Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How do you tell whether the kids are alright?

Last week the Guardian printed a short piece by Max Benato about a new report from Save the Children:
The UK came a woeful 23rd out of 43 countries for child wellbeing according to three main factors: pre-primary enrolment (81% in the UK compared to 100% in France, Germany, Netherlands and some others); secondary school enrolment (99%); and under-five mortality rate (six per 1,000 live births, the joint 23rd lowest score out of the 43 countries – the lowest rates were three per 1,000).
"Read the report and weep," says Benato.

Well, you can download the report from this Guardian page and judge for yourself. But if anything makes me want to weep here it is Benato's reasoning.

Clearly, the under-five mortality rate is a vital figure and I wish ours were lower. And I am all in favour of enrolment in secondary school, though there is a debate to be had about what the leaving age should be.

But pre-primary enrolment? Is it really the case that children in a country with a 100 per cent enrolment rate will have the best time of all? Doesn't it depend upon the nature and quality of the institutions they are in? I am sure the Soviet Union and its satellites had a very high rate in this category, but I am far from convinced that they were the best place in Europe to be a child.

I went to a Save the Children event earlier this year, and they are good people. But when I heard that the charity's founder Eglantyne Jebb had been a leading light of the Charity Organisation Society, I had Doubts. The COS was breeding ground of many Fabian socialists, who are the ancestral enemies of good Liberals.

And I do sense a touch of the Beatrice Webbs here. Isn't putting such an emphasis on pre-primary enrolment effectively saying that you do not trust the lower orders to raise their children properly so the state must take a hand?

There are all sorts of ways of having a good childhood. To reduce them to ticking three boxes seems a very blinkered approach.

1 comment:

James King said...

From my (very poor) grasp of Edwardian social policy, I always thought of the Charity Organisation Society as being rather mean-spirited, demanding the 'correct organisation' of charity (something which always struck me as a little strange - surely charity is spontaneous and personal). I didn't know about their links with the Fabians (they were, from memory, fairly hostile to most kinds of state intervention), but this doesn't surprise me too much. Certainly it fits in with the Fabian obsession with 'scientific' remedies.