Allen's early intervention report calls for better-qualified workforce

Catherine Gaunt
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Labour MP Graham Allen has called for an increase in graduate and postgraduate leadership in early years settings, in his Government-commissioned report on early intervention.

Mr Allen also recommends that there should be an Early Years Professional in every setting.

A Workforce Development strategy should be set up, led by the Department for Education and the Department of Health, to ensure there are enough ‘suitably qualified candidates who wish to work with the 0-5s.’

Early Intervention: Next Steps focuses on the rationale for early intervention and identifies the Family Nurse Partnership as one of the 19 programmes rated most highly from a list of more than 70 programmes chosen for their effectiveness in early intervention.

Others include the US Early Literacy and Learning, Reading Recovery and the Incredible Years parenting intervention.

Mr Allen, the MP for Nottingham North (pictured), said that these programmes should be expanded and promoted by a new non-government body called the Early Intervention Foundation, which would be independently funded, to gather evidence that the programmes work and develop others.

In the foreword to the report,  Mr Allen said, ‘A range of well-tested programmes, low in cost, high in results can have a lasting impact on all children, especially the most vulnerable.’

The money would not come from Government but from private investors, charitable trusts and banks, who would see a return on their investment by measuring the success of early intervention programmes.

Children should also receive regular assessments in their early years on their social and emotional development ‘up to and including the age of five so that they can be put on the path to school readiness', the report said.

‘Socially and emotionally capable people are more productive, better-educated, tax-paying citizens helping our nation to compete in the global economy, and making fewer demands on public expenditure.'

Mr Allen said that these external reviews were needed because there was an ‘unnecessary separation' between the Healthy Child Programme reviews and the Early Years Foundation Stage assessments.

Other key recommendations include:

  • Setting up 15 local Early Intervention Places, which would be run by local councils and the voluntary sector
  • A new National Parenting Campaign
  • Cross-party work on early intervention policies to build on the report’s recommendations
  • Local government should be given a leading role in the Early Intervention Foundation.

Speaking on the BBC 'Today' programme, Professor Edward Melhuish, executive director of the National Evaluation of Sure Start at Birkbeck College, University of London, said that early interventions did not generally show their benefits until adolescence and that they also needed to be ‘high quality’ and ‘not rushed through’.

To the suggestion that three-year-olds with poor language development could be tested at primary school, he agreed that if every three-year-old was assessed it could be predicted which children would have problems early on, but this would need to be a universal assessment, with all families taking part, and not a voluntary one.

Commenting on the report, Dr Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said, ‘We welcome the aims and ethos of this report and fully recognise the importance of focusing on the earliest years of a child’s life. It is the key to breaking the cycle of disadvantage that a minority of children are born into.

‘However, it remains to be seen whether other forms of finance beyond the purse of central government can be levered to pay for the recommended measures – we are living in harsh economic times. Local authority budgets and charity budgets are under severe pressure.’

Dr Rake welcomed the call for a national parenting campaign.

She added, ‘It must also be acknowledged that parenting does not take place in a vacuum. A good start in life for a child requires effective parenting, but also other factors that parents may feel are beyond their control. It is hard times for the parents of small children. Increased stress, the threat of redundancy and stretched personal finances can affect the ability of mothers and fathers to be the good parents that they really want to be.’

A second report to be published in May will give more details on different options for funding early intervention work.

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