Neglect pre-school education and we will all be the poorer

Writing in the Telegraph, Mary Riddell says believes Britain’s youngsters are falling behind and that what she calls our ‘shambolic nursery system’ is partly to blame…

More than 30 years have passed since it was proved that an attainment gap between the most and the least privileged children reached 13 per cent at the age of 22 months and widened throughout childhood. Evidence shows that pre-school education improves children’s development and behaviour. Yet while comparable countries boast cheap and well-staffed nurseries, Britain has a shambolic and frankly disgraceful system manned by ill-qualified staff. A part-time nursery place now costs more than £100 a week – a 77 per cent rise in a decade…

Ed Miliband does the school drop-off and is said to be a familiar face at soft play centres. The brainiest former advisers to Gordon Brown discuss makes of baby buggy with the same ease as sustainable growth theory. Play-Doh politics are suddenly at centre stage, and the results are starting to show. Last week Liz Truss, the child care minister, told the Resolution Foundation that she would throw open schools to provide extended occupation for older children, slash red tape for nurseries and make it easier for parents to pay unregistered “trusted friends” to look after their children…

The Coalition has promised to extend free care for children of three and four, as well as the poorest fifth of two-year-olds, while Labour will increase the provision from 15 to 25 hours a week. That still leaves a chasm, not least for younger children. The question of who will pay to fill that gap is one of the hottest potatoes in politics.

Lucy Powell, the shadow child care minister, has some ideas. Miss Powell, who has seized the agenda after years of Labour inertia, wants to abolish Mr Cameron’s married couples’ tax allowance as an early step, saving £700 million. In addition, she would redeploy the £750 million that the Government would spend in 2015/16 on child-care tax breaks, arguing that at least a third of that sum would go to the very highest earners. Her aim would be to do away with the current confetti of credits and benefits and invest instead in better quality nurseries, open to all, with parents initially paying according to their means.

Since Mr Miliband is thought to be onside, shadow cabinet dissent on at least some of her proposals is likely to be minimal. The big question is what the additional start-up cost will be and whether Ed Balls will heed arguments that a massive outlay will pay the sort of dividends achieved in Quebec, where low-fee universal child care has generated a return of $147 for every $100 spent. UK estimates suggest, meanwhile, that every £1 invested early in a child’s life is worth £9 dispensed later on…

In truth, politicians of all parties no longer have a choice. The clamour around education has focused for far too long on the conjuring trick of trying to siphon a tiny proportion of the most privileged children into top universities. There is nothing wrong with excellence. The scandal lies in political elitists, of all parties, settling for promoting the few bright poorer children who manage to survive Britain’s appalling early years provision. That is tokenism at its worst…

More at: Neglect pre-school education and we will all be the poorer

What do you think of Mary Riddell’s claim to politicians  of all parties to focus attention and spending on pr-school education rather than worrying so much about what’s coming out the other end? Please give us your reactions in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Pre-school.

Comments

  1. eQeltd

    SchoolsImprove Need to go earlier and teach how to be good enough parent. Education can only partly repair/compensate for poor parenting

  2. amirshah316

    eQeltd SchoolsImprove poor parenting has many causes and together with socio-economic deprivation gives schools an unwinnable battle.

  3. eQeltd

    amirshah316 SchoolsImprove battle is hard but not unwinnable. Neuroscience shows the brain remains plastic and new connections can be made

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