MP Graham Allen calls for early years intervention

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Image caption,
Mr Allen's report says work needs to be done to improve every child's "school readiness"

Early intervention will improve the lives of vulnerable children and help break the cycle of "dysfunction and under-achievement", a report says.

The government-commissioned report recommends regular assessments of all pre-school children, focusing on their social and emotional development.

Graham Allen's report also calls for a national parenting programme in the UK.

The Labour MP was asked to assess how children from disadvantaged backgrounds could be given the best start in life.

His report says success or failure in early childhood has "profound economic consequences" and calls for more private money to be channelled into early intervention schemes to help set children on the right path in life.

It also recommends numbering all year groups from birth not just from the start of primary school.

In his report, the Nottingham North MP says decades of late intervention has failed and major social problems have got worse not better.

All too often society is failing to equip young children with the social and emotional skills they need in life, he says.

'Lifetimes on benefits'

"If we continue to fail, we will only perpetuate the cycle of wasted potential, low achievement, drink and drug misuse, unintended teenage pregnancy, low work aspirations, anti-social behaviour and lifetimes on benefits, which now typifies millions of lives and is repeated through succeeding generations," the report warns.

Only early intervention can break the "inter-generational cycle of dysfunction and under-achievement", it says.

Mr Allen's report highlights the impact of poor parenting and says too few parents-to-be understand how to build the social and emotional capability of a baby or small child.

All parents need to know how to "recognise and respond to a baby's cues, attune with infants and stimulate them from the very start, and how to foster empathy", it says.

The report quotes some American research that shows the early years are the greatest period of growth in the human brain.

This is why, Mr Allen argues, it is important to intervene in the early years, rather than later when the basic architecture, or wiring, of the brain is formed for life.

He highlights the Family Nurse Partnership, which has had a lot of success in the United States, and says it should be available to all vulnerable first-time mothers in the UK.

The programme sees specially trained nurses regularly visiting young, first-time mothers from pregnancy until their child is two, to promote attachment and positive parenting.

"If we can just invest a little early in the life cycle to help mums and babies, and young people, then I think you'll find that money is recouped over and over again," says Mr Allen.

He also suggests the UK gives the pre-school years - 0 to 5, including pregnancy - the same recognition developmentally as the primary and secondary years of education.

He says this could be partly achieved by numbering all the year groups from birth, not just from the start of primary school which starts with the Reception year.

The prime objective of this should be "to produce high levels of 'school readiness' for all children, regardless of income," he says.

"It is important that everyone with responsibilities for child development, particularly parents, understands how the 0 to 18 health and educational cycle is continuous from birth and does not start on entry to primary school."

'Toddler assessments'

He also calls for regular assessment of pre-school-age children, focusing on social and emotional development "so that they can be put on the path to 'school readiness'".

He adds: "Socially and emotionally capable people are more productive, better educated, tax-paying citizens helping our nation to compete in the global economy, and make fewer demands on public expenditure."

He recommends setting up an independent early intervention foundation to drive early intervention forward, assess policies and attract investment.

"I recommend that the foundation should be led and funded by non-central government sources, including local authorities, ethical and philanthropic trusts, foundations and charities, as well as private investors who have already expressed an interest in this."

Mr Allen is due to publish a second report before the summer parliamentary recess detailing how private sector money can fund proven early intervention programmes.

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