Early Childhood Education and Care in Budapest

Labour Party

As you will have seen from the blog I posted yesterday I am in Budapest at a conference on early years education and care, ECEC, organised by the Hungarian presidency.

It has been an excellent event with experts from all over the EU and beyond. I was pleased today to be part of a panel discussion picking up on the main themes of the last day and a half. My fellow panellists were Peter Moss of the Thomas Coram Research Institute in London who did an excellent job chairing the panel, Bernard Rorke from the Open Society Institute which works with the Roma community in Europe, Benoit Parmentier of Europe de LEnfance in Belgium, Marta Korintus from the Hungarian National Institute for Family and Social Policy and Kari Jacobsen, from Norway, not an EU member, who is the former Head of the OECD Early Childhood Education and Care Network. 

I talked about the need to ensure adequate funding for ECEC since all the academic theories and exchanges of good practice will not get us anywhere unless there is enough money to improve and expand ECEC services. It is my firm view that ECEC should be universal, and we have a long way to go in Britain to achieve that. I also referred the conference to my Report to the European Parliament on early years education and care which will go to the plenary in either April or May.

Yesterday I was privileged to visit a literacy project for 10 and 11 year olds with Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, pictured, after she had opened the conference in the morning. The project was not quite what we in the UK expect when we talk about literacy, being bilingual in Hungarian and English. The children all had an excellent grasp of English and were completely fluent. This only serves to demonstrate that young children can become proficient in a foreign languauge if taught well.

I think it probably helped that the project was based in largest public library in Budapest, a beautiful 19th century building housing more than 800,000 books. The old building theme continued yesterday evening when the conference was invited to the Museum of Hungarian Folk Art, another very grand building of a similar age.

My thanks to the Hungarian Presidency and everyone who organised this conference which has proved a very worthwhile event. It is very good to see the Presidency give priority to ECEC and also to see the Commission taking it up by producing a Communication which has just been published. My Report provides the third part of the initiative and it is heartening indeed to see all three European Institutions working together in such a positive way.

Experts pan the Coalition’s Plans to cut Sure Start

Labour Party

As rapporteur in the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee on early years learning across Europe, I am totally against the Coalition’s plan to cut the Sure Start programme.

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.