My worst fears were confirmed last week when I was privileged to chair the morning session of an important conference in Brussels on early years education and care (ECEC). Organised by Working for Inclusion, the conference was supported by Children in Scotland and the Scottish Government and attended by a number of prominent children’s organisations including Eurochild and the Comenius Foundation for Child Development.
Among the impressive list of contributors were Bronwen Cohen , Head of Children in Scotland, John Bennett and Peter Moss. John Bennett works for the OECD as a senior consultant to the Early Childhood Policy Review and Peter Moss is Professor of Early Childhood Provision at the Institute of Education, University of London. He was the Coordinator of the European Commission Childcare Network from 1986-96, and also edited Children in Europe from 2002-09. We were also pleased to have two representatives present from the European Commission, Margarida Gameiro from DG Education and Culture, and Marie-Anne Paraskevas from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. Stig Lund, from the European Trade Union Committee for Education, also said a few words.
All the speakers highlighted the vital contribution that high quality ECEC services can make to the public good. Families with children under five are at a higher risk of poverty than any other group. While ECEC services are not a ‘cure all’ solution to the problem of unequal and unjust societies, the contribution they can make to helping kids get the best start in life can’t be overlooked.
They stressed, however, that services should be universal, rather than targeted. This is why the Coalition’s planned cuts to Sure Start are so worrying. If, under their new scheme, Sure Start centres only target the poorest families, then it will lead to stigmatisation, which in turn will reduce take up. The Coalition must start listening to experts, rather than simply cutting education funding with impunity.