We return from the Christmas break to all the usual doom and gloom, including the usual diets and a ban on alcohol forever. Clearly, the person who suggested this has never visited Italy nor understands the challenges of dealing with Early Years policy!
During the holiday, apart from the usual relaxing, cooking, knitting, walking and enjoying watching Happy Feet, Despicable Me and Agatha Christie (all again!) the Christmas TV programme schedule allowed me some time to continue my love affair with my laptop and to pore over old files under the auspices of preparing the outline for a new book! What I found sent me straight to a box of chocolates and a pot of tea. Sit comfortably and I will begin…
Once upon a time, a long time ago, the world woke up to the long term social, educational and economic benefits of investing in early years. Eventually, the message reached the ears of the many Governments. They were delighted to discover that good quality early childhood education could help children, especially those from poor families, achieve higher success in school; narrowing the achievement gap and ultimately reducing lifelong social and economic poverty which has such a high fiscal cost for society. In 1990 the Government promised to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
“Getting the early years right benefits the whole of society. Through economic research, psychology, biology and neuroscience, the answers came out the same; treat what happens in the first years as gold…“…early engagement pays a very high rate of return. The dividend is 12 – 16% per year for every £1 of investment – a payback of four or five times the original investment by the time the young person reaches their early twenties and the gains continue to flow throughout their life.”
Sinclair 2006 Chapter 5
However, evidence soon emerged that unless the standard of childcare provided was of the best quality and accessible the investment was futile particularly to those children living in poverty.
‘poverty – especially persistent poverty – has a greater impact on cognitive development than factors such as whether or not parents read to their children, take them to the library, or help them with reading, writing and maths.
Andy Dickerson and Gurleen Popli (2012) Evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study
However, the solution to such a big problem required the Government to put its hand in its pocket, dig deep and fund it correctly. Every report from the DfE to Ofsted to Nfer, CPAG all agreed that high quality childcare especially for poorer families needed proper funding. The Early Years sector was delighted to help ensure the children get the right service but the cost continued to be problematic.
Sadly, despite knowing the answer for the past 15 years the story does not have a good ending. The UK has one of the steepest socio-economic ’gradients‘ in education among similar countries (OECD 2001). 3.7 million children live in poverty, 4 in 10 in London. Only about a quarter of students receiving free school meals gain five good GCSEs or equivalent, compared to over half of the overall population (DfES 2006).
To me the answer is clear and has not changed for 15 years. Fund the childcare correctly so that we can make a difference to all children, especially the poorest.
In the meantime, the Works and Pensions Select Committee has launched a joint inquiry. They want your view on the relationship between early years education and the life chances strategy, cross-departmental co-ordination on early years interventions and interaction with the benefits system and public services by the end of February.
In other words, how do you think policy is working currently? Particularly in relation to how it is coordinated across different Departments, and what do people think should be done differently? Will the measures that the Government is developing be effective?
Then write to the Governments’ Chief Medical Officer and remind her that the reason so many of us drink a glass of red wine is because we need fortification to deal with Government policy, attitude and behaviour; a more likely cause of high blood pressure and negative stress than any Merlot or Shiraz!