School chief blasts ‘tots in class’ scheme

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WIGAN’S education chief has hit out at a watchdog plan for children to start school at the age of two.

Ofsted bosses say youngsters from disadvantaged families should be enrolled in school nurseries to improve their life chances.

But Wigan Council’s portfolio holder for children and young people, councillor Susan Loudon, believes no quick-fix can replace the benefits of good parenting.

Coun Loudon said: “We have done exceptionally well extending the offer of nursery places to two-year-olds in the borough, however, we have not yet measured the difference this has made.

“I’m unsure of the benefits of children being at school at two years of age although I understand the benefits of attending playgroup or nursery at this age; children learn a great deal from social interaction and they learn to converse with adults and share with other children.

“Schools cannot replace good parenting; the support, guidance and training children receive from a loving, caring family is part of making the character of our young people.

“Wigan Council is doing well in supporting parents in those early years when they are trying to prepare their children for school.

“We are able to identify families that are in need of extra support early and we, with our partners in health, local schools and children’s centres work hard to address the needs of those families.”

The chair of Ofsted, Baroness Sally Morgan, suggested that many children from poorer backgrounds have a “dire” start to their education.

They can be up to a year and a half behind their better-off classmates by the age of five, she said. Currently in Wigan, one in five children are said to be living in poverty, with experts predicting this figure could rise to more than half of all of the borough’s youngsters in just three years.

Critics have slammed the watchdog’s proposal, saying that Lady Morgan’s suggestion is “beyond belief”.

Ofsted argued that poor parenting, poor diet and poor housing meant disadvantaged children were often not ready to start formal schooling at five.

It has called for a “big brave move” in early years education, with more nurseries attached to schools and with a particular focus on the poorest children.

Lady Morgan said that more schools should take pupils from age three or younger to age 18.

Her comments echo that of a recent Ofsted report which suggested that poor five-year-olds are 19 months behind others of that age who have a more affluent upbringing, and that they often fail to caught up.