Saturday, March 21, 2009

Health select committee evaluates Sure Start

In the past I have reported doubts about the effectiveness of the government's Sure Start programme.

The recent Commons health select committee report on health inequalities looked at this question. Here are its conclusions:

137. The early years period was emphasised throughout our inquiry as a crucial focus for efforts to tackle health inequalities, and we commend the Government for taking positive steps to place early years at the heart of the health inequalities agenda through Sure Start. Many witnesses were very positive about the benefits of Sure Start. National evaluation shows that it has enjoyed some success, but it has yet to demonstrate significant improvements in health outcomes for either children or parents, achieving positive evaluation in only 5 out of 14 measures that were studied.

138. Moreover, there is concern that extending this policy, via Children's Centres, to all areas of the country, risks distracting from the original focus of deprived families who are most in need of support. We did not receive detailed evidence about the evolution of Sure Start programmes into Children's Centres, but again this is a policy change that has not been properly piloted or evaluated prior to its introduction. It is absolutely essential that early years interventions remain focused on those children living in the most deprived circumstances, and Children's Centres must be rigorously monitored on an ongoing basis.

How far Sure Star has been a success matters because for Labour commentators like Polly Toynbee Sure Start is just about the one incontestably good thing this government has done. And the Liberal Democrat reaction to it has been very much "us too".

My own view is that where such schemes work it is because of remarkable individuals and particular local circumstances. If you reduce them to bullet points on PowerPoint slides and try to implement them everywhere you will be sorely disappointed.

Sadly, that is the way of proceeding that the select committee seems to favour.

No comments: