.
Claire Smith: We have worked quite closely with Manchester through the early outcomes fund project. One of the things we know is that the sharing of information and data and bringing it all together in one place is incredibly helpful, because you can look at families individually and look at trends and see what you need to do. We also know that every pound that you spend in the early years pays dividends throughout that child’s lifespan. Although it may feel unaffordable in the very early stages, you are saving money later on. If you are supportive of children’s attachments and their bonding and their communication skills and their relationship building in that first 1,001 days, you are preventing difficulties later in life. That needs to be a massive focus. Whether it is affordable or not, over a longer period of time, it will save money, because you won’t see the same level of exclusions in secondary schools and you won’t see the same level of behaviour problems in children, because they will have the skills that they need and the attachments and bonds and relationships in their communities. Part of that is engaging families in services at a very early stage.
Dr Khan: Claire has hit the nail on the head. If ever there was a case for invest to save, this is it. Investing in the pre-birth and the first 1,000 days results in many, many savings for us all later on. The problem is—I understand the predicament of the politicians—that the investment will come from the Department for Education, for example, or Health and Social Care, whereas the savings are for Justice or the DWP or others like that. How do you make that equation balance? That is the challenge.
Q342 Tom Hunt: This inquiry is mainly about white kids from underprivileged backgrounds and why the data seems to show that they are underperforming academically compared with their peers. There is this issue of geography, which Javed touched on earlier, which is if these pupils are disproportionately represented in coastal communities or isolated communities, maybe that is the real reason why they are underperforming, not some other reason that may be more cultural.
I guess the only way we can really know this is to look at one area, say the north-east of England, and just do a big study in that one area, where the geography is the same, and see whether there is still that disconnect and disparity in terms of academic performance. Only then, when everything else is equal, will we know if there is something very specific driving this disconnect.
Secondly, on the FE White Paper, which I know the Chair has welcomed and I think is very good as well, we have seen today some more evidence on white kids from underprivileged backgrounds being less likely to get into university than any other group. To what extent is addressing that all about university, or is the solution better technical education? Is that why this FE skills report is so welcome?
Dr Khan: I wouldn’t necessarily go down the route of trying to have a competition about whether it is getting to university or getting to a further education college or practical jobs or professional jobs. I think the issue is about how we assess the data. As you say, rightly, we have to know more about what we are talking about. Sweeping generalisations are dangerous generally but very dangerous on this agenda.
What we need to do is find ways to instil hope back into the lives of those that have lost it. Whether it is geographical, cultural or racial—any way that you want to look at it—hope seems to have disappeared in the most impoverished communities in this country. Long-term underinvestment has led to poor services for poor people. That is quite a damning indictment for the sixth largest economy in the world. This is undermining the outcomes for white pupils. The evidence is there in GCSE results. They are not the worst performing—there are some other groups—but in terms of volume or mass, they are the biggest group that needs to be looked at. This poverty of hope needs to be addressed.
Q343 Tom Hunt: Could anyone else pick up on this point? It has come up in a few other panels. We have identified through the data that there is this one group that is academically underperforming compared with other groups with a very similar socioeconomic status, and then geography is brought into it. We will only really know if everything else is equal whether it is something specific to do with white kids from underprivileged backgrounds, to do with culture or whatever. It is going to be difficult to get to this answer. I don’t know if those studies already exist. I think they probably ought to if they don’t.
Sonia Shaljean: I would really like a study to be done on fatherlessness across the whole country, and to look at pockets of disadvantage, Tom, and compare the two. I would put money on there being a big link to all the areas where white working-class boys are underachieving. So, can we action that?
Q344 Tom Hunt: Finally, Javed mentioned that all pupils from lower-income backgrounds do better at school in areas such as London than in, say, the north-east of England, and that white pupils from privileged backgrounds do better in London than they do in the north-east. It would be interesting to look at children from ethnic minority backgrounds and their performance in the north-east of England, because I do not know how they perform compared to others.
Dr Khan: Can I quickly come back on the London example?
Chair: Answer in one sentence, Javed, please.
Dr Khan: That is a really good example, because if you look at London school performance for all communities and all races before the noughties, in the 1990s, they weren’t doing well at all. It started to turn in the mid to late-noughties, and that was because in the early 2000s, the Government of the day invested in London in a very specific way and created the London Challenge. Professor Tim Brighouse led that and managed to persuade Government to intervene in a whole range of ways across the whole of London, and now we see the benefits of that. At the end of the day, it comes down to investment in our schools, and that would apply across the whole country.
Chair: Thank you. David.
Q345 David Simmonds: It is very interesting: I was there at the time and the rise in standards in London was happening in advance of the London Challenge. I think that the London Challenge consolidated it, but I think it was part of a longer-term trend in the capital.
