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Sure Start

September 14th, 2005 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 1 Comment · Politics

First of all there was the story itself about the findings of a report into the effectiveness of the government’s Sure Start programme. The part of it which grabs the attention is that it shows no overall improvement in areas covered by the scheme.

However, I have to agree with comments made that we should not write off the programme.

The most important thing is that the whole idea of Sure Start is to improve the lives of otherwise deprived children, not only through services for them but through services for their parents, even before they are born. We will not know how much of a success it is until we can look at the acheivements of children whose parents had the benefits of the Sure Start programme before birth (before pregnancy even) and we would have to look at them when these children are reaching adulthood.

Sure Start has not been running long enough to do that, which makes me very wary of the report right at the beginning. To make matters worse, it appears that the comparisons were made between areas where the programme is operating and areas where it is not – the children in the Sure Start areas were not necessarily ones whose parents had made any use of the programme. So it is comparing children who have no exposure to Sure Start with children who have had no exposure to it, but whose neighbours may have done. Very scientific.

Frankly, the report seems like a waste of time and money, which runs the risk of having its headline-grabbing main findings used as a stick with which to beat a very promising initiative.

For me the key paragraph in the first story is

A study also being carried out by the Birkbeck team tracking 8,000 children born and raised under Sure Start would ultimately provide a much fuller picture than the original snapshot evaluation, which had to be delayed a year because Sure Start schemes took so long to get fully under way

I do hope we can wait until the results of such studies come along before doing anything stupid.

In an ideal world, we would wait another 15 years so that the report could include a comparison of how those children progress through primary and secondary school, which is where the real benefits should be felt. Can we stretch our attention span that far? Can we have the patience to trust in long-term fundamental schemes like this instead of expecting to find some magic quick fix?

Of course, in an ideal world you could not carry out a properly scientific study as there would be no children deliberately left behind to provide a control group!

At the moment there are too many children born who are at a disadvantage. In the race of life they start behind and the gap gets bigger as they get older. Sure Start, in theory, should give them the push needed to narrow that gap, but it will not do that while they are still in the programme: the gap will narrow as they grow rather than widen, and it is important to all of us in society – Tories included.

I would rather be paying to give them a start in their first 5 years than spend the rest of my life paying a lot more in benefits, schooling, policing, and other costs instead. If it can work it is right on both moral grounds and for self-interest. It would be a shame if anyone tried to score cheap political points off this. Oops. Too late

We have a Sure Start programme running in Broadfield. There are some visible signs already, like the playground they provided to the Community Centre, and their own brand-new nursery building and HQ, but it goes a lot further than that. I have talked to young mothers who have, through Sure Start, had practical training and gained certificates, making up for gaps in their education. There is help provided to get women to give up smoking during or before pregnancy as well as advice on providing better nutrition for the children when they are born. It is not just a glorified nursery school as some people seem to think.

It could be the single best thing which our government has done, if we do not let it be undermined by short-sighted short-termism.

By all means keep the thing under scrutiny, it would be foolish to not keep an eye on anything which costs so much, but do that as an exercise in looking for ways to tweak and improve it, not to sink it.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • AndiC

    Thanks for pointing out about this service and the service to help women to give up smoking during pregnancy. I would also like to point out that there are many services, networks and groups available to help, information about these can be also found at your local surgery in the form of leaflets. I am also sure your GP or local nurse will also be happy to help. There are also many resources on the internet.