Recognising the importance of the early years must just be the start

Posted by Dan Breslin / Wednesday 13 January 2016 / Early intervention

On Monday the Prime Minister announced a suite of new policies that will feature in the Government’s Life Chances Strategy. He spoke about the importance of the early years and supporting parents to give children the best start in life.

Hearing that parents have a crucial role to play in their child’s future will not surprise many, nor will it that the earliest years of a child’s life set the scene for what they will go on to achieve in adulthood. Yet, up till now it has been conspicuously missing from the Government’s approach to improving life chances.

We have been calling for recognition of the early years as part of the Government’s plan to tackle child poverty and for changes to be made to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Up to this point, the main priorities have been attainment at GCSE level and the number of children in workless households. Whilst these two areas make sense – education is a key indicator for how well children do in their future – the Government has not announced any measures for ensuring that all children develop healthily in the early years.

This is a gap. There is widespread agreement that making sure children have the best support when they are very young, makes a huge difference to the rest of their lives. But, we need clearer commitments about what support for parenting in the early years looks like – what are the government’s policies that will make change happen? How will they address the development gap?

In 2015, just over half of children (51 per cent) from low income families achieved a good level of development – considered the benchmark for being school ready. This is compared to 69 per cent of their peers. This gap has closed just one per cent since 2013.[i]

David Cameron recognised the importance of supporting parents, acknowledging that we all need support sometimes, no matter who we are or what challenges we face in our lives.

It is the Government’s view that stable loving families are one of the best ways to prevent children from experiencing poverty – they committed to doubling the funding for relationship support to £70 million. Making it more socially acceptable for parents to feel comfortable asking for help is a good thing.

However, no funding was announced for parenting classes or on how the Government will make sure children and parents can access the services and support they need in the early years. We didn’t hear anything about the importance of children’s centres, or about how the Government will drive progress so that no child is left behind by the time they start school.

We need more detail if these warm words are to make a difference to children. There are already far too many children from poorer backgrounds not ready to start school.

We need to make sure that all children have the opportunities and support to be ready to succeed at school. This is going to require more targeted work and funding in the most disadvantaged areas.

We need to make sure that we are making progress. The last few years have seen a slow-down in closing the developmental gap between the poorest children and their more affluent peers by age five. The Government needs to continue to monitor child development as part of the strategy.

Parenting classes are a good start but there is room for Government to do much more to give all children, regardless of family background and income, the best start in life.


[i] Local authority interactive tool (LAIT)

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