This article by Nick Morrison originally appeared in Forbes on 11/30/16, but for some reason is almost impossible to access now. I reproduce here below the cached version; if there are legal repercussions, I’ll face them when the time comes.
By The Time They Start School, For Some Children It’s Already Too Late
Almost one in three children have already fallen behind by the time they start school, according to new figures.
And among the most disadvantaged children almost half failed to reach a good level of development.
The figures have been denounced as “shocking” by a global children’s charity, which warns that those who start behind are unlikely to ever catch up with their peers and that by the time they start school, it’s already too late.
The data, released by the U.K.’s Department for Education, shows that 31.7% of under 5s in England are not reaching “a good level of development.” The analysis measures achievement across 17 indicators, including listening and paying attention, speaking, reading, using numbers and using their imagination.
Girls do better than boys. While just 23% of girls are failing to reach the target, 38% of boys are falling short. Girls outperform boys on all 17 indicators.
But it is in the area of relative disadvantage that the most glaring differences arise.
While 67% of all pupils reach the expected standard in all 17 indicators, among the most disadvantaged children, those who are eligible for free school meals, only 52% do so.
That means almost half of children from poorer backgrounds are already considerably behind their peers by the time they start school.
Poor white children are the worst performing major ethnic group, with 50% meeting expected goals. Poor white boys are worse still: just 41% reach expected goals. This is in line with other data that shows disadvantaged white students – and particularly boys – lagging behind their peers throughout their school careers.
Global charity Save the Children said the figures showed that some children were being denied a fair start in life.
“It’s shocking that in this day and age, so many children in England – particularly the poorest – are at greater risk of falling behind by the time they reach school,” said Kevin Watkins, the charity’s chief executive.
“We know that children who start behind are more likely to stay behind throughout their lives, with huge implications for the rest of their schooling, their jobs, and even their future relationships.
“We are robbing children of opportunity and denying them a fair start in life. Every child – no matter what their background – deserves the chance to reach their full potential.”
He called for greater investment to tackle a chronic shortage of early years’ teachers.
But despite the importance of the early years of education, too many schools focus resources in later years, when children undergo national tests.
While this is understandable given the weight attached to tests and the impact it can have on a school leader’s career, by this stage it is often too late.
Earlier this year I visited an award-winning primary school that can boast some of the best test results in the country, despite drawing its students from one of the most deprived areas.
According to the school principal, the secret of their success was no mystery. It was heavy and sustained investment in the early years, when children are able to make most progress.
Although many children at this school started well behind their peers, by the time they were aged seven they had caught up. As a result, the school did not need to spend money on expensive interventions with older children, but instead had the confidence that their early investment would pay off when it came to test results.
It is that kind of commitment that is needed to ensure that even when children start school at a disadvantage, it doesn’t have to be too late.
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