Claire Coutinho, MP for East Surrey, has been named the new minister for children, families and well-being within the Department for Education (DfE), replacing Kelly Tolhurst.

This move sees the responsibility for early years being handed back to a junior minister: this will be Coutinho’s second ministerial role after serving as an under-secretary of state at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and as an MP since 2019.

She worked as the Parliamentary private secretary at the Treasury for more than two years from February 2020, resigning her position in protest at the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Her responsibilities include:

  • special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), including high needs funding
  • alternative provision
  • children’s social care
  • children in care, children in need and child protection
  • adoption and care leavers
  • early years and childcare
  • family hubs and early childhood support
  • disadvantaged and vulnerable children
  • children and young people’s mental health
  • policy to protect against serious violence
  • freedom of speech in education
  • online safety and preventing bullying in schools

Commenting, Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said, ‘We look forward to working closely with her to address some of the challenges the sector is facing. The minister’s brief is much wider than early education and childcare, which includes special educational needs, social care and family hubs, but it is important that early years is given the same level of attention as schools.

‘With her background in finance, we hope the new minister understands the pressures on providers as they face record inflation and stagnant funding. This sector is vital to the children’s development and the economy, enabling parents to work.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, commented, ‘There’s no doubt that Ms Coutinho takes on this new responsibility at a particularly difficult time for the early years, with the sector not only dealing with an array of long-term challenges, including underfunding and recruitment, but also the ongoing uncertainty around the outcome of government’s deregulation proposals.

‘As such, we hope that the new minister will act as a true advocate for our vital sector, and work in partnership with us to fight for greater investment, better recognition of our workforce, and the scrapping of proposals that would actively harm the sector, including plans to relax ratios.’

The Department for Education has also confirmed that minister of state Robert Halfon, will hold the skills, apprenticeships and higher education brief, while Nick Gibb, also a minister of state, will be in charge of schools.

The full article can be read here, in Nursery World magazine.

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