You would have though that investment in pre-school education and care would be pretty uncontroversial. However, the Tories and UKIP have other ideas, voting against or abstaining on my report looking at how countries across the EU can try to give their children the best possible start in life.
Just to illustrate how backward looking and out-of-touch the European Conservatives and Reformist Group, which comprises a majority of British Conservatives, and UKIP really are, my report on early years education and care received 506 votes in favour, 27 against and 55 abstentions when it went through the European Parliament today. The abstentions were from the ECR Group while UKIP voted against.
My guess is that the Tories and UKIP do not know about the body of research showing that those who have received a high standard of care and attention plus some education in their earliest years prior to statutory education achieve better at school, are healthier and are more likely to be employed than those who were not so fortunate. Or perhaps they have just chosen to ignore the findings.
Early years learning, which can encompass anything from formal pre-school education through to advice to parents about how to help their children understand the world around them, is crucial in laying the groundwork for success in school and beyond.
As far as the EU is concerned, Europe is made up of a rich and diverse mix of educational traditions, with early education provided in a host of different ways across the continent. And it is important that these services are available for all, in a way that does not stigmatise children by focussing just on people from disadvantaged social or economic backgrounds.
All the more reason to be concerned about the impact of the UK’s Tory-led coalition government’s austerity dogma on children’s services and Labour’s Sure Start legacy. Figures from earlier this year suggested that 250 Sure Start centres could close as a result of funding cuts, while 2,000 will have to provide a reduced service.
Staff at 1,000 centres have been warned about the threat of redundancy, according to the survey of almost 1,000 centre managers across England. It has been claimed that the closures and reduced services as a result of government cuts could see 60,000 families lose their local centre.
It is heartbreaking that there is a real danger that the Labour Government’s efforts will have been undermined by short sighted Tory-led coalition cuts that are neglecting children’s long-term needs. But it’s also very clear from our European Parliament experience that the Tories just don’t care.