Tuesday, 2 August 2011

In praise of....Frank Field

 A couple of weeks ago, Frank Field MP set off a small firework on the Today programme by suggesting in a very honest way that some children reach Nursery School age at 3/4 unable to say or recognise their own name.    It seemed to shock John Humphries at the time and even led to a question on Any Questions last weekend.  No-one working in Early Years will have been surprised.  By the age of 5 it is possible to predict with chilling accuracy the life chances and future achievement of every single child.

You can predict the ones who will go to prison.
You can predict the ones who will never find a job.
You can predict the ones who will have mental health issues...at 5.

That's because the gap in achievement on entry to Primary school between those at the top and those at the bottom does not narrow as they progress through to Secondary school.   Even though children pick up basic skill sets along the way, that achievement gap remains broadly the same.  How depressing is that?

Well Surestart was meant to address that.  ' Narrowing the Gap' it's called in the jargon.  Except that it hasn't really worked.  The political view which is easily expressed was that professionals could work some magic and re-start those children's life chances with early intervention, if only there was more investment.  The alternate view which was held by many of those professionals and not so readily expressed by politicians (for obvious electoral reasons) was that actually parents are much more important and unless they are engaged with their children and have aspirations for them, nothing is likely to change.

Another jargon term:  'Hard to reach families' a euphemism for those parents.  Trouble is that they have more children than their better educated and more aspirational peers and their lack of engagement and aspiration is replicated in their own children.  So in very crude terms, the problem is growing.  How to break the cycle?  I'm not sure anyone has a magic solution but it starts with honesty and Frank Field has been telling it like it is for some time now.  And he does offer solutions but no easy magic formula; just better targeted engagement with those families using a whole range of measures adapted to individual circumstances.    Not sexy, not 'bite-size news' and therefore unable to be picked up by any ambitious politician...

BM is back... and not altogether optimistic about the world.

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