According to a report from the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, nearly half of all children in England are not ready for school when they finish their reception year at the age of five.
Apparently children from poorer areas are more likely to not be ready for school, falling short of developmental milestones set down by the good old Department for Education. Things like paying attention, listening to stories, using the toilet and dressing themselves are apparently beyond 48% of the five-year-olds in England. Interestingly, two years ago this figure was 41%. A 7% drop – far too many children to be forgotten or ignored.
And of course, children who struggle in primary school are less likely to succeed later in their education.
Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCL, seems outraged by these figures and was quoted in the Guardian saying:
We need real action to improve the lives of families, support good parenting and improve access to good quality affordable early years services. The evidence is clear; we have to get it right at the start if individuals are to achieve the best possible health throughout their life.
Have I missed something here? When did this happen? We are one of the richest countries in the world! As Marmot said himself, how can we be failing our children so badly? And more to the point, what can we do to put it right?
The argument tends to be that children not being ready for school is down to poor parenting – the children are not used to sitting still, not used to reading stories or dressing themselves. Bad parents; slap on the wrists.
What bothers me is that there are so many reports saying that children “living in poverty” are failing. We report it, we comment on it… and we file it. Nothing changes; a few months pass, another report comes out saying that children “living in poverty” are failing. I can’t see anything being done about it!
To me, this is yet another alarm bell at the current push for all mothers to return to work as soon as possible, for children to be shoved into whatever sort of childcare they can be squashed into, for everyone to work, work, work. Yes, we should work and contribute to the economy; I’m not saying anyone should have a child and take the next five years off work (though if you want to, you really should be able to). What I’m saying is that if you’re too busy working because otherwise you can’t afford to pay the mortgage then yes, other things will suffer.
On the other hand there are, of course, those who are deemed to be feckless benefits scum, living in poverty and clearly producing floppy, idiot children who can’t tie their own shoes.
Despite what the likes of the Daily Mail would have you believe, children living in poverty are not the victims of feckless parents who would rather spend their money on flatscreen TVs and drugs. Nobody has a child just for the £20.50 a week Child Benefit; the vast majority of parents want the absolute best for their child; some of us are just more able to provide that than others. Perhaps a parent can’t read with their child because they have been failed by the education system themselves. Perhaps they don’t know how to cope with their child’s challenging behaviour, and after a couple of years of the stress of coping with this on your own, you don’t have the patience left to wait as they try to dress themselves. Parenting can be a tough job, and if you have no help or support, it’s even harder. Surely we should be helping all parents, regardless of their background, income or educational achievements?
The working poor – of which I am most probably classed as one – and those on benefits seem to be being forgotten by this country. If our children are failing at school, shouldn’t the whole country be more worried than a single news report here and there?
If parents are too busy working and scratching their heads over how to make ends meet, then yes, they are probably too tired and stressed for story time. If they have to get across town for nursery drop off at 8 and work at 8:15 then yes they’re going to just dress their child themselves in order to get out of the house on time, rather than let them spend half an hour trying to get their own trousers on.
Surely if poor children are struggling in school, we need to help them? The cure for cancer could be stuck inside the head of a child who’s been written off at age five because he didn’t sit still for story time! There is no guarantee that the great minds of the next generation are all currently living in mansions; some of them might well be in grubby council flats, comatose in front of CBeebies while their mum scrapes together enough food for their tea.
It’s so easy to blame parents for somehow causing their children to fail; but as those children grow up, who ultimately pays for their failure? Surely we all do. If parents are struggling to help their children learn, help the parents; don’t judge them!
When you were a kid, did you ever play that game where you grabbed a younger sibling’s hand and slapped them around the face with it repeatedly whilst saying “stop hitting yourself?” Sometimes, it feels like that is what this government is doing to us, doesn’t it?