Mind the gap: unequal from the start

I was on holiday last week and one of the luxuries of holidays for me is always to have uninterrupted reading time. I always take a couple of easy reading books and also always take a few early years reports that I never seem to have the time to read in detail at home. This was my latest holiday read:

A good few years ago, I was lucky to visit New Zealand for a couple of weeks on a British Council funded study tour of their early years provision. It was one of those life changing experiences that shaped my professional thinking and practice and made me think very differently about how we need to work with young children and their families. It also made me appreciate the commitment we have in England to providing funded early years education places for all pre-school children. The New Zealand Kindies (Kindergartens) we visited were all community based groups that relied heavily on parental contributions and volunteer rotas to keep the buildings and amazing outdoor areas safe, clean and maintained. The NZ government had pledged funding to enable all early years practitioners who wanted to, to qualify as early years teachers but core funding wasn’t provided for a universal early education entitlement for all 3 and 4 year olds.

So it was with real interest that I read the latest report from ‘Growing up in new Zealand’, a longitudinal study that has published 6 reports since 2010. Follow the link below to read the key findings so far:

http://www.growingup.co.nz/en/research-findings-impact/key-findings.html

The latest report, The impact of inequalities in the early years on outcomes over the life course, details the most up to date research into inequalities in early childhood and identifies key priorities for policy makers and practitioners. The report finds that by the time they start formal school (age 5 years) many children in New Zealand are already falling behind their peers in terms of preparedness for formal education and readiness to engage in learning. (I already like this description much better than ‘school readiness’).

The study shows that these inequalities have their origins very early in life and identifies risk factors that cluster for the most vulnerable children and families. They talk about persistent adversities, and suggest that the current unequal access to universal early years services may be widening these equalities.

I was particularly interested in the findings on developing resilience and the research that concludes that to effectively influence and inform policy we need to go beyond looking only at risk factors and also take into account what shapes resilience amongst communities, diverse families and individuals over time. It struck me that this what we are trying to achieve though the Early Outcomes Fund and its focus on reducing the word gap and increasing children’s life chances – and in GM providing access to consistent pathways for all early years children and families. It’s definitely worth reading if you have the time – on holiday or at work!

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