Children's early cognitive skills should be prioritised to close the disadvantage gap

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Early years services must prioritise children’s cognitive development to combat income-related learning gaps, an early intervention charity has warned.

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Core cognitive skills, such as numbers, should receive the same level of investment and attention as issues such as ensuring children are well fed, says the Early Intervention Foundation

Early years services must prioritise children’s cognitive development to combat income-related learning gaps, an early intervention charity has warned.

A new report by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) has argued that core cognitive skills, including children’s language development and their understanding of objects, people and numbers, should receive the same level of investment and attention as issues such as ensuring children are well fed, live in stable homes and have sufficient clothing.

The report, Key competencies in early cognitive development: Things, people, numbers and words, commissioned by Public Health England, found:

  • Early cognitive capabilities are associated with the quality of children’s early learning experiences and predict their later success at school and work
  • Income-related learning gaps are already present at the age of four and increase as children grow older
  • These gaps can be rectified when high-quality support is provided early
  • Parents play a crucial role in their children’s early cognitive development
  • Support from health visitors, nursery educators and childcare also makes a positive difference, especially for children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances

EIF is calling on central Government to increase investment in health visitors so they can provide intensive, high-quality home visiting support to low-income families during a child’s first two years.

Earlier this month, the Institute of Health Visiting’s annual survey found that English health visitors are worried about not being able to deliver the services they should to vulnerable children, with 43 per cent reporting being so stretched they fear a tragedy at some point.

jo-casebourneDr Jo Casebourne, chief executive of the EIF, said, ‘Unless we recognise that children’s language and their understanding of objects, people and numbers are a basic necessity, we’re in danger of the country’s most disadvantaged children already being significantly behind their peers when they start school, creating a gap that is likely to widen even further as they get older.

‘Increasing investment in health visiting is one crucial way to support children’s cognitive development and ensure they have the opportunity to live happy, healthy and productive lives, whatever their circumstances.’

Kirsten Asmussen, head of What Works, Child Development, at the EIF added, 'Children’s communication skills and numerical reasoning capabilities are essential for their success in school and later life. Yet too many children currently miss out. If we fail to prioritise children’s cognitive development, we risk leaving less well-off children at a disadvantage from the first moment they step through the school gates.'

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