Dan Rogerson MP writes… Tackling disadvantage must start before school

Today Nick Clegg announced that the Government was extending the roll out of free Early Years education for all families who meet the free school meals criteria.

This means that the children of parents who are struggling to make ends meet and who rely on state benefits like Income Support or Child Tax Credits will now be entitled to free Early Years education from the age of two.

Sound familiar? That’s because Liberal Democrats in government have been consistently ensuring that one of the Coalition Government’s main priorities is closing the attainment gap between the poorest children and the better off.

Policies such as making Early Years education freely available to the least well off families and making additional money available to schools for the poorest pupils through the Pupil Premium are focussing help towards the pupils who most need it in a way that Labour never did.

Only a fortnight ago Nick visited Robartes School in Bodmin in my constituency to see just how these Liberal Democrat policies are making a real difference in raising the aspiration and attainment of our young people.

This particular announcement is yet another example of Liberal Democrat policy being implemented by the Coalition Government. Susan Kramer and Conference worked hard on the 2009 policy paper The Best Start for Children, the Best Start for Families and now we are putting our ideas into practice.

We all know that because of the economic mess left behind by Labour, money is tight and spending was always going to be restricted. We have to be very selective about where we chose to spend money. However, we’ve always been clear where our priorities lie: on building a fairer future for our children, giving them the chances they deserve. I am very proud that Liberal Democrats have prioritised spending on education and have particularly focused it on the least advantaged pupils.

Liberal Democrats came into Government knowing that children from disadvantaged backgrounds fall behind their peers from better off families and often never catch up. Today’s announcement shows we’re serious about tackling this issue. Getting this right now and targeting the money that is available will leave a legacy for these children in the future that will be invaluable.

* Dan Rogerson is the Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall.

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5 Comments

  • Simon Beard 30th May '12 - 2:02pm

    Its great to see this policy being made a reality. My only dissapointement is that the free nursery education scheme continues to stop at the age of five, when compullsery schooling is meant to begin. This may sound like an odd concern, but it is clear that there is a descrepency here. Up to five we allow parents a free choice in deciding what sort of nursery education is right for their children, with the state agreeing to cover the costs, from five however you enter the world of competition for places and a post code lottery, with the state taking a much greater role in deciding what is best for pupils and parental choice being greatly reduced as a result. What I would like to see is the Lib Dems fighting to reform the provision of key stage one education such that for children who are ready and whose parents wish them to enter their local primary school that is an option, but not a requirement, whilst for other children there remains the freedom to stay in a nursery, childcare or home school environment till at least the age of seven with the state picking up the tab for this (as is common in other Northern European countries). I am certain that there is a time for compulsery schooling, but I think Liberals should put more trust in parents and children and allow them greater descretion over when this should begin.

    As I say, it is great to see Lib Dems fighting to give every child the best start to their education, however we should also be fighting for them to have a better middle too.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th May '12 - 8:20pm

    @Dan Rogerson:’ Policies such as making Early Years education freely available to the least well off families and making additional money available to schools for the poorest pupils through the Pupil Premium are focussing help towards the pupils who most need it in a way that Labour never did.’

    Agree. The Pupil Premium will enable the most disadvantaged pupil to get the best start possible in life.

    ‘Only a fortnight ago Nick visited Robartes School in Bodmin in my constituency to see just how these Liberal Democrat policies are making a real difference in raising the aspiration and attainment of our young people.’

    I cannot agree I’m afraid Dan. I cannot see how coalition policy on loading all the advantages in the curriculum towards the most academic child, is going to help a vocationally able poor child or a child would reach their potential with a broad and balanced scorecard.

    Yes, some poor children will flourish with an academic diet. Indeed the Tory part of the coalition relentlessly push their vision of social mobility as lifting a few gifted children out of their disadvantaged backgrounds, in order to attend a small number of certain established institutions. This narrow vision, like the old grammars, will help some of them leave behind their class and ‘better’ themselves by mixing with the higher classes.

    But this does not and will not tackle the root and branch of social disadvantage in the education system.

    In other words, in my view, Gove is building elitism into the system, rather than breaking open the closed social world of the elite.

    Why haven’t we stopped him doing that, as the Tory vision is surely totally incompatible with ours.

    The PP will certainly help to a certain point but it will not succeed by itself in fostering genuine social mobility and celebration of success and achievement in a broad ,balanced scorecard of subjects.

  • Helen Dudden 30th May '12 - 10:54pm

    Having worked in Teacher Staffing for several years, and been involved in education. Not every child will wish to be academic or be able to achieve that status. It is up to the child. It is unfair to expect every child to perform to the same level.

    I think that children should be children, It is also good to have time when possible with the parent/s .

  • Sorry but if our part of the coalition really believed this it wouldn’t have agreed to the removal of the ring fenced funding for children’s centres. As one disillusioned educationalist said to me yesterday, “we don’t need a bunch of ex public schoolboys teaching us about social mobility”

  • John Carlisle 31st May '12 - 11:15am

    I agree with Helen. What is the evidence that early schooling helps children perform well later on? Why is that we British treat children as “miniature adults”? What every child needs from 0 to about 6 is security, love, appropriate undemanding attention, and play with others. Why do we eulogise the countries with the best schooling records but not follow their example, e.g. in Finland children do not go to school until 7. The Cambridge-based Primary Review’s conclusion challenges the idea that an early start has long-term advantages. “The assumption that an early starting age is beneficial for children’s later attainment is not well supported in the research and therefore remains open to question.”
    So why does Nick charge ahead with another not-thought-through idea? Who are his advisers?

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