Wean’s World

Twelve years of devolution have largely failed Scotland’s children.  In twelve years of plenty, with record billions at our disposal, we have conspired to create a Scotland in which educational attainment has flatlined and health has deteriorated.  Our children are now less well fed and less well off;  they are more vulnerable, more abused and more neglected;  violence and alcohol blight their lives daily.  Our need and greed trumps theirs every time, from our inability to parent them sufficiently well to our work getting the best of us, from our helicopter parenting to turning a blind eye to those who need our protection.  We deny them the little things that make the difference – healthy meals, a book at bedtime, safe places to play – and also the big things – a future secure from debt, both national and personal; an ecologically balanced world where species flourish not founder; a happy, healthy, safe and secure childhood that will enable them to grow into successful adults.

It doesn’t have to be like this.  And promisingly, there are signs that the political parties are beginning to agree. If I was in cynical mode, I’d suggest that the recent campaign focus on children, families and early years has more to do securing the vote of the “squeezed middle” in this election.  But I’m not.  I have to – want to – believe that finally, albeit stutteringly, politicians are getting it.

To reform public services simply to save money is to miss the point. There must be a purpose to such activity.  So how about this:  to ensure that all our children have the best start in life, enabling future generations to realise their potential and turn Scotland into the power house nation it could so easily be.

Forget the current generation.  We’re a lost cause.  Our unhealthy lifestyles, working habits, consumerist obsessions and environmental ignorance mean we are the problem, not the solution.  We want it bigger and shinier, and we don’t want to have to work or change to get it.  The mantra is more and faster please. Trying to get us to shift our values and attitudes, to save us from ourselves, is pointless.  We are the ones who will work until we drop to pay for all our madness and it’s time we just accepted our fate.  And at the same time, agree that it really can be better for our children and children’s children.

The same as before simply will not do.  Which is why we need Curriculum for Excellence to work:  if that means sweeping away the vested interests of teachers whose intransigence will cause it to fail, then so be it.  Learning skills rather than subjects, accumulating knowledge through action rather than cramming, developing confidence through practising, growing awareness of everything around them by using it in daily activities –  this is education in its fullest sense.  But we must also go further and fully integrate educational concepts and theories which venture beyond the statist approach to education, and particularly pre-school education, to create real Kindergartens and child-centred nurseries.

It is now a commonplace that by the time they start school, it is too late for some.  The theories around attachment and baby and child development, and the impact of disassociation and chaotic parenting are now a given.  We now know the outcomes for children denied the best start in life – substance misuse, crime, societal and economic disengagement, emotional disfunction and violence.  To change, we must avow to end our love affair with alcohol and create a whole population shift that eschews violence in all its forms, verbal, emotional, physical and sexual.  We must invest in parenting – it is after all, the most important job a person will ever do.  That means enabling and cajoling fathers to be more involved in the nurture of their children, while changing the culture that demotes women’s status and income when they become mothers.  We need to create real space in our lives for the role of aunt, uncle, cousin and grandparent, to celebrate the value of these relationships for children’s well being. Targeted activity to ensure the most vulnerable children are not allowed to fail is crucial, as is creating seamless – by right, not fight – supports for families with disabled children so they can be as ordinary as the rest of us. But the best outcomes are achieved by universal investment and action.  We must become a truly child-friendly and centred society so that this generation grows up to be different, with more gentle, less strident values, whose ambitions are less material and more intangible.

So yes, we need that extra £20 million invested in health visitors, and better training for teachers in identifying and supporting children’s additional needs (thank you, Scottish Conservatives);  and we need the £250 million Early Intervention Revolution fund to fund family intervention projects, encourage breastfeeding and develop parenting skills (thank you Scottish Liberal Democrats);  and we need a bill that creates a statutory entitlement to early years measures and support for expectant parents, as well as more family centres (thank you, Scottish Labour);  and we need a £50 million Sure Start Fund that will help pre-school children in our most deprived communities, while developing a children’s centre model to provide everything that families need under one roof (thank you Scottish National Party).

But we need it all and more.  All of it not some of it. Investing in early years shouldn’t involve finding extra money or be seen as an added-on policy stream.  It should be core to everything we do, and we need to start shifting money from just in time, crisis spending into early, preventative spending.  The BBC Scotland poll shows how far the public has to travel in order to get this but it requires politicians to lead the debate.  Down with inputs, up with outcomes!

