The Lost Boys – No, not Peter Pan’s Lost Boys – Boys that you and I know   5 comments

I am referring to Save the Children latest report entitled ‘The Lost Boys – How boys are falling behind in their early years’

If you have not read it yet, you can do so by CLICKING HERE

The report was written by Claire Read for Save the Children, who I have met previously to discuss my views on childhood, early education, home based childcare and much more. I am sure neither Claire or Save the Children will be surprised at my comments and opinion about this report as I have commented before on another Save the Children report in this blog  and they know I will be honest in expressing my personal opinion.  Personally I think Claire was quite brave in meeting with me and I admire her determination to gather as many different views as possible to aid her work (and I know she has met with a few of my colleagues and various early years organisations)

So what do I think of this latest report ‘The Lost Boys’?

In general I agree with most of what is reported and the evidence provided BUT I do think there are lost opportunities to go a bit further and a bit deeper in looking at the bigger picture and ways to support all those who work with and support children – including parents.

To support my view, I will look at the report in a bit more detail, but as usual I am not going to share the whole report or back up my thoughts with quotes from others. This is just my personal opinion which I will express in ‘everyday language’. There are many others who I am sure will comment and who will include references to other reports and research.

 

Starting at the beginning with the Executive Summary and recommendations;

I like the opening sentence – it says;

‘We are allowing far too many children in England to fall behind in the crucial early language and communication skills they need to thrive and succeed – and boys are affected most’

I am really pleased that this opening sentence sets the tone for the whole report, because although later on in the report it does mention reading and writing, the focus is on language and communication – which in my opinion is essential as everyone needs to be able to effectively communicate their needs and their ideas in a way that other people can understand. This means that by the time a child starts school they should be able to use a recognisable verbal  language, or sign or use visual prompts. The Early Years Foundation Stage says a child should be able to use English, I struggle with that one as it does depend on how long you have had to learn English, those who have not had opportunity to learn English before starting school, should not be expected to have good language and communication in English at that point (it will develop once they have opportunity)  – but I agree that every child should be able to communicate and express their ideas and needs because as the report says not being able to communicate can have a huge impact on childhood, success at school and life.

 

As an aside I was watching TV the other day where a mother was explaining how she was supporting her child to communicate despite multiple additional needs. The child could only communicate by moving his eyes in the direction of the picture or word that he want to say – and it took a very long time. The mother decided that she needed to support her child and so only sent him to school part time, so that the rest of the time she could help him communicate. At 10, the child is able to express his feelings and thoughts very effectively through poetry – and can also describe how he felt imprisoned in silence wanting to be able to communicate but being unable to do so.

Although most children starting school do not have such complex needs as this particular child – they must feel some of the same frustrations when no one understands them, or they can’t take an active part in play.

 

The summary has a lot of facts and reference to research which of course is important, but for me the overriding issue which comes across, is that boys have less communication and language skills than girls, and boys who live in poverty (in general) fare the worse.

The report does note the progress that has been made in closing the attainment gap in recent years but the gender gap remains.

 

The summary then looks at what can be done to improve things and makes recommendations – I cannot fault these as they would like more graduates to lead settings, and note that if an EYT (or graduate) in every setting – and especially those in the most deprived areas that there will be huge benefits to everyone – including boys.

Something I am really pleased to see is Save the Children would also like to see support for all staff in settings at all levels. This is very important when you consider the wide range of staff with different levels of qualifications and experiences but all who have a valid and indeed vital role to play in enabling children to reach their full individual potential, including their language and communication.

 

As I say I cannot fault the recommendations BUT the bigger picture has not been looked at – and I will pick up on this later in this blog

 

Much of the following pages of the report after the Executive summary are about facts and figures, reason why there is a gender gap and the impact this can have on education and life skills, and therefore each child reaching their own potential.