A lot of people are talking about the financial picture. We need to be really clear, because most of these services sit at local government level. Picking an example at random, if we look at Liverpool City Council, their reduction in their settlement funding assessment over this period has been a variance of around £70 million—quite a big reduction. When you put back in their section 31 grant, their Better Care Fund, their New Homes Bonus, Social Care Support Grant and various other things, that turns into an increase of £47 million.
Now, I understand that they would argue that that is less than they would have had if the amount they started with had simply been indexed up by RPI over that period, but there is a risk of bandying about figures that suggest a massive reduction, when the figures we see when we look across England show that early intervention and child protection are the only two areas of local government expenditure that have risen in the last decade.
We need to understand better what is going on here. This isn’t just a picture of cuts; it is a picture of change and turbulence, with a lack of clarity about what is happening. Again, to come back to that point, is there really a system that allows very effective, strategic, local oversight of what we have in place? If we just quote the reduction on the left hand, and, on the right hand, do not mention the things that we have started spending on, are we at risk of creating a very misleading picture? It would mean that the Committee thought we were dealing with one problem, whereas in fact we should be addressing a different challenge about leaving children behind, because we were all worried about the spending, and not focusing on what is more important: whether we are spending the money we have on the right things.
Chair: Yes, and that goes back to the London Challenge. It is not just about the money; it is also how that money is spent, in a nutshell. Who would like to answer that important question? Merle?
I challenge the bit about funding having gone into early intervention. I think it has gone into children’s services at the high end of need, because the need has risen significantly, specifically in Blackpool, which has the highest number of children in care. The money has gone away from early intervention to fund it; 80% of the council budget is on that high-end need in children’s services. Certainly a lot of funding has gone from those earliest stages of life, where universal services are needed in order to identify need.
We are really fortunate in Blackpool that we have not lost health visitors. We could do with more and more midwives. We have lost funding for early years settings. That funding has gone and has not come back. We have talked about it here; it is so important. Those really early years are the most critical, and if they are not right, nothing will be right in the rest of the child’s life, and we will constantly be firefighting. Unless we put the investment in early, we will constantly have that higher need to pay for. That is why we are trying to transfer funding back to the early years, but we can’t while we are firefighting at that high end of need and having to put that funding there. It is the national lottery that is helping us to support that early intervention and to change the outcomes for children in Blackpool.
Q346 Chair: Any last comment from any of the witnesses?
Dr Khan: I completely support Merle’s view. We have to remember that the thresholds have moved for those who can access services. If you look at CAMHS waiting times—I am sure you have, as a Committee—that is an indicator that something isn’t right in early intervention, and in the ability to prevent problems later down the line. There has been a lot of money swilling around, of course, but DCSs constantly tell me that a lot of the money that they get, even during covid, notionally for children’s services, was unrestricted income in local government budgets. Therefore the local cabinet decided where that money should go. I cannot think of a single example of a DCS telling me that 100% of the money went to children’s services, because it was unrestricted. It either helped them with their overall deficits or went on filling potholes.
Q347 Chair: I would just make the observation that this is a very important discussion, but it does not particularly answer why, excepting the London Challenge, white working-class boys and girls are disadvantaged even more with regard to the money spent on these services.
Sonia Shaljean: I wanted to pick up on what Merle said. When you hear “early intervention”, you think it will be early. As somebody in charge of making funding bids, it really breaks my heart when I see that it is not early intervention, even if it is advertised that way. Lots of funding has gone into working with gangs and county lines, which is always in the news, but for me, that is not early intervention. That means something has gone wrong. When children have actually gone into county lines, we have failed them, so it shouldn’t be called early intervention. That is when the horse has bolted, almost. We need to get the commissioners to understand, when they put out the funding, that early intervention should mean just what it says on the can.
Lads Need Dads is a great example of early intervention in getting boys at that critical adolescent age, when they could go down the wrong path, but we equip and empower them not to. We struggle to get any local authority backing. We have to apply for trust funding for most of our funding income, and get kind donations from the public. Yet it is a proven model that is economical and works. We are preventing these high-risk boys from joining those gangs, which cause such misery to people’s lives, and to our pocket as a country.
Q348 Chair: I do find that it is true. Often groups like yours, who are doing good work and have the data to prove it, find it the hardest to get Government funding, and that is an ongoing problem—especially when you are making a difference to the kind of communities that we are talking about in this inquiry. You are only on the other side of Essex from me, so once all the lockdown has been lifted, I would be very pleased to come and visit.
Sonia Shaljean: I would love you to.
Chair: Other Committee members may want to as well. I have been to Blackpool to see schools and colleges in the past, and would be very happy to go again at some point.
I thank all the witnesses very much indeed for a really important discussion—a tough one sometimes, Javed, but you respect the debate. It is important that we debate these issues and, if we have disagreements, do not sweep them under the carpet, but honestly discuss them. That is what I want our Committee to be about, no matter our political parties. Every good wish to you all. Thank you for the work you do, and to all your staff and volunteers. It is much valued by us all on the Committee.