This book tells the story of Sure Start, one of the flagship programmes of the last government. It tells how Sure Start was set up, the numerous changes it went through, and how it has changed the landscape of services for all young children in England. Offering insight into the key debates on services for young children, as well as how decisions are made in a highly political context, it will be of keen interest to policy academics, senior managers of public services and all those with a keen interest in developing services for young children.
This chapter includes the background and history of the creation of a new programme called Sure Start. The expected outcome of the programme was a reduction in the disadvantage that low-income children experienced on school entry. It tells the story of what happened over the next twelve years in policy and practice for young children following that first meeting with Glass. It tells the story of how a new government decided to invest in young children, what their hopes were for that investment, and to what extent those hopes were realised. It charts the development of Sure Start from the viewpoint of neither an academic historian, politician, nor career civil servant.
This chapter discusses the two key elements that define the context for the establishment of Sure Start: the desire of the New Labour government to develop policy in new ways, including an ambition to reform the civil service, and the genuine commitment of the new government to improve and expand services for children, particularly early years and school provision. Underlying both of these, and critical to the New Labour project, was the unusual relationship between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. This chapter will describe the wider policy context for Sure Start, and how politics as well as policy and personalities set the stage for radical developments in children’s services.
This chapter describes some of the policymaking innovation under New Labour, and how it differed from the past. It is difficult to over emphasise the optimism of the times, both within government on what would be possible, and outside of government on what the new administration would deliver. Those of us on the outside working in the voluntary sector were desperate to influence a new raft of ministers, only a few of whom had served in previous Labour administrations. Most had only been MPs during the long years of Conservative rule. Having little experience of serving in government and little knowledge of how ministers traditionally worked was probably an advantage. Ministers really wanted to do things differently and had no old habits to be broken. Two big innovations were developing, one from the Cabinet Office with strong support from Number 10, and one from the Treasury.
This chapter includes the next phase of the Sure Start story that comes in four interconnecting parts: getting programmes established on the ground; dealing with a change of ministers; the next Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR); and setting up the evaluation. All of these were to have profound effects on Sure Start. The first sixty trailblazer areas were announced in 1999; hence, the most important job from 1999 to 2002 was getting 250 Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) established, spending money, and delivering Sure Start in local areas. At the same time, the wider business of government continued. The first reshuffle of government ministers took place in October 1999, and work was starting on the 2000 CSR.
This chapter will describe the way in which the evaluation of Sure Start was set up, and some of the key controversies surrounding the evaluation. Given the size of the evaluation, and the likely attention such an evaluation would get in the research community, it is not surprising that deciding who would do it and, more importantly, how it would be designed proved enormously difficult. There was political conflict, personality conflicts, and deeply held scientific arguments about the evaluation of Sure Start. Indeed, Sir Michael Rutter, one of Britain’s most esteemed scientists, believed that the way in which the programme was set up made it impossible to evaluate, and that the ‘undermining of the evaluation was political and deliberate’. The key debate was in two parts — the design of the programme itself and the design of the evaluation.
This chapter discusses the next part of the Sure Start story that is set against a complex set of interconnecting changes at the heart of government. All of these changes affected Sure Start in some way, and all had a much wider impact on children’s and broader social policy. A series of significant events and publications were critical to the transformation of Sure Start over the subsequent five years, as well as to the delivery of children’s services across England.
This chapter will tell three key stories in the development of Sure Start: the impact on Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) of the merger at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) of Sure Start, Early Years Education and Childcare, and particularly the impact of the 2002 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR); the development of Choice for Parents, the Best Start for Children: A Ten Year Strategy for Childcare, the document produced by the Treasury and DfES that set the framework for Early Years and childcare services for the foreseeable future; and the launch of the Ten Year Strategy and the media uproar following the publication, which heralded the end of Sure Start.
This chapter implies that by 2005, there were significant changes to the original concept of Sure Start, so the question of whether it had worked or not was confounded by the question of what it now was. From an area-based initiative of 250 local programmes, they were now tasked with delivering the commitments in Choice for Parents, the Best Start for Children: a Ten Year Strategy for Childcare. No longer an area-based policy for poor children, there would now be a Sure Start Children’s Centre in every community, 3,500 in all. While the funding was to be more flexible, the service model requirements were significantly tightened up. Many of the changes to the service model were a response to the evaluation results produced by the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS) team. Ministers took some disappointing results very seriously and used them to reshape the programme.
This final chapter will summarise some of the key messages already rehearsed in other chapters on what we know works for children, describe some broader lessons about the difficulties of moving from innovation to the creation of an overall system in public services, and give some views about both the legacy of Sure Start, and where it might go in the future. This chapter will also look more broadly at what we have learned from Sure Start about the way government works. It will explore what ministers themselves think should have been done differently, what aspects of the programme made it particularly challenging to implement, and what remains as a legacy of Sure Start.