The announcement was made at this afternoon’s meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nursery Schools and Nursery Classes.
The former immigration minister Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, will also take on the brief as minister for vulnerable children and families. The position was previously held by Edward Timpson, who lost his seat in the general election.
Mr Goodwill’s portfolio will cover children's social care, early years policy (including inspection and regulation), delivery of the 30 hours offer, social mobility, the pupil premium and safeguarding in schools.
The expansion of the ministerial remit means that there is no direct replacement for the post previously held by Caroline Dinenage, whose official job title was parliamentary under-secretary of state for women, equalities and early years.
On Twitter the chief executive of Early Education Beatrice Merrick said, ‘Great to have confirmation that Robert Goodwill MP taking on EY brief. @APPG_Nursery and @earlyed_uk look forward to working with him.’
Early years sector organisations welcomed the news, but voiced concerns about the expanded ministerial role.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, 'PACEY is looking forward to working with Robert Goodwill not only to ensure sustainability issues around the delivery of funded early education are urgently addressed but also that the previous Government’s commitment to a workforce development strategy for early years is fulfilled.
'Given he will have a much wider Ministerial remit than his predecessor, PACEY is keen to ensure early years continues to receive the focus and priority it deserves. The early years are critical to ensuring children, especially the most disadvantaged, receive the best start in life. PACEY is keen to work with Mr Goodwill to overcome the remaining challenges we face as a sector so we can be assured we have the sustainable, high quality childcare and early education that children and families deserve.'
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'We’re pleased that the Government has finally confirmed the appointment of Robert Goodwill MP as the minister with responsibility for early years and childcare, as well as vulnerable children and families. We welcome the opportunity to developing working closely with Mr Goodwill and his team at the Department for Education, and will continue to ensure the concerns of the sector are represented, and that the early years remains a top priority for the new Government.
'With the sector still battling with historic and chronic underfunding, and the rollout of the 30 hours free entitlement offer mere months away, we hope Mr Goodwill will look to quickly address issues surrounding the viability and sustainability of the policy.'
But he added his concern that the new minister would be taking on an expanded remit.
'There’s no doubt that childcare and early years is a challenging and complicated brief, and so the scale of the task facing the new minister should not be underestimated,' Mr Leitch said. 'While we recognise that there is natural cross-over between the respective early years and vulnerable children and families briefs, the fact remains that we now only have one minister looking after these policy areas, where previously there were two. It’s therefore vital that the Department for Education ensures that it is committing the necessary departmental resources to ensure the smooth rollout of early years policy going forward.'
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, ‘We hope Mr Goodwill is up for the challenge as the urgent matter of funding for 30 hours must be a priority.
‘With his constituency in North Yorkshire, which has one of the lowest funding rates in the country and includes early implementer nurseries testing out how they can deliver 30 hours sustainably, he should be aware of the issues which are troubling nurseries and other providers.
‘We can help him in his new role, but he must be prepared to work closely with the sector and listen to what nurseries, children and families need. Unless providers are given the confidence to be able to deliver 30 hours, we have already warned that nurseries will pull out leaving parents without places for their children.
‘We are clear that, unless there is enough investment to pay a fair hourly rate for "free" places, then nurseries must be allowed to make mandatory charges for meals and other extras to be able to balance their books.'
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice, the education union, said, 'The appointment of a minister for this brief was long overdue, given the dates of the general election and other ministerial appointments,' she said.
'We are concerned, however, that Mr Goodwill will also have a range of other responsibilities, and that the size and scope of his role will mean that early years issues will not receive the full attention and priority that they deserve.
'We hope that the decision not to have a dedicated childcare minister is not an indication that the Government is making the early years a lower priority, when, given the funding, recruitment and retention challenges facing this key sector, it should be near the top of the political agenda.'
In a statement after he was appointed a minister at the DfE following the election, Mr Goodwill said, ‘As a constituency MP, I've already spent a lot of time working with families, working with schools. I understand some of the problems, particularly in some of the more deprived areas. Certainly my experiences in Scarborough and Whitby will be very useful for me, particularly as Scarborough's going to be one of the "Opportunity Areas", with more money going in to help with some of the social problems.’