What’s The Priority?

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?


David’s Story

We know that in adults, if you go to Polmont Prison and you speak to young offenders there who are violent young men, they don’t know any better; they were brought up in a war zone so they are warriors, that is what they do, that’s how they understand life.

 – John Carnochan –

I have just started to pursue my Masters qualification and have began my inital study for my Postgraduate Certificate in Early Years. Those of you who know me or who have read my blog for any amount of time over the past four years will know that I am passionate about the Early Years movement and I am excited to be living in Scotland in a time where our government have pledged millions of pounds of funding into Early Years – true recognition of the significance of this time in a child’s life.

One of the first activities that I have undertaken in my studies involved watching this video. John Carnochan is a fantastic speaker and is a strong voice for Early Years not only in Scotland, but in the world. I had the privilege of hearing this man speak at an event earlier this year, and his passion and belief in the subject is inspiring!

Within the video he refers to David’s Story. This real-life case study is well-known amongst Early Years workers in Scotland as it forms the basis of the Early Years Framework and, in some ways, has been the catalyst for change and investment in our children and in early intervention.

David was born in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland to a mother who used drugs, drank and smoked throughout the pregnancy. He was brought up in an extended family none of whom have ever worked; 3 “uncles” have convictions for serious violence. Before he was 9 David moved or was rehoused 8 times, 4 times due to domestic abuse. David is one of the smallest boys in his year when he starts high school, in an area with high crime levels. He is soon truanting, involved in gang activity and identified as “outwith parental control”; he is known to various agencies including the police and social work. At 14, after a series of exclusions, he has left mainstream education. He drinks, takes drugs and abuses solvents. His family resist offers of help. At 15 he commits 3 assaults, theft, breach of the peace, robbery, steals 2 cars, commits various road traffic offences and is charged with attempted murder. While awaiting action to be taken for these offences, David visits the nearby city centre. David has been drinking and is carrying a knife. David bumps into complete stranger John and stabs him once in the upper torso. John dies 15 minutes later. David is sentenced to 7 years for culpable homicide.  – Excerpt from The Early Years Framework

The fact that David’s story is a true story may not come as a surprise to many people. He is someone that you would recognise within a community. It’s, sadly, a story that is not uncommon.

David’s story highlights a downward spiral from poor parenting and family environment into disengagement, youth crime, substance abuse and eventually murder. Yet, was his fate inevitable?

We know that children live what they learn. David had grown up surrounded by violence, instability, abusive relationships and negative relationships. He was one of the children who only knew darkness and who was a fighter – because he had to be in order to survive. The various influences in David’s upbringing had already caused damage before he had even hit the age of going to school. Yet, David’s story did not need to end the way it did.

When you read David’s story, there were multiple occasions when people could have stepped in to offer support to both his mother and David himself. When David was born, what help could have been offered to his mum, who would clearly have been vulnerable having smoked, drank and taken drugs throughout the pregnancy? What alerts were there for the child who was living in an extended family where there were Schedule 1 offenders? What communication was there between the schools that David attended through all his moves? Before David even got as far as high school, there were opportunities for the professionals connected with David to step in and help.

And that is where early intervention is key.

I refuse to believe that the circumstances a child is born into equal the end result and worth of that child. Children are beautiful blank slates when they are born. They have the potential to be anything – but they can’t do it alone. The Early Years Framework states: “It is clear that no one programme of work or action will be successful in turning around lives affected by complex and ingrained social problems. It will take a concerted and long-term effort across a range of policies and services to deliver the transformational change in early years…” 

To read more about Scotland’s approach to Early Years you can read The Early Years Framework here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/257007/0076309.pdf

Scotland’s Multi-Agency Early Intervention approaches and procedures can be seen here: www.scotland.gov.uk/gettingitright

Education is the key…

Every so often something appears in the news or on tv that truly sends a wave of despair over me. As a natural optimist, and positive thinker, it really does take a lot to wear me down. Even so, this is one of those pieces of news that really got to me.

On Monday evening hundreds of thousands of Scots watched the first episode of the new BBC Scotland series, The Street. In the episode, viewers witnessed a shocking, violent racist attack on a street busker in Glasgow city centre. I refuse to post the video of the attack here as it is not only shameful, but filled with foul and abusive language. However, if you wish to see what happened, you can do so here:  http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/video-sickening-racist-attack-glasgow-3158282

The article states that the ‘so-called’ man responsible for the attack was convicted – but he is one of many who believe it is okay to treat people in this manner…..many of whom will never be forced to confront their behaviour or the effects.

As a human being, it sickens me to think I share the earth with people who do not value others in the same way as themselves because of the colour of their skin, or the religion they practise, or the political side on which they fall. As a teacher, it fires me up and makes me even more passionate about my vocation and the importance of instilling acceptance, tolerance and values in the children I teach and encounter every day. It makes me care even more about giving children opportunities to explore and identify emotions in themselves and in other people, in building emotional literacy and empathy, as well as recognition of this incredible world we live in, and how amazing the creatures are who inhabit this earth.

My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.
Maya Angelou

In the many heated and anger-fuelled conversations I have seen happen online since this video was aired, one comment appears regularly – the idea that education is the key to confronting these attitudes. Education is a vital resource in building an understanding of the world. Education is so much more than ‘ABCs’ and addition and subtraction. Education has the power to open up minds and give people the chance of seeing the world from the point of view of another person.

It is clear that the individuals who perpetrated this attack have not had the opportunity for building up that knowledge, or perhaps have had these attitudes passed down to them from previous generations. They show a complete lack of empathy and emotional literacy – as if they do not know or care what they may have in common with this man, nor do they care about the impact their words have on those around them. Their violence and their aggressiveness looks almost engrained – as if their almost primal anger is their first ‘go-to’ emotion.

Where do these attitudes come from? As babies, we are blank slates, with infinite potential. We are born with the need to connect and to engage with other people. How we are brought up, encouraged, guided, supported and loved through those early years shapes the person we become and the attitudes we have. Yet, I wonder, if you have not had the ability to build your own understanding of the world, your own emotional literacy and empathy…..how can you begin to educate your own children? This is where it falls, not only to parents, but to schools, nurseries, social workers, parenting groups, community workers, everyone who helps to bring up children and support families in raising their children, to help educate and build these values and inner-resources.

Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time. – Rabindranath Tagore –

As a Facebook friend of mine posted, regarding the attack…

It doesn’t take much really to educate kids, i made a point of buying baby when she was born a selection of dolls of the world, and explain to her that we’re just a small drop in a giant pond  That life might take her somewhere unknown and to be prepared to embrace and fit in it.