SEAS sees a set of changes at Early Years to include
- personalised pathways at early years including opportunity to defer starting age
- more challenging and enjoyable learning through an emphasis on purposeful play
- increased investment in early years targeted on care and education in most deprived areas
- greater collaboration across communities, centres and schools
Across Europe the developed mature education systems of Europe, debate continue in learning’s “bangs for bucks” discussion. Within an education system when is the greatest impact upon learners’ development? Where is investment going to offer the best return? More often, the answer is being found in an “invest to save” preventative agenda within early years.
UNICEF opened its 2017 report on education in the early years with a call to the financial case for investing early.
“The financial case for investing in children’s early moments is strong. The rate of return on investing in early childhood programmes can be about 13.7 per cent. The benefits are reaped in better education and health outcomes, lower crime and higher individual earnings. Investments in children’s early development can lead to better individual adult incomes of up to 25 per cent.” UNICEF (2017) “Early Moments Matter for Every Child”
The SEAS sees the need for the Scottish Labour Party to develop a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood. Such services should be flexible, accessible, affordable and responsive to community needs with all year round provision and ensure that all children and family services support parents and carers where appropriate in identifying children’s needs and providing them with timeous and appropriate support.
Within such care and learning services we need more flexibility across the starting ages for children with the opportunity for the delay and deferring when schooling starts. In addition we need to shift from schooling to better quality learning. The evidence now from research and neuroscience shows that children develop best through challenging, enjoyable learning. An emphasis on play at the early years is crucial. We can look to invest more in Early Years. Furthermore we should be targeting resources towards communities facing challenges of poverty and deprivation. A child’s foundation years in early learning and care settings are crucial to future successes.
In Scotland we start with advantages in early years learning due to Curriculum for Excellence. Curriculum for Excellence provides curriculum continuity with its shared set of experiences and outcomes 3-7 years.
When Curriculum for Excellence was starting it was proposed
‘… bring the 3–5 and 5–14 curriculum guidelines together to ensure a smooth transition in what children have learned and also in how they learn. This will mean extending the approaches which are used in pre-school into the early years of primary, emphasising the importance of opportunities for children to learn through purposeful, well-planned play.’
Further investment in early years can build on the flexibility within the framework of Curriculum for Excellence to promote challenging enjoyable and relevant early learning through purposeful play and staggered start dates for children. Like the Senior Phase learning pathways at early stages need to be more varied, diverse and individualised.
The SEAS wants consider greater flexibility in starting ages beyond 5 and greater flexibility in the curriculum to ensure more play and experiential learning across 0-7 years. Many children will benefit from a flexible school start. It would be better than too-early and too-formal approaches of schooling. (Children in rows, rigid groupings, strict timetables). The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages evaluated as part of a Curriculum for Excellence review. We need to make schools more ready for children not get children ready for schooling.
The OECD recent report, Starting Stronger supports the idea of more flexible support proposing better quality in early years. It emphasis the benefit of educational interventions at early childhood for those disadvantaged children compared to well-off children.
Again the UNICEF report stated
“If we don’t invest now in the most vulnerable children and families, we will continue to perpetuate intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality. Life by life, missed opportunity by missed opportunity, we are increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots and undermining our long-term strength and stability.”
In terms of tackling poverty it would be helpful to have children living in areas of deprivation to be well supported and targeted in their community through connecting and collaborating between teachers, parents and carers and early learning staff to aim to narrow the early gaps that appear in their learning. They need high-quality teaching and play-based learning. High-quality early childhood education and care will benefit disadvantaged kids the most, by providing the basis for successful lifelong learning and by fostering their socio-emotional skills.
In addition the need for collaboration among staff at pre-school and primary must be based on reciprocal communication, inclusivity, mutual trust and respect. The SEAS wants more collaboration at this operational level rather than bureaucratic Regional Collaboratives and standardised testing at age 5.
The SEAS sees the need to invest in teachers too and redress the decline in Scottish teachers’ salaries that has occurred under the SNP. According to OECD teachers’ salaries in Scotland fell by 10% between 2010 and 2015, leaving our teachers the third worst off across twenty OECD counties. The SEAS supports improvement in quality of staff and the transition to a qualified, graduate-led workforce, by increasing staff wages and enhancing training opportunities. This will benefit staff, who are among our worst-paid workers, and improve child development.
In his paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Brian Boyd showed how schools could deliver transformational change and put equity at the heart of education
“Thus, investment in early years education, a re-evaluation of the age when formal learning is introduced and a commitment to a shared set of values, where every child is seen as having the potential to be a successful learner, would be a major step towards the achievement to a fairer, more equitable system of schooling.”
UNICEF report (2017) “Early Moments Matter for Every Child”
Labour Manifesto For the Many
Scottish Labour Manifesto Together we’re stronger
A Common Weal Education Brian Boyd Jimmy Reid foundation (2014)
Starting Stronger OECD report 2017
HMI Early Years report Quality Improvement in Scottish education (2016)