Stuck in the blocks: why we need to do more on child development

Posted by Sam Reeve / Friday 28 July 2017 / Early intervention Children's centres
boy walking along wall

This weekend, as the starting pistol is fired just a short hop from Westminster, Usain Bolt will hope to be among the finalists in the 100m final.

In a dash to the finish that could cement Bolt’s place in history as the winner of the most gold medals in this prestigious event, the pressure will certainly be high. With the race itself likely to last less than ten seconds, there will be little opportunity to catch up any ground lost early on. A great start is crucial.

But the need for a great start isn’t restricted to the athletics track.


Ahead of the general election earlier this year, both of the largest parties pledged to give children the “best” start in life. Other parties also made various commitments that would push towards this end, recognising that a great start is essential in the realm of child development too.

When the Queen visited Parliament to announce the legislative agenda for the coming two years, there was little indication of how this promise would be delivered. But with a new government now in place, and some semblance of stability returned, ministers now have the opportunity to make progress.

By the age of five, over half of children from low-income families are failing to reach the developmental milestones they are expected to be achieving. Allowing children to stumble out of the blocks in this way puts them behind their peers from the start and leaves disadvantaged children sprinting just to catch up.

young girl playing in the yard

This is a race that many will not win. Those children who find themselves in the chasing pack at age five are six times more likely to be there at age seven. And it is more likely than not that children at the bottom of attainment at age seven will remain there at age 16 when it comes to GCSEs.

No government should be relaxed about such false starts for any child, but greater support for children from low-income families in particular is needed because this group is more likely to be affected by poor development.

Not enough has been done to level this playing field.

With Brexit negotiations hitting full stride and growing attention being placed on security, all in an atmosphere of political uncertainty, we need to see real leadership and a national vision to re-imagine the offer for young children and their families.

If the Prime Minister steps up to the plate and strives to deliver on her manifesto commitments, Usain Bolt’s will not be the only legacy that could be immortalised in the coming months.

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