Tuesday 28 August 2007

Sure start?

Our friends at Durham University have damned the government's investment in Sure Start on the basis of their baseline tests in a mere 124 (out of 18,000) primary schools. Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, was right to be sceptical on Today this morning. However, the early Sure Start programmes lacked sufficient emphasis on pre-literacy and numeracy skills, and were an excellent example of what can go wrong when 'a thousand flowers' are allowed to bloom unchecked with government money wasted on recreating the wheel. Fortunately, Bev Hughes has corrected most of the deficiencies and embarked on a programme to improve the educational calibre of those running and working in children's centres. She has also worked to ensure that the programme does more to help those families most in need. None of this started while the survey of schools was happening; and even if did, it is meaningless without proper assessment of what children were in Sure Start and how much they benefited from the programme. The proportion of children receiving nursery education was actually fairly stable over the period of their research (though we don't know that from their research). There's plenty of evidence that good nursery education does make a real difference. Sure Start does in some places and can do so universally with the right infrastructure across the country.

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