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KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 08-Oct-13 12:33:39

Save the Children: "The gap between rich and poor starts as soon as UK children get to school"

A new report by Save The Children finds that poor children who are behind in the 'three Rs' at the age of seven will probably never catch up with their richer peers.

Here William Higham, Save the Children's director of UK poverty, explains why the charity is calling for a tripling of the 'pupil premium' to help redress the balance. But what do you think should be done to prevent children's futures being determined by their birth?

William Higham

Director of UK poverty, Save The Children

Posted on: Tue 08-Oct-13 12:33:39


Lead photo

Poorer children's life chances are determined by age seven, says Save The Children

Last month, I dropped my daughter off at school for her first day of Year One. It felt like a big moment. It was her first day of real school, the beginning of the most exciting journey she will ever go on.

That journey is harder for some children than others. For the UK’s poorest children, the first few years of school aren’t their first steps on a road of discovery, but their last chance to keep up with their richer counterparts.

Too Young To Fail, Save the Children’s new report into the effects of poverty in the UK, looks at why poorer children do worse at school that their better off classmates and reveals a shocking fact: that by age seven, we can tell which children will do well in their GSCEs and which will not. The poorest children are likely to do worse. The conclusion is inescapable: poverty holds back children’s life chances, and the gap between rich and poor starts as soon as children get to school.

Despite progress from both this government and the last, we’re still failing too many children too young. In fact, unless we do something urgently, half a million seven year olds – today’s newborn babies - will behind in their reading and writing by 2020.

But there is good news too. We know that with the right help at the right time, we can help poor children catch up. Seven is not too late to turn things round, and we’re already rolling out programmes to help close the gap in educational attainment between rich and poor.

We know it’s not easy, especially when times are hard. We’ve just surveyed parents of young children around the country. All parents, regardless of how much they earn, knew the importance of education. However, we found that parents earning under £17,000 a year were cutting back in large numbers on enriching activities like music lessons and school trips that we know can make a difference.

The conclusion is inescapable: poverty holds back children's life chances, and the gap between rich and poor starts as soon as children get to school.

And it’s not just affecting the poorest. Those on incomes the next level up, the kind of salaries you’d expect for teachers, nurses or midwives, are facing a double squeeze on time and money. They are working longer hours that make is harder to spend time with their families and they are also cutting back on educational activities by nearly as much as the poorest group.

That is not to say that these parents – whether time poor and cash poor- are bad parents. In fact, families facing financial challenges can be the most creative in helping their children learn. One family I met were so desperate to keep their children in school after losing their home that they spent three hours a day on the train, doing homework together, trying to turn a desperate situation for their family into an advantage for their children. They are not alone. Families all over the country are juggling time and money to get the best for their children. When they realise they are not alone it’s like watching a weight being lifted from them.

That’s why we make sure our programmes bring families together with schools to support their children’s education together. Families that meet at our programmes often form childcare networks, swap advice, even share lifts to the supermarket to save money on petrol. By bringing communities together, we can help make sure the poorest children aren’t left behind.

We're urging people across the country to support our work. We're aiming to recruit 20,000 ‘change makers’ over the next four years who will help us reach children in their first chapters of life, giving them a better chance of fulfilling their potential.

But we also want all political parties to do more. We are calling on the government to immediately allocate an additional £1000 “fair chances premium” for children aged five, six and seven who are falling behind and to triple the pupil premium to between £3,000 - £4,000 for every eligible primary school pupil by 2020. We want all political parties to pledge to ensure that every child leaves primary school with a good education, including being a confident reader.

Last week I was at a school in Salford visiting a volunteer reading scheme that we are rolling out around the country. I met Mackenzie and Loreal, two seven year olds brimming with enthusiasm to show off their new reading skills. Both had spent time over the last year with a volunteer, reading one-to-one. That time and focus had changed their stories - now we need to give the same opportunity to every child who falls behind.

That’s why we’re rolling out more programmes than ever before to give every child a fair start in life. Over the next few years we’ll work with tens of thousands of children. But it’s only a small part of what’s needed. We know parents have more enough on their plates with their own kids, but by spreading the word to others we can get the community action we need- from parents, volunteers, and politicians - to make sure that no child starts their journey carrying the burden of poverty on their shoulders.

Tell us what you think about the latest research on the thread. Is an increased pupil premium the answer - or are there other ways to ensure that children start from a level playing field?

By William Higham

Twitter: @savechildrenuk

sturdyoak Wed 16-Oct-13 11:06:37

DavidYoung I only hope you are not singing this when you are old.

DavidYoung Wed 16-Oct-13 11:40:34

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

sturdyoak Wed 16-Oct-13 11:45:11

DavidYoung So what do you suggest should happen concerning people who are suffering psychologically, to such an extent, it is likely they will harm themselves or others?

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Oct-13 11:48:54

david you're wrong. five minutes on google would show you. neural imaging would be a good starting point.

DavidYoung Wed 16-Oct-13 12:53:24

Neural imaging has never been used to provide any falsifiable definition of a so-called mental illness. A mental illness is, and has always been, defined as nothing more than a list of alleged symptoms.

There will always be parents who believe in the mental-health myth and there will usually be some who see through it, in much the same way that there will probably always be some parents who believe in demon possession or that their children's poor performance at school is due to 'all these foreigners practising their voodoo, I mean you don't know what they get up to behind closed doors, do you?'.

Complete deregulation means that each group can squabble among themselves as to what should go on inside their schools. The one thing they would all have in common is that none of them would be complaining about incompetent government bureaucrats interfering in their children's education.

And of course if at some stage the shrink-obsessed school genuinely comes up with something that has demonstrably beneficial results, the sceptical parents may well say 'I have seen the light! I'll send my children to your school instead.'

The rest is just market forces.

HorryIsUpduffed Wed 16-Oct-13 13:18:26

Um, leaving aside how grossly offensive it is for you to use the phrase "so-called mental illness" and patronising inverted commas all over the place...

... if a child with a diagnosis does not respond to interventions that work for children without that diagnosis, but does respond to strategies that work for other children with a similar diagnosis, then that at the very least proves the efficacy of the alternative strategy for those children presenting with the same symptoms?

I really don't give a shiny shit whether a diagnosis is empirically provable or not, if said diagnosis allows the patient to access help and make progress.

Saying "you can't have any help because your problem is qualitative" is cuntery.

sturdyoak Wed 16-Oct-13 13:19:57

DavidYoung I am curious, what has brought you to this viewpoint, how is it informed?

I believe, whilst we may not know all there is to know concerning mental health and illness, there are certainly psychological symptoms, which can be observed. Unfortunately, people who may want to capitalise on this, can cloud the validity of diagnosis somewhat.

What remains though, is people who need help, people who recover with help and granted, some that recover without help. However some don't recover, some of them become severely disturbed and go on to harm themselves or others, which I would hope you would want to prevent.

So what do you think should be done?

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