In his Autumn statement, George Osborne has announced plans to extend free nursery places to 260,000 two year olds. The money is aimed at disadvantaged families. Osborne states, “Education, early years learning, this is how you change the life chances of our least well-off and genuinely lift children out of poverty”.
Great. I live in a country with a school starting age two years younger than the majority of the rest of Europe, with a worrying trend towards young children spending longer hours in private nurseries, and yet despite this we have a woefully poor record when it comes to numeracy and literacy attainment, and have just experienced widespread rioting indicating deeply rooted social problems, and this is the answer? I don’t think so.
The Telegraph reports, “Following the summer’s riots, there were official warnings that the Government should intervene with very young children to set them on the right path through school.”
I groaned when I read this. This is making it all about education. And money. It shows a complete lack of understanding of a two-year-old’s needs. Ensuring infant attachment needs are met is the best way to avoid social problems. Academic success does not ensure happiness and the avoidance of emotional and social problems later on. I accept that most of the rioting took place in disadvantaged areas, but if we want young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to do well at school, giving them the best possible early years experience is essential, and putting them in nurseries from age two isn’t the way to do this.
Separating two year olds from their parents in the interests of that parent being able to work for 15 hours week, whilst their child is supposedly educated and stimulated in a nursery, is not what is needed.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, had a good point when she reportedly said: “Today’s changes will not bring back the 124 Sure Start Centres which have closed since the government came into office”.
If the government put more money into initiatives like this, where parents can stay with their children for play, groups and classes, and under 3s can experience that stimulating environment that the government seem to think is so important, whilst continuing to have their attachment needs met, it would be far more beneficial.
Or how about somehow using this money for tax breaks for mothers who choose to stay at home with their children? I’m not a politician, so I’m no expert on the practicalities, but I, unlike Mr Osborne it seems, recognise the importance of early infant attachment, and do not believe nursery is what two year olds need. And I’m not saying no-one should ever put a two-year old in a nursery. Not everyone has a choice. But if the government are trying to create choices for families they need to think harder about what really is the best option for infants.
Once again, the government is working under the illusion that separating children from their parents and starting to ‘educate’ them as early as possible is the way to go. It isn’t.