Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More evidence Sure Start does not work

From today's Guardian:

Children starting primary school are yet to show any signs of improved development despite Labour's introduction of measures designed to boost early years education, new research claims today.

A study of 35,000 children in England between 2001 and 2006 suggested they were no further advanced now than they were before Labour's overhaul of education for pre-primary school youngsters. The initiatives, which included the Sure Start programme, free nursery education for all three-year-olds, the early childhood curriculum, the Children's Act 2002, and the Every Child Matters initiative, were introduced to improve life chances for disadvantaged children and educational standards in general.

But should we surprised?

In June of last year the same newspaper reported a study finding that the most deprived families did worse in areas that were covered by the Sure Start scheme that in areas that were not. (I wrote about it here.)

And back in September 2005 I wrote about another study which had found that Sure Start as a whole failed to boost youngsters' development, language and behaviour, and also showed that the children of teenage mothers did worse in Sure Start areas. As I noted at the time, both Polly Toynbee and the Guardian leader writer somehow managed to turn this finding into an argument for spending more on Sure Start.

I wonder how much more evidence will have to be produced before it is concluded that New Labour's nationalisation of parenting has been a failure. This matters to the Liberal Democrats too, because while I was on the party's Federal Policy Committee we voted through a me-too document calling for a children's centre in every community.


Mountjoy said...

What can one expect from the Labour Party which couldn't even organise a leadership election and has failed to do so nationally since Blair won in 1994 and in Scotland Wendy Alexander was also coronated. Sure Start is, like many things, another missed opportunity - another chance thrown away by the Labour Government.

Backintheday said...

As someone who has both used the local Sure Start childrens centre and been a member of the Board, I believe that one of the reasons it may not have had the effect it should have done is because Labour messed around with it.

Drawing short the Sure Start grants - forciing mainstreaming before the links with health and other agncies were ready or able to take up the mantle.

The hard to reach are not reached because the dedicated staff for such a purpose have been withdrawn and the focus has shifted to childcare.

It really should have worked ... but they mucked it up too early on for the excellent initial work to have the necessary impact.

Saying that - you speak to local primary headteachers in my town and they will tell you the children who have had Sure Start input. Unfortunately, they may just be one sole good crop.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Arwen. I too have been involved on the board and a user of my local sure start, securing funding for the project and ensuring it carried on delivering services.

The problem is that the staff - who deliver the best services they can - have been cut back to a level they just cannot deliver the quality of services they used to as they are under funded.

I do see a difference in the children joining my local lower school and as the school and the sure start share the same land there is a good working relationship between them.

Tristan said...

My father (a recently retired teacher) has long argued against sending children to school too early. The compulsory age in his view is too young.

Simply put there's too much difference between children at that age. A year is a fifth of a lifetime, there's a massive difference between children born at the beginning of the year and those at the end. Those at the end suffer from being behind in their education until they're at least 10 or 11.

This can be mitigated by not starting formal education until 6 or 7.

Until then (and even then) the most important thing is for children to socialise and play in an informal way and to be with their parents - both things the state cannot provide.

The old playgroups were ideal, parents (or carers) get together with children of various ages and the children can play. There may be some more structured activity - songs or some sort of show and tell style thing, but its fundamentally about socialising and learning through unstructured play.

Such opportunities are sadly missing. The state has sought to replace them with a more formal nursery education. There's even talk about a national curriculum for toddlers and targets to be met. Its obscene and will not help children.