Getting through my ‘to read file’ – this time going back to the fascinating parliamentary review by the finance committee of early years interventions
The committee members had quite a challenge to absorb the depth of information / evidence provided verbally and in writing to the committee. Reviewing some of the evidence offered to the committee really make you ask the question - Are we getting it right for children in Scotland. Scandinavian countries have been in the news a lot for the wrong reasons in the last few weeks – but their investment in children clearly pays off in improved outcomes. For example
Sweden’s strong focus on prevention starts at the very beginning of life with emphasis on breastfeeding (98% of Swedish mothers begin breast-feeding and 72% have maintained this at 6 months vs 79% and 22% in the UK). In addition long periods of maternity and parental leave support attention to the needs of the child in its earlier months. 100% of hospitals have BFHI (baby-friendly) status (compared with less than 10% in the UK) and early parent training is provided for a high proportion of the population.
What Works in Early Years Education, a review of approaches to Early Years Education across the globe, cites two international comparisons of academic performance in English schools, in one case with Slovenia, in the other case with Switzerland. Though the Slovenian children started school two years later, within 9 months they had caught up on English mathematics attainment. The Swiss children started school a year later than those in England, yet the Swiss one year younger than English children performed better in maths. A study which addressed why this was the case identified the variable academic ability of children in the English reception class.
However, one report given to the committee as evidnece stood out for me because it chimed so strongly with the ethos of Support from the Start – It is a report from an organsation called the Wave Trust which has produced a comprehensive review of international evidence on violence reduction. It gives the following six success factors in improving social & health outcomes.
1. Those who prioritise investment in the earliest years secure the best outcomes
2. The quality of parenting/care is the key to a successful society
3. There could be a major dividend from focused commitment to ensure children arrive at school ‘school ready’
4. The impact of poor early care can be alleviated by the right experience during school years
5. Galvanising the community is the secret of success
6. Innovative approaches to social care can provide significant benefits at minimum cost
We know that many of Scotland’s closest neighbours are so much better at improving outcomes for its citizens, and this reports emphasises that, but it also give a clue about what can be done to change it. The success factors / key messages they outline are relatively simple but they need to be applied systematically and need relentless leadership in pursuing them. They also need Scotlands citizens to be engaged and demanding better services for children.