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Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 01, 2007

Originally posted on Half an Hour, September 1, 2007.

Responding to Alice Miles, in the Times, via Joanne Jacobs.

It’s really irresponsible journalism. Instead of citing statistics showing that lower income people actually use the service, she quotes her friend. Probably such statistics do not exist.

Instead of referring to a survey or some sort of enquiry into why poor people don’t use the service, she speculates.

Instead of thinking about actual problems lower income people face - middle income people drive over and drop off the kids, lower income people don’t have a car - she panders to stereotypes and supposes that they just prefer to let kids watch TV.

Clearly she wants the service closed. She will go on an on about how it doesn’t help poor people. But to her, the situation is much worse. It does.

I would add that the Telegraph coverage, which declares 'Early learning education plan a failure', is equally irresponsible.

The coverage is putatively of a study performed by academics at Durham University "found that children's development and skills as they enter primary school are no different than they were in 2000."

Of course, the Sure Start program, which the article criticizes, was only passed in 2004, which means that children who entered the program, which they do at age three, would be barely out of it now, if at all. There is no reason to expect any change in performance at all.

And the author of the study concedes, "It is possible, however, that it is just still too early to measure the effects of these programmes, particularly those of the Children's Act and Every Child Matters, which were only introduced in the past few years."

What the author does is to lump it in with other programs generically, beginning with those started when Labour took power in 1997. The inference is that because those programs didn't work, the current one isn't working.

Of course, it's not clear that those programs didn't work either. It would make more sense to study the outcomes before 1997 and those achieved after 1997. The results obtained in 2000 might have been a significant improvement, one that the study showed was sustainable.

Moreover, I would add that it is not at all clear that the purpose of the program is to produce the sort of result that the Durham researchers are looking for. The Durham research started before the program was even a gleam in the government's eye.

The story also argues that the government is trying untested programs. It quotes a Conservative critic as saying ""The report is right that there have been too many initiatives that have not been properly tested before being implemented."

But, again, this is simply not true. "Research by the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) demonstrated that two years of high quality early education can give young children a four to six month advantage at entry to reception class and can help those from poorer backgrounds to catch up."

In other words, every assertion in the Telegraph story, including the headline, turns out to be false.


I probably need not say how much damage has been caused by the politicization of education. But it is worth wondering why the conservatives keep doing it.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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