Other priorities include ensuring that funding follows the child, promoting partnerships with local authorities, committing to long-term support for workforce development, and promoting more personalised services that meet the individual child's needs.
The seminar, which addressed sustainable childcare, was chaired by Barry Sheerman, MP and chair of the DCSF select committee.
In a presentation, Professor Kathy Sylva of Oxford University examined how qualifications matter to quality and quality matters to children. 'EPPE gives very clear indicators of what benefits children,' she said. 'Vocabulary is one of the most important indicators, and practitioners must have the ability to provide a rich and extended language for children.'
Professor Sylva stressed the importance of getting quality right in a recession. 'We must invest in early years because it gives a return. We need to see a raising of status for all staff,' she said.
Max Wind-Cowie, researcher for think-tank Demos, said that Sure Start needed to re-focus on reaching vulnerable families. 'The Government has failed to reach its targets for reducing child poverty, and poor or inflexible childcare equates to child poverty,' he said.
Speaking at the reception, Maria Miller, shadow minister for the family, reiterated the Conservatives' commitment to extending the role of health visitors as a way of supporting families, and emphasised the need for a diverse range of childcare.
'The free entitlement could not be a universal offer without the PVI sector, and therefore attention has to be paid to how providers can be supported to make their places sustainable,' she said.