School initiatives are failing says academic

GOVERNMENT measures to speed up the educational development of young children are failing, according to researchers at a North university.

GOVERNMENT measures to speed up the educational development of young children are failing, according to researchers at a North university.

A study by Durham University’s Curriculum, Evaluation and Management (CEM) Centre – which looked at the performance of 35,000 young children over the past six years – showed no improvements in the thinking skills over that time – a period which has seen the introduction of several early years’ initiatives.

Through the early childhood curriculum, the Sure Start programme, free nursery education for three-year-olds, the Children’s Act 2002 and the Every Child Matters initiative, the Labour Government has overhauled early years’ education. But, according to the report, no significant change has occurred in the development and skills of children entering primary education.

Yesterday, the report’s author, Dr Christine Merrell, from Durham’s Curriculum Evaluation and Management Centre, called for new measures to be rolled out slowly. She said: “What we found was that children’s scores didn’t increase year on year. I don’t think the programmes have been well enough evaluated before they have been rolled out.

“I think they should be starting with new initiatives but they should be introduced systematically. The key is to roll them out cautiously, monitoring them all the time and changing them in areas where they are not working.”

The study also showed that the gap in development between those from affluent and less affluent backgrounds was not getting any smaller. Dr Merrell continued: “It’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Some of the initiatives don’t work in less affluent areas and it needs to be more flexible.

“Some of the initiatives have not been reaching the families that need them most.”

Tests were carried out on 35,000 children entering primary school between 2001 and 2006, testing basic numeracy and language skills.

The research was presented yesterday at the biennial European Association for Learning and Instruction (EARLI) conference in Budapest, Hungary.

Despite some limitations in the research process, Dr Merrell maintained there are significant implications of the study which should influence future policy. She said: “While the Indicators in Primary Schools assessments used in the study do not measure how many children were involved in national initiatives, one would have expected that the major Government programmes would have resulted in some measurable changes in our sample of almost 35,000 children.

“It is possible, however, that it is still too early to measure the effects of these programmes, particularly those of the Children’s Act and Every Child Matters, which were only introduced in the past few years.”

Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes said: “The Government has invested over £21bn on early years and childcare services since 1997 as part of an unprecedented expansion of provision for young children and families.

“Early indications are that this investment is improving outcomes for children. However as the author of this report acknowledges, it is still too early to measure this with any great authority.”

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