Sunday, 23 September 2007

Early childhood education and care: some of this week's news

Two interesting pieces in the news this week about trying to develop better co-ordination of work with families.

England still suffers from huge structural inequality. There is poor social mobility. Children born into poverty are still likely to grow up and continue their lives in poverty.

A new report from Capacityltd notes that poverty is not mentioned nearly enough in either policy or discussion about early childhood services. The report observes that the Children's Centre programme is still largely failing to help parents improve their education and/or return to work. Children's Centres lack information about their local communities, they lack techniques to find out about local needs and desires, and they don't have the right tools to evaluate their work.

Ouch. And, from my experience, it's true.

Looking at four good Children's Centres, there are some interesting conclusions about what makes good practice:

* staff with an understanding the realities of living in poverty;

* an emphasis on progress and development for families, rather than just maintenance/survival through crises;

* community development through encouraging local parents to be volunteers, members of management board, etc.

The report is well worth reading, though it is comparatively poor in its understanding of what makes for good early childhood education and care. The examples and photos used range from uninspiring to grim, I think.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on progress in information-sharing across different professionals to promote children's welfare and protect them from harm. We're still under the shadow of what happened to Victoria Climbie - lots of people knowing some of the risks to the child, but no-one putting all the information together. The result was a pitiful life for a little child, ended with her murder.

Whilst the Capacityltd report is pretty much as straight as they come, reporting with honesty on the limitations and failings of Children's Centre, the Guardian's report is mostly fantasy. Take this:

"Now in place is the Common Assessment Framework (CAF), a basic way in which professionals, including teachers and other school staff (eg learning mentors) can record concerns about a child".

OK - the CAF is "in place" in the sense that the form has been created and you can download it from the Every Child Matters website. But I wonder how many teachers have played a part in writing a CAF.

1%?

Probably fewer.

So the Guardian does its usual job on social policy - it convinces those who want to be convinced that social policy is progressive, and it's working.

Then - just like with Sure Start - a few years later someone will do a decent bit of research, and show that the implementation has been patchy and the results varied.

At best.