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Profile: 4Children boss calls for pupil premium to be extended to early years

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Anne Longfield has been the chief executive of 4Children for two decades and during this time, the charity, which gives support to children and families, has influenced a number of key Government policies.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children

This includes launching the Childcare Commission report which called for 10,000 children’s centres, which she says resulted in the Labour Government investing in children’s centres, plus the Youth Review, which paved the way for the Government’s MyPlace initiative.

But she is not content to stop there. She has just launched what she calls a “bold” manifesto, which among other things, calls for community childcare hubs for children from 0-19 plus a comprehensive universal childcare guarantee for children from birth to the age of 14.

The manifesto is very much “a long term vision for us. We have an election coming up next year and we will be trying to get a commitment on our manifesto from the main political parties.

“This is the culmination of all the campaigns that we have run over the last decade,” says Ms Longfield.

4Children, which runs just under a hundred children’s centres and campaigns to improve the lives of children and families, “has always been confident about making a difference to people on the ground,” according to its chief executive.

Extending the pupil premium would make a big difference

One of the things, she believes would make a big difference would be extending the pupil premium, which is currently given to schools, so they can give extra support to disadvantaged children.

“In our manifesto we call for better investment in families. One of the things we would like to see is the pupil premium being brought into the early years as we think that would make a big difference.

“The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, told me that he backs this idea.”

She hopes the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) progress checks for two-year-olds will make a difference and will “help determine who needs help and early intervention and stop these children having poor outcomes.

“In terms of support, extra help is needed for their language development and communication skills before they start school. Once we can identify the children who need extra help and support we can help them get up to speed. That is a strong argument for the pupil premium to be extended to the early years.”

She is a keen advocate of early intervention and last year helped to set up the Early Intervention Foundation of which she is a trustee. She says: “It is vital that we place more importance on early intervention and take action to prevent families going into crisis.”

Ms Longfield has spent her career working to improve the lives of children.

She started off as a researcher for Save the Children. “For me it was an excellent first job as I really felt I was making a difference.”

“When I started, children and families was an area where so much needed to be done. We are now quite familiar with the idea of intervening early and helping families get ahead.”

4Children is a mover and a shaker

4Children sees itself very much as a mover and shaker and this is borne out by the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who attended the charity’s 30th anniversary party and praised 4Children for working “tirelessly to put the needs of Britain’s families at the heart of Government”.

In acknowledgment of the role she has played championing children and families, Ms Longfield was recently admitted to the Freedom of the City of London.

In 2000, the charity launched a major national inquiry into childcare - The Millennium Childcare Commission which was chaired by Harriet Harman MP.

The Childcare Commission report called for 10,000 children’s centres. “We believe that had a real impact and resulted in the Government seeing the importance of children’s centres and subsequently investing in them.”

In 2007, the charity made waves again when it launched The Youth Review, a major national inquiry into support for young people. “It was chaired by Baroness Oona King and a total of 16,000 teenagers said they wanted modern youth facilities - paving the way for the Government’s MyPlace initiative,” reveals Ms Longfield. Two years later, in 2009, it launched the Family Commission inquiry into the needs of families.

The commission was chaired by Esther Rantzen and after talking to 10,000 families throughout the country, in 2011 the Family Commission called for a new approach to supporting families that put families first.

Government needs to do more to support children's centres

The children’s centres, which 4Children spent so much energy advocating for over 10 years ago, are now going through a tough time.

Many children’s centres are currently struggling to stay open as they have had their budgets cut and some have closed or are threatened with closure.

Ms Longfield would like to see the Government doing more to support children’s centres.

“We are a big advocate for children’s centres and we run just under a hundred children’s centres ourselves.

“We believe there is a strong argument for children’s centres and we see it as the way forward. There needs to be more investment in childcare.

4Children chief executive Anne Longfield credit Graham Turner/Guardian News & Media Ltd 2011

“We think there is more that can be done to provide flexible childcare and this is where children’s centres can play a vital role.”

In its manifesto, 4Children wants to expand on the children’s centre model that already exists and form community childcare hubs. It is currently running a pilot project to explore how the community childcare hubs would actually work.

“Part of our manifesto is to rebuild the sense of community locally and build new support networks through community childcare hubs which will provide working families with the flexibility they need to balance their work and home commitments. Parents will benefit from nursery and childminder support from one co-ordinated source in a seamless system of high quality blended childcare.

“Parents will not have to look for a different mix of childcare for children. It would all be arranged by the hub.

“It will of course take time to get that kind of system up and running but we are setting up ‘start up hubs’ to explore how it will work,” explains Ms Longfield.

She believes their manifesto is timely as “we are starting to come out of the economic crisis and the Government has an opportunity to think again and recognise that children and families have problems that can be avoided.

“I realise the Government doesn’t have huge amounts of extra money to invest but it pays a lot already when things go wrong. It is estimated that £25bn is spent on managing crisis but if you spent just some of that on preventing the crisis in the first place it would make a big difference.”

“Our manifesto is all about improving the life chances and expectations for children. We need to have a major shift in ambition if we’re going to make Britain great for families.”

Interesting Facts

First job: Researcher at Save the Children

Favourite book: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell

Favourite film: Cinema Paradiso

Favourite piece of music: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Everywhere’

Best present you have received: All my home made Mother's Day presents over the years and also more recently my iPad

Last holiday: Ligurian Alps and coast in North Italy last summer


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