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Speaking Up For Early Years Education

12 Jul , 2016  

Yesterday I spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on ‘Early Years Development and School Readiness.’ In my speech I pointed out the need to make a clear distinction between early years education and childcare provision, I argued that the best way to ensure all our citizens fulfil their potential is through the provision of high quality early years education, I said the following:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in this important debate.

In these times of national turmoil as the UK looks to redefine its status in the world and concerns about our economy loom large it has never been more important for us to fulfil the potential of all our citizens. It has never been more important to ensure that we give our children every educational advantage available. We need each and everyone to be equipped to play their part.

The previous Labour Government understood that Education is the foundation for all. : Education, Education, Education. In this context there is a lot of talk of GCSEs and A* to C grades and as a former Secondary School teacher I know that these are extremely important. In my own constituency, which is growing as a hub for advanced manufacturing and fast moving to become a centre of prosperity there is much talk of improving educational standards. It is vitally important that we all recognise the starting point. The launch pad for our children is not in secondary school aged 11 years nor is it in our primary schools. It is in those very important pre – school early years that the foundations for success are laid.

Consider that the total size of the human brain is 95 percent of its maximum size by age 6. This is really important. It is true that cortical and subcortical components of the brain will change dramatically during childhood and adolescence but the fact remains that 95% of human brain function is developed by the age of 6. Therefore it is what happens in those early years that is so important for the future well being and economic success of the individual. Of course the earliest of education begins for the child in the home and where this is compromised in deprived communities, where this is limited when parents and carers have themselves been deprived of education, opportunities and extended experience, where this is curtailed because every ounce of the parents’ energy is expended grinding out an impoverished existence the child is deprived of those crucial learning opportunities and is so often disadvantaged from the outset.

So it is especially for these reasons that the state must concentrate on providing quality early years education. The experiences of a child in early years are critical to their future. Encouraging the drivers of learning: curiosity, imagination, creativity, motivation as well as critical learning behaviours such as self-regulation, resilience and empathy are key to a positive Early Years experience. Indeed there is a growing body of understanding that demonstrates that these learning behaviours have a significant impact on life chances, and employment prospects in particular. Early childhood curriculum is not only focused on preparing children intellectually and academically to enter primary education. More than that to enter primary education also requires other aspects to support their readiness in primary education, such as how to socialize, develops emotional maturity and a good sensory motor skills as well.

Recent research has clearly shown that children who have access to quality nursery school education go on to have higher levels of school achievement, have positive attitudes together with higher test scores. They are less likely to need remedial or special education. They are more likely to go on to further and higher education and are more likely to have stable employment. They have a significantly lower incidence of involvement in criminal activity, less likely to need to access social services, less likely to engage in substance abuse. Therefore it is clear that if we really want to effect change in our country we should begin in those early years. Only yesterday I was speaking to a nursery school teacher in Tower Hamlets and she said:

“Early Years education is especially valuable because it gives children the opportunity to build strong foundations on which to build the rest of their education. Putting the right investment in at this stage helps to ensure that children can take advantage of the chances that they are given later.”

This echoes exactly the words of nursery school teachers and governors in my own constituency and across the country. In recent months nursery school teachers have come to parliament in their hundreds to the recently established APPG to make these arguments. Tomorrow they will again gather here to make these very important arguments. Properly funded nursery school education does not represent frivolous spending it is all about vital investment in the future of our country. The research of Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman indicates that the greatest return on investment in human capital formation (knowledge and skill development) occurs during the prenatal, infant/toddler, and preschool period. He has shown clearly that the rate of return to investment in human capital is markedly greater when investments occur at younger ages. Larger investments have been typically made in secondary education, higher education, job training programmes and on remedial education but the rate of return is notably lower than if these same funds were invested during the infant, toddler and preschool needs. Having established the wisdom of investing in those early years it is now important to turn to the issue of quality education.

What do we mean by quality education? We must not confuse quality education delivered by qualified nursery school teachers with childcare. Education and childcare are not interchangeable. So Whilst the Government’s intention to extend the provision of free childcare is admirable, I believe that too much of the focus of this policy is on the delivery of childcare, rather than on developing quality early years education. A greater focus on early years education would, as evidence suggests, have the greatest impact on attainment in later life.

I am extremely concerned that recent cuts in budgets for nursery schools will leave many of them unable to fund the nursery school teachers who make the difference. Parents often find it difficult if not impossible to distinguish between the different provisions on offer for their children. Government knows the difference and should invest accordingly because whilst childcare can educate it is not the same as planned nursery education. For the sake of our children and the prosperity of our country I ask that the Government prioritises investment in early years education.

You can watch my speech and the full debate on Parliament TV at (please copy and paste the link):

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