One size doesn’t fit all

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The Government is making empty policy claims when it should let those in the early years decide how much, and where, money is spent, says Michael Pettavel

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Michael Pettavel: 'What on earth does Damian Hinds think that the high-quality Children's Centres in poor areas did?'

Damian Hinds, the new shining light of education policy in Britain, has pledged to close the gap in young children’s language and reading skills. A trailblazer for social equality, his focus turns to parents and their role. He is careful to say he does not intend to lecture, but simply wants to offer some good ‘support and advice’. He wants to make an impact by halving the current figure. Maybe they’ll name a street after him.

Excuse me if I lecture here, but I just can’t help myself. What on earth does he think that the high-quality Children’s Centres in poor areas actually did? Why did the ideas coming from the Effective Early Learning project, the Centre of Excellence evaluation and EPPE all get put on a high shelf in 2010? Why have support services for parents all become targeted on high-level need by cash-strapped local authorities? Why have health visitor numbers fallen (NHS workforce statistics show health-visiting numbers fell from 10,039 in October 2015 to 8,275 by January 2018, according to RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies)? Why did the entire board of the Social Mobility Commission quit in December? Why is the 30 hours targeted simply at working families and not the most vulnerable? Look, I could go on but I would simply run out of words asking a lot of different questions that all make the same point.

The point is this: a strategy is not a policy and a policy is only worthwhile when it brings on board those implementing it. Look at the other headlines. Save the Children claims that ‘there are nearly 11,000 too few early years teachers in PVI settings in England’. A claim dismissed by Nadhim Zahawi as ‘misleading’.

What is misleading is affecting to do something, when in reality doing very little. The ‘one size fits all’ solution is really no solution at all. Put adequate money into settings, stop chasing headlines and let the people running the service decide on how best to support their resident populations. The answer isn’t going to be the same in rural settings as inner-city ones and it will differ mightily between different parts of the country even with similar demographics.

At the moment, it simply feels as if the Government is licking its finger, sticking it in the air and telling us it might have rained in the last two weeks. Well that all depends on where you live.

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