Sector holds the key to giving scheme a sure start
That was the message from ministers and officials at the Step in to Learning conference in London last week. Step in is a training and development programme, run by a Basic Skills Agency consortium, for staff in the Sure Start programme to help parents teach their children and improve their skills. The programme has already trained 2,000 support staff in 60 centres across the country and over the next three years it is expected to expand rapidly to train staff across 1,700 new nursery centres in disadvantaged areas throughout England.
Addressing the conference, Ivan Lewis, junior minister for skills and vocational education, saw the Sure Start programme as the "ultimate legacy" of the Blair Government - breaking the bonds of social deprivation and educational disadvantage.
He told the Step in workers: "Your work means a win for everyone involved.
Those managing or working in nurseries can improve their vocational skills.
Parents and carers have the opportunity to improve their basic skills, and, of course, the children themselves benefit when they can read and learn alongside their parents."
He hoped the "ultimate legacy of this Government will be in reducing intergenerational deprivation and raising family aspirations" through programmes such as Step in and Sure Start.
For the DfES the Sure Start programme, backed by Step in, is a challenge of joined-up government at central and local level - bringing together adult, nursery and social services staff to support children, parents and communities.
Naomi Eisenstadt, director of the new Sure Start unit in the DfES, said it was wrong to think of it as a school service: the services had to be brought to the parents and families in new settings - GPs' surgeries, creches or neighbourhood nurseries. " We don't want learning-free zones. Mothers should be able to take basic skills tests as easily as they take pregnancy or blood pressure tests. But we have to think a lot more about marketing: we don't want parents to get the idea if they don't do it they go to gaol."
Education Secretary Charles Clarke is enthusiastic about the project, which he calls Labour's "big idea" putting a clear dividing line between them and the Tories. But Barry Brooks, deputy head of the Adult Basic Skills strategy unit at the DfES, said all the "vibes" he had got were that the patronage came from the "very top". "It's a prime ministerial policy," he said, "and you are at the pioneers of a whole new raft of family policies.
It's been a breakthrough. It is very exciting."