I do agree with the reasons why boys might have less communication and language skills – and in particular I am pleased to note that the old nature / nurture debate is acknowledged as important but that there is not sufficient evidence to say how much either influences development in both boys and girls communication.

I will leave it to each of you who are reading this blog, to read all the facts and figures, and the reason why we have this gender gap, as I want to move on to the section that starts on page 17 and that looks at what can be done about it.

 

As I expected the report talks about high quality early years settings, and mentions the link between settings with staff with a level 3 or above being connected to the setting receiving a good or above Ofsted grade. It also talks about staff with higher qualifications being role models for other staff, and it mentions the difference a graduate can make to a setting in a disadvantaged area

There is mention about families and communities and the need for access to resources, and the need to encourage both boys and girls through their interests to engage in language rich activities and play.

BUT More could be done – Looking at the bigger picture – my opinion

  • Even if there were enough graduates / EYT’s – how will settings in deprived areas manage to pay enough to get these graduates to stay (rather than just use the setting to get some experience under their belt)? Is there a way that the Government could support this by providing funding to those settings who match certain criteria? Or could a more sustainable setting ‘share’ their graduate say one day a week? And I know despite improvements in joint training and cascading of information – more could be done with this aspect. I also think that some settings lack knowledge around using free or recycled items and could be supported more with this (and that includes by those in disadvantaged areas who have developed these skills and are now experts in it) More could be done to use volunteer organisations to run services like toy libraries and training put on in settings in the evenings and weekends – to staff and parents.

I have lots more ideas (as do many others  – if asked) that could make a big difference for very little in government budget terms.

 

And just another thought – why is funding for volunteer organisations / charities being cut?

A bit short sighted in my opinion as volunteers provide a great deal in expertise and time – and only require their expenses and some training / supervision. As an example in my area just ONE of the organisations I volunteer for, has had the benefit of well over 300 hours of my time in the last year – and that does not include all the reading, meetings, peer support and CPD that I do, that is not done specifically under their name.

 

  • What about home based settings such as childminders? Even if the childminders were willing to undertake the training, how would they afford to do it – not just the cost of the course (which might be funded) but the cost of books, of travel, and lost earnings as well. And if studying who will look after the children – as there is often a shortage of childminders in deprived areas. The ideas above could also benefit those running home based settings, but it must also be noted that many are graduates / have level three qualifications, and much more could be done to utilise these skills not just within their own local communities or with their home based peers but also with in the wider sector.

One aspect that is often overlooked is the relationship between a registered childminder and the parents of the children – much more needs to done to make the most of these relationships – and some research needs to be conducted on outcomes of children – especially in language and communication for children who attend home based settings. Low ratios of children to adults has many benefits but one of the main things is the ability to engage one to one, and to support those important communication skills.

 

  • What about those children, who for whatever reason do not attend an early years setting? (This will include those for whom it is culturally not acceptable to have non family members look after the children, or those for whom language skills of the adults is a barrier). This is one of those situations where support in the community is vital – taking services to the parents and children. With the cuts to Children’s Centres and budgets of support services, this is another area where volunteers could play a very active part. It is also an area where staff from all types of settings could if they had a small amount of funding bridge the gap between home and setting – not just for a one off visit to those who are going to attend their setting but on a regular basis for those who are not attending any setting. Both settings and volunteers could include reading stories, setting up play environments, lending resources, providing information about free or low cost events, and even introducing other parents so friendships can be formed.

So much more could be done, but neither volunteer organisations or settings can do this out of their pocket – they will need some funding. I hope the Government will listen, if not to me , then to others they do engage with from the sector.

 

 

  • And perhaps most vital of all, there needs to be support for parents – and for future parents, so that they have a basic general knowledge about child development and how they as parents can do so much to support their child’s language and communication skills. So this means follow on groups for new parents once their child is born (and with discussions about Health Visitors maybe being cut, this will be even more important), some of the ideas above, child development in High Schools for both boys and girls, more focus on child development and play on college and university courses.

