As reported, Sir Michael pointed out that ‘Britain lags behind other countries including Poland, Hungary, Denmark and Finland, in the gap between the children who do best and those who do worst’.
The criteria for deciding if children have a good level of development are that children are able to dress themselves, count to ten, read simple sentences, know some of the alphabet, and can take turns in holding a conversation. Staggeringly, forty-one percent of children are, according to Sir Michael, ‘thought not to have a good level of child development' and are failing to meet these goals.
He is clearly rather angry about these disgraceful statistics because the children most affected are from poorer areas of the country. One example he gives is that of Blackpool, where only half of five year olds had achieved ‘good’ development in 2011, a figure that has not changed since 2010.
Sir Michael insists that poor children are being ‘failed on a grand scale’, caused by low levels of literacy and other inequalities. And these, as he rightly points out, have consequences for individuals’ long term health and for the economy. His remarks included a withering criticism of the government’s lack of support for Sure Start children’s centres, a scheme David Cameron promised to support.
The problem, though, with schemes like this is that there is precious little evidence both here and in the United States that they make anything more than a marginal difference and even that difference seems to evaporate within a few years. In principle, they are an excellent idea; however, much depends on what they are doing. If the Sure Start centres are not closing the language gap between poor children and the children of the better off, questions need to be raised about the pedagogy. Perhaps they need to be adopting the kinds of Direct Instructional approaches and practices advocated by Sig Engelmann and Shep Barbash.
Thanks to Palisadesk for drawing my attention to Barbash’s article ‘Pre-K Can Work’, which you can read here.