It is the first time that a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has had rural childcare specifically included in their role.
Part of Ms Coffey’s remit includes rural life opportunities, covering rural childcare, education and skills, and health.
Ms Coffey will work with the Department for Education on this responsibility, although the department has yet to confirm which of its new ministers will be responsible for early years.
She was elected as the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal in 2010, and was previously the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive, National Day Nurseries Association said, ‘The specific inclusion of childcare in a DEFRA minister’s brief is a new departure for government. It’s welcome that rural childcare will be prioritised in this way under the rural life chances strand of Thérèse Coffey’s brief and we look forward to working with the minister.’
Where's the minister?
There is growing concern in the sector about the delay of the appointment of an early years minister.
Ms Tanuku added, ‘Childcare is of national strategic importance and it’s vital we have strong leadership from the Department for Education with an announcement on ministerial responsibilities urgently awaited by the early years sector. National roll out of 30 hours free childcare is only just over a year away now and clarity over the funding and delivery arrangements is critical to success of the scheme.’
The Pre-school Learning Alliance has written to the DfE about its concerns about the ongoing delay in the appointment of a minister with responsibility for early years and childcare.
In the letter to the department Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, writes, 'It is not right that early years providers have been left in limbo, with no leadership and no information to allow them to prepare for what is one of the most significant sector-wide changes in recent years.
'I would ask that the Department treats the sector with the respect it deserves and provides an update both on where the ministerial responsibility for early and childcare will lie, and what is happening in regards to early years funding changes – and, by extension, the rollout of the 30-hour offer–as a matter of urgency.'
Early education expert Verity Campbell-Barr tweeted, ‘Therese Coffey takes on rural childcare brief. So we have a rural #childcare minister, but not a childcare minister.’
It is now three weeks since the names of the new ministers in the newly expanded DfE under Education Secretary Justine Greening were announced.
They include new faces Robert Halfon, Caroline Dinenage, and Jo Johnson, alongside Nick Gibb and Edward Timpson.