Thursday, 6 June 2013

Children need a good start in life

It is that time of year when parents with young children are being allocated places for primary school. A good education is essential to a child's life chances and I have every sympathy with the parents I meet who want the best for their children. We have many good primary schools in this part of Cornwall and, over the last few years, I have visited almost all of them. However, there has been pressure on the school rolls in recent years due to a spike in the number of children of primary school age and this means that, every year, there are some parents who are unable to get their children into their first choice of school. I always think the saddest cases are those where siblings are separated in different schools because brothers and sisters ought to go to school together.

The schools that perform best are the ones that put greatest effort into recruiting, developing and keeping really good teachers. It is one of the reasons that I support changes the government has introduced to make it easier for schools to reward good teachers by paying them more and also making it easier to move on poor performing teachers. While these changes have been unpopular with teaching unions, I think they are right. Children only get one education and we owe it to them to take sometimes tough decisions to ensure they have the best teachers possible.

While everyone understands the need for a good education, one area that is less understood is the very early years of a child’s life and more needs to be done to highlight the significance of this stage in a child’s development. Primary schools report a huge increase in the number of children now starting school with communication problems and needing extra support.

A couple of years ago, and proof that politics is not always partisan, David Cameron commissioned the Labour MP Frank Field to write a report on ending child poverty and helping children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their full potential. The report concluded that a stable and caring environment during a child’s first five years is absolutely vital and that good parenting is rightfully the key to ensuring this. By the age of three a child’s brain is already 80 percent formed and the experiences of the child in those first few years will influence how their brain grows and which parts develop more or less. A healthy pregnancy, a safe bonding between mother and child with a great deal of love at home, clear boundaries and a focus from parents on helping a child’s communication abilities either through reading books or speaking to them are all essential experiences that really influence the future of a child’s life.

I recently visited Homestart Kernow, a charity in Redruth that does some fantastic work in lending a supportive hand to parents with small children. Homestart consists of trained volunteers who visit those parents feeling the stress of parenthood and needing a little extra guidance. It is one of the few charities out there who really appreciate the early years of a child’s life and they do all they can to make sure toddlers get the treatment they need.

George Eustice can be contacted at or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.