Stop, take a minute, and imagine a world without pre-school learning 

What would that world be like? We wondered…

Maybe children would arrive on their first at school, around the age of four, with much less developed personal and social skills.  They may have a deep sense of unfamiliarity, being unaware of expected routines and behaviours, they may not have many friends in school – or have the ability to readily make new ones. They might come from a large extended family and have experience of peers – but equally they might be the only (or first) child and find the social element overwhelming and bewildering. They could be distressed at detaching from their care-givers for even the briefest of moments. They would be unlikely to be used to adults they had not always known, and this could be a very challenging aspect for some children. Their experience of the world would be entirely dependent on their parents, grandparents and relatives, and possibly limited to their immediate environment and the people within it.  Factors compounded when influenced by the characteristics of disadvantage and inequality.  They may not so far had access to a broad enough range of books and media to understand there is a safe and stimulating world outside their immediate community. At school there would be many tools and materials that would be unfamiliar to them and resource areas that we currently take for granted, like sand, water and role play – all could be entirely alien to them.  

Children’s parents and families may be much less conversant with talking or working with others, or professionals, to meet the learning or health needs of their children.  Many of the early signs of children’s developmental delay, or SEND will not have been objectively noticed, nor sensitively and appropriately raised and discussed.  Children will most likely not have been referred to, or gained access to, early help or early intervention to support their emerging needs.  Their parents, especially mothers, would be economically disadvantaged by struggling to reconcile being primary care-givers and their career ambitions.

And let’s face it, the resultant pressure would start right away. Many children would not necessarily have had the experiences needed to support the conditions of their continuing learning and development.  The gradual and early processes of induction to an educational setting provided by early years providers and the enculturation of expectations would not have even begun.  Schools would have to invest an enormous amount of time working with children and families to address this deficit.  And in doing so, schools and other professionals around children and their families would need to start the process of identifying and meeting needs, and to support engagement and participation in the whole system.  Children’s progress and educational achievement would be slower to get going. Worse still, depending on their informal pre-school experiences, the divide between advantaged and disadvantaged children could be even bigger and grow even more rapidly.

All of this surely shows the importance of investing properly in early years, the consequences of not doing so are real enough.

Written in collaboration with Jan Dubiel.

Photo by Yan Krukau on

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