DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg tells The Northern Echo he is determined that all children should get the best possible start in life.
Even before a child hangs up their coat at school for the very first time, the course their life will take is already set in a particular direction.
Very often, this direction is set simply by the child’s background – the circumstances they were born into and their household income – and whether or not they’ve had access to good quality early education.
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I’m determined that all children should get the best possible start in life and be making good progress with key skills even before they start primary school.
Not lagging behind their peers, but part of a level playing field.
I am in politics to build a stronger economy and a fairer society - not just in the short term, but for generations to come.
I want to see a society where what matters is the person you become, not who you were born.
By getting things right from the off children are much more likely to be ready to learn when they start school and to go on and get the most out of their lives.
This is why I’m extending free childcare to over 7,000 two-year-olds in the North East from next year.
Access to decent early education can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn and develop – and set them on a positive course.
The figures are stark – children who experience good quality early education are on average four to six months ahead of those who do not.
We have already introduced 15 hours of free childcare each week for three and four year olds.
But I’m determined that children from less well-off families don’t lose out on these advantages, just because of their background.
From 2013, across England, 130,000 of the least advantaged two-year-olds will benefit, with the number doubling the year after.
Today we’re announcing nearly £2.8m will be given to local authorities in the North-East to help provide this.
This money will be passed onto nurseries and other childcare providers, to help them ensure that eligible two-year-olds in the region benefit.
By focusing on less advantaged families, the money will also help ensure children from poorer backgrounds don’t lag behind their peers on their first day at school.
Even at age five, evidence shows that children living in poverty are already eight months behind their peers in terms of their learning development.
It’s a massive gap and for those left behind school can become a real struggle, affecting their aspirations and leaving them frustrated.
It’s as if the starting blocks have been moved back and the impact can last a lifetime.
Releasing a child’s potential is essential if we are to create a fair society. We’ve made great progress – school children are benefiting from a cash injection through the Pupil Premium and young people are getting into jobs and training through the Youth Contract.
There is no overnight fix to making society fairer and there is a long way to go to close gaps, but I believe it’s a long term ambition that’s achievable.
The increase in free childcare will make a huge difference to families in the North East and to the direction their children’s lives take.
Good quality free childcare gives children a head start even before they walk through the school gates for the first time.
No child should miss out on this just because of the circumstances of their birth.