Minister welcomed but warned by early years sector

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The new children and families minister Kemi Badenoch takes up her position amid calls from the sector to prioritise the crisis in early years funding.

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Kemi Badenoch is the new children and families minister appointed by Boris Johnson

  • Sector calls on new minister to address funding shortfalls
  • Badenoch to report to new Education Secretary in Boris Johnson’s first Cabinet

The MP for Saffron Walden, who was elected two years ago, has replaced Nadhim Zahawi, who has been moved to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in Boris Johnson’s first Cabinet.

Ms Badenoch takes on responsibility for the inspection and regulation of early years and childcare policy and the delivery of 30-hour childcare, as well as special educational needs and children’s social care (see below).

In a message to the early years sector, Ms Badenoch told Nursery World, 'As a parent with a child at nursery, I know the early years sector is filled with passionate and committed individuals. I look forward to listening to experts and people working on the front line to give children a firm foundation for the future.

'It is a privilege to be appointed to such a rewarding role – ensuring children across the country are given the best start in life and families feel supported by the Government, whether it is through our early education and childcare offers or supporting children’s early learning at home.'

Gavin Williamson, a former defence secretary, has replaced Damian Hinds as Education Secretary in the new Prime Minister’s reshuffle. He was educated at a comprehensive in Yorkshire and studied at Bradford University.

The Prime Minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, has become universities minister in the DfE, as well as a minister in BEIS. He will also attend Cabinet. Nick Gibb has been reappointed as schools minister.

Ms Badenoch will support Mr Williamson with the skills brief, which he will lead on.

A DfE spokesperson said, ‘All ministerial appointments have now been made and the Education Secretary will be leading on the skills brief, with support from the new children’s minister Kemi Badenoch.

‘As the Prime Minister has said, further education and skills will be a priority for this government – and the Education Secretary taking the lead for this vital work is a reflection of that commitment.’

Profile

Considered a rising star in the Conservative Party, Ms Badenoch was vice-chair of the Conservatives from January 2018 until June this year, and until last month sat on the Justice Select Committee.

The 39-year-old MP was born in Wimbledon but grew up in Nigeria and the United States.

In her maiden speech in the House of Commons in 2017, she said, ‘Growing up in Nigeria I saw real poverty—I experienced it, including living without electricity and doing my homework by candlelight, because the state electricity board could not provide power.’

She returned to England as a 16-year-old to study at an FE college in south London. In an interview with The Independent in 2017 she said of her time at college, ‘Most of the students were from ethnic minorities and the expectations for us were low. The poverty of low expectations must change. Schools and teachers matter.’

She became an apprentice engineer and studied engineering at Sussex University. This was followed by a part-time law degree at Birkbeck College, and a job at Coutts bank as a systems analyst for nine years.

She was digital director at The Spectator before joining the London Assembly as the Conservatives’ economic and policing spokesman at the end of Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor of London.

Ms Badenoch’s personal website lists her areas of interest as engineering and technology, social mobility and integration. She provides regular mentoring to women who wish to pursue careers in technology.

She is a staunch supporter of Brexit, describing ‘the vote for Brexit [as] the greatest-ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom’.

Minister’s brief

Her responsibilities are:

  • children’s social care, including child protection, children in care, adoption, care-leavers, social work, local authority performance and family law
  • special educational needs, including high-needs funding
  • education policy in response to the race disparity audit
  • safeguarding in schools
  • disadvantaged pupils – including Pupil Premium and Pupil Premium Plus
  • school sport, healthy pupils and school food, including free school meals
  • early years policy including inspection, regulation and literacy and numeracy
  • childcare policy, inspection and regulation
  • delivery of the 30-hours offer
  • social mobility including Opportunity Areas
  • DfE contribution to tackle rough sleeping.

The minister’s in-tray

We hope that @KemiBadenoch will value high-quality research-informed professional development in early childhood education and care. That, together with fair funding, underpins high-quality practice.

@ey_TACTYC

Really hope that investment in children and young people with #SEND will be a priority. We’d love to talk to you about bringing about positive, creative change.

@SEND_Action

Welcome. Work with us and we can help you understand the complexities of the sector quickly. Early education supports early intervention, economic and social benefits and society infrastructure as well as contributing £3bn to GDP.

@JuneOSullivan

Welcome to your new role in #DfE. The whole sector hopes you have a great understanding of early years, the benefits it has to our society and the role of the professionals working in this very important area of education.

Ken McArthur, @PollysNursery

We have lost over a third of registered childminders in England since 2012, and staff turnover is increasing in nurseries. Urgent action is needed from Government to ensure that dedicated and talented practitioners continue to join and remain in the sector in the future, and that providers can balance their books.

Susanna Kalitowski, policy manager, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY)

It’s hugely disappointing to have lost the fifth minister for childcare in almost as many years. Kemi Badenoch inherits a brief overseeing a sector in crisis: there is now a £662m funding shortfall and thousands of providers have closed with many more continuing to struggle on. The challenges facing the sector are significant but are not insurmountable and they require urgent action.

Families value the high-quality, dedicated workforce and we look forward to working with the new minister to ensure children across the country have the best start in life.

Neil Leitch, chief executive, Early Years Alliance

As an MP, she has previously raised the issue of school funding in Parliament and the Government have identified this as a priority. It can’t just be about funding for schools so we now hope that as minister responsible for early years and childcare she will urgently look at funding rates for nurseries and early years providers.

Support for children with SEND also requires urgent attention to ensure local authorities can provide nurseries and early years providers with the resources to meet individual children’s needs.

We stand ready to work with the new minister around all the challenges that the sector are facing. One immediate change could be to move to calling the hours ‘funded’ rather than ‘free’, which raises unrealistic expectations.

We also believe that giving nurseries in England 100 per cent relief from unfair business rates, as we have seen in Scotland and Wales, will help settings remain sustainable. We hope that Mrs Badenoch will support the private, voluntary and independent sector to thrive.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive, NDNA

Kemi Badenoch: in her own words

‘Schools are performing so much better than before, but I must recognise concerns raised by my local head teachers and parents about available funding, as schools are having to meet costs that they never did before.’

School Funding, House of Commons debate, April 2019

In a video unearthed last year, she admitted, ‘I hacked into a Labour MP’s website and I changed stuff in there to say nice things about Tories.’ She later told The Mail on Sunday, ‘This was a foolish prank over a decade ago, for which I apologise.’

On the ‘naughtiest’ thing she’s done

‘From my first job at McDonald’s aged 16 to my previous one as a member of the London Assembly, my diverse career and background has demonstrated my ability to connect with voters on a broad range of issues. I’ve been a secretary, maths tutor and shop assistant, also taking on an engineering apprenticeship before studying engineering at Sussex University. I was once the only woman on a building site with 300 men!’

Saffron Walden Conservative website

‘I’m humbled to have been appointed a junior minister at the DfE. A huge privilege to be able to serve and make a positive difference on a number of issues close to my heart. I look forward to working with the ministerial team and everyone @educationgovuk. I also look forward to working not just with @Conservatives colleagues but cross-party.’

@KemiBadenoch, 29 July 2019

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