 

In my opinion just training for staff and employing more graduates / EYT’s is not enough and will not on its own make a bigger enough difference. We need to look at the bigger picture and we need to look at the long term as well as the short term.

 

 

The final sentence from the report’s recommendations I think is spot on and the Government need to take heed of this recommendation – and indeed listen to all the concerns being expressed by many, many people – from experts to everyday people like me.

As it says ‘We cannot wait for disadvantaged children and boys to get to school before they receive the support they need.

HEAR, HEAR

We can’t all be wrong – so at the very least the Government must listen – and hopefully then do something about this issue and the underlying problem of lack of funding, lack of respect for those who understand child development more than the Government minsters in charge of developing policy, and the expectation that every child will reach the same development levels at the same time despite their early years experiences at home, in childcare and in school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 responses to “The Lost Boys – No, not Peter Pan’s Lost Boys – Boys that you and I know

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  1. I have used my proffessional experise over 27 years to support families and turn things around for the childern so they have the best possible start to life but government funding has been cut to the bone and funding is nil so Homestart North East Worcestershire will be forced to close.We look at the whole picture as emotional wellbeing is paramount to learning. . Volunteers are not valued by the authorities .

    • I agree Judith, volunteers are not valued by those who use them more to support children. Things like Home Start are vital, and in the grand scheme of things do not cost a lot. I have to wonder how much better Government funding for the now withdrawn Baseline assessment could have been used for things like Home Start and supporting volunteers.

      I volunteer for many organisations and like Home Start their funding is being cut and then cut again. In my opinion very short sighted government policy.

      It is quite ironic I think, that I was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s 2016 Birthday Honours – and yet my volunteering may be drastically reduced or even stopped due to pressure on the organisations I volunteer for, to do more for less as I can no longer afford to pay for my own expenses or CPD.

  2. I think the real problem is skirted around because nobody dare say it…. It’s mobile phones, tablets and social media. The industry is worth billions so the government won’t want to upset the apple cart so to speak. They need to do a comparative study on the advancement of personal technology and reduction in speach, language and communication skills in children starting school. The gap between girls and boys has always been there but with less input from home life it’s becoming more apparent. The childcare sector do an amazing job in the early years and although additional funding would be advantageous on many levels the emphasis needs to be back on parents. Turn off the tech and talk to your kids. All you need to do is take a walk round any town centre, sit in a cafe/ restaurant, take a bus ride and you’ll be surrounded by adults on mobiles, not conversing with their companions or children. Is it any wonder such a high percentage if children aren’t meeting the required levels of speech and language. They are simply not exposed to it, so how can they possibly be expected to learn. With the best will in the world the childcare professionals, support services and volunteers can’t fix this issue. It needs to be tackled at source. But I bet no report will ever be brave enough to say it.

    • Thank you for your comment. You are right about mobile phones and so on, as some children are hardly spoken to. People have written about this including my Save Childhood Movement colleague Sue Palmer. However phones etc are only part of the problem – lack of reading stories, singing nursery rhymes, talking at meals times ( too many TV dinners) and indeed too much TV / dvd’s all can and do impact on children’s communication opportunities at home. Even so provided children do have opportunities to talk, to be listened too these things on there own need not have a negative impact. My own granddaughter who I look after for two of the four days her mother works – can at just under two do a very good impression of Granny when talking on her toy phone ‘Hello Penny speaking’ or ‘hello’ a pause then ‘speaking’.

      When I mention in my blog about child development training I consider gaining an understand of how children’s speech development can be supported to be essential.

      I also mentioned the benefit of home based childcare with low child to adult ratios being important because of the benefit of individual conversations.

      I think that as with most things there are many factors that have an impact.

      As to not wanting to upset the commercial markets, I agree – many are worried about this and steer clear of ‘rocking the boat’. However, I am not one of those people and believe in stating my opinion as part of my role as a advocate for children.

  3. Pingback: Penny's Place Childminding

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