We must agree our common purpose from this election onwards.  To stop asking what’s in it for us and start determining what we can do for them.  We can bequeath a better future for our children, but only if we put them at the heart of everything we do.

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  1. John Ferguson says:

    How woud a government creat a condition where they could manipylate the population with ease. Simple, destroy the family umit. This takes time but in the long run it works. What made the country strong, the family unit, the close community a united population who shared the same culture and values. In short, an opposition to any government of the day, so, how to change this? simple, dilute and fragment see what you get, single parent families and mass immigration ,a huge change in values and the world according to the the great God TV adds. It’s all about immage and shallow values where reallity dies and kids pay the price.

    1. John Ferguson says:

      Sorry for the spelling what happens when I’m on a rant sorry

      1. burdzeyeview says:

        As a lone parent myself, John, I’m sorry but I have to disagree. And to lay the blame on lone parent families is a bit rich, when all these children do have a second parent, somewhere. The point is that as a society we put too much store on everything else than being a parent and that leads to relationship strain and break ups.

  2. Ray Bell says:

    I believe the money is going somewhere in many cases. It’s not uncommon for folk to spend more on their TV, XBOX/Playstation etc, Hi-fi, satellite television etc than their dietary needs and their children. Other folk splurge out on cars and expensive trainers. I’m not talking about particularly rich people here. It seems like we have the wrong priorities sometimes.

    Other parents are more obsessed with “spoiling” their children at Christmas, rather than feeding them proper food or helping them get educated.

    1. burdzeyeview says:

      Yep because we are encouraged to do so – the most important thing a parent can do, in the current culture, is work not parent so we – and I include myself in this! – buy off our guilt by spoiling our children with material things. We, as parents could do more, but we also need to shift the culture load against parenting and more fully, families.

  3. Ray Bell says:

    I’d also go for abolishing mixed-ability classes too. They don’t work. If a pupil is good at a subject, they need less attention, and probably more complex exercises. If a pupil is bad at a subject, then they need more time devoted to them by the teacher. Such classes hold the more able pupils back, and do not help the less able ones, who require more attention.

    (That and making the classes smaller in some cases, that would help too)

    I have experience of both, I was excellent at English, but appalling at maths!

    1. burdzeyeview says:

      Likewise! And yes I think I probably would agree with you actually though the stigma of never being in the good classes was awful. I’d go for smaller classes and more support in those classes for kids who need it first before removing mixed ability. Anyway, a bit of a myth that they have been abolished. My son is primary 3 and is in sets for literacy and maths.

  4. martin says:

    Heres another rant, I agree,Child Centred equal opportunity for a chance at life definitely, from conception to completion say at 18yr, a statutory right and obligation from society robustly enforced without fear or favour for the individual child.
    I think Scotland is a power house, historically not just for potential expansion, its just Scots in the lost generation you speak of haven’t noticed, and have in the main been content to be out in the garden looking in, rather than in the house building out, looking to be lead.
    I think the more and faster belongs to the lost generation you speak of also, I am not convinced the younger generation are as shallow, selfish and materialistic as the Thatcher generation I grew up in, unlike the lost generation younger people are more free in mind , ambition and foresight of opportunity and confidence.
    I also think there has been a change for the better in education in recent years, both learning in core education skills, as well as health and life skill education, building young individual people rather than testing them for the queue of intelligence.
    However, if it fails one it not good enough, I understand its still failing 20% of pupils, a government with the courage to measure the work still to be done, great.
    Someone explained to me recently and I probably have not got it right, of those 20% who are failed by society, their risk of being involved is crime or victims of it, are significantly higher than that other 80% with direct and indirect cost attached to that failing to us all now and in the future.
    Who has failed those 20% from birth to adulthood is the question? I am willing to say it me because I could do more, could you?
    Effective intervention and robust support is the solution. Seeing the signs and acting rather than picking up the peices of inaction, its never to late act, but it costs more to intervene later, and more again it seems not to intervene at all. As I think you say its not the kids fault but ours, possibly for accepting the excuses of resources, as a barrier to inaction and indecision in the