Underclass of pre-school children emerging, study says

2 March 2010

A new study by think tank Demos, which draws on data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), blames a lack of spending at pre-school level for educational disengagement in children under four.

It claims that more than one in ten children begin primary school unable to learn and unwilling to build relationships with their peers and are in effect a ‘disengaged generation waiting in the wings’.

Researchers said that data from the MCS showed 66,000 children scored ‘borderline’ or ‘abnormal’ in tests designed to reveal behavioural and emotional problems that are intimately linked to under-achievement at school, risk of truanting and exclusion.

Demos analysis of the MCS data has found a clear relationship between family income and child behavioural outcomes. The difference between children from the poorest and the richest families is stark, with a fifth of those identified as ‘starting school without the behavioural skills’ coming from the poorest section of society, and only 4 per cent coming from the richest.

The authors say children lose out because of ‘disengaged parenting’, where home life is characterised by low interest, low expectations, a lack of support and few or inconsistent rules.

The study, entitled Ex Curricula, was published on the same day as the government’s quarterly statistics on 16- to 18-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training (known as ‘neets’). The current generation of 16- to 18-year-old neets will cost society an estimated £31bn over their lifetime.

According to the study this emerging underclass of pre-school children are more likely to subsequently drop out of the education system and become neets. The authors criticise government policy, saying there is a lack of spending on pre-school children and that this budget needs to rise. ‘The annual cost of the neet problem is more than double the annual spend on Sure Start centres which are about pre-school education’, said Sonia Sodha, one of the study’s authors.

Ex Curricula, published on 25 February 2010 and written by Sonia Sodha and Julia Margo is available at: www.demos.co.uk/publications/excurricula

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