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'Unacceptable' that only half of five-year-olds achieve good level of development

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

A Government adviser on health inequality has called it “unacceptable” that only just over half of five-year-olds achieve a good level of development.

Sir Michael Marmot, director of the University College London's Institute of Health Equity, claims children are being failed in the early years, with only 52 per cent showing a good level of development by the end of Reception year.

For those getting free school meals, the figure is as low as 36 per cent.

Sir Marmot, who led the review of health inequalities for the Government back in 2010, called Fair Society, Healthy Lives, said the development of children in England is falling behind children in a lot of other Western countries.

He said: “We continue to fail our children. How can this still be happening? For three years the Institute of Health Equity has published evidence showing we are failing our children. It is unacceptable that only half of our five-year-olds are achieving a good level of development.

“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.”

The review in 2010, found good children’s development, maximising skills, ensuring employment in good quality jobs, sufficient income and a healthy environment were all crucial to ensure optimal health outcomes and to reduce inequalities in health by social position.

The new figures from the Institute of Health Equity, show that these poor results for children’s development are likely to lead to increases in health inequalities in the future. The figures also showed that there has been deterioration in living standards, with the proportion of people living in households with income below the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) increasing by a fifth between 2008/9 and 2011/12, from 3.8m to 4.7m households.

Sir Marmot has called for the Government to offer more parenting support such as at Sure Start centres and provide more subsidised childcare giving a greater number of parents the opportunity to work.

Government must do more to support disadvantaged children

In response to Sir Marmot’s comments, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “It is vital that all children, and particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are given the best possible start in life.

“Research has clearly shown that high-quality early education has a positive impact on children’s long-term development - and yet, despite this, the early years sector has continued to endure significant funding shortfalls, while sustained Government cuts have led to the closure of vital support services such as Sure Start children’s centres.

“As highlighted by Sir Marmot’s comments, the Government needs to do far more to support those children and families most in need.

“Substantial investment is required to support the provision of quality early years services and the delivery of targeted support and intervention, and we would urge the Government to act on these concerns as a matter of priority.”

Children's centres key to tackling disadvantage

The Impact Report out by Action for Children, earlier this year, showed three-quarters of children who attended a children’s centre run by Action for Children were more ready to start school as a result.

Emma Smale, head of policy and research at the charity, said “We know from our experience of running children’s centres that they help children to develop physically, emotionally and socially in their crucial early years.

“To reach more of the families who need this support most, children’s centres have to be able to identify them.

“That’s why we are calling on the Government to give centres access to local birth data from the NHS.”

Plans are already in place to address the issues raised by Sir Marmot, according to a Department for Education spokesperson, who said: “No child should start school behind their peers. This is why our plan for education is providing flexible, affordable and good quality childcare.

“We are raising the status and quality of the early years workforce by introducing rigorous new qualifications so practitioners are highly skilled and can help all children reach the expected level of development. Furthermore, we are investing £50m from April next year to extend the pupil premium to the early years.”


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