There is a substantial amount of credible evidence that investment in early years can have an incredible impact on some of the most challenging problems in our society including poverty, addiction and violence.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 included legislation that would be of benefit to the youngest, most vulnerable members of our society, including the promise of pre-school places for 3 and 4 year olds, and vulnerable 2 year olds, and the provision of a Named Person for every 0-18 year old in the country. The role of ensuring this legislation and these promises are carried out falls to local authorities, and this task is by no means easy. However, in ensuring that the requirements of law are met within their local authority, priorities can be conflicted and decisions can be made that are counterproductive to the reasoning behind the legislation. The question that has to be considered is ‘What is the priority?’.
Local Authority nursery schools are often running at full capacity, with classes of 40 children per session. However, the demand for places still far outweigh the available provision, and decisions have to be made about how to provide for the children without a place. Is it right to increase the capacity of the nurseries that exist? Or should new nurseries be built?
Is the priority simply for all children to have a place, or should the priority be that the place they have is of the most benefit to the children?
It doesn’t take an academic to recognise that 40-50 children within the one class is not beneficial to the children. The Early Years Collaborative pinpointed attachment-led practice as a key priority over the coming years in Scotland and cramming large amount of children into a nursery is not supportive of attachment-led practice and puts a strain on the capacity of the staff to build strong attachments with the children in their care. It is important to ensure that, in meeting the legislative requirements the decision-makers are not doing so to the detriment of the learning and emotional development children they are supposed to be helping.
With budgets to balance and pressures mounting, the decision-makers are faced with tough choices. But it is important to recognise that for every pound spent on early years, the economic return is ten-fold. The economics of early years can justify every new building that needs to be built for our youngest members of society. Yet, how do we convince our decision-makers at a local level that this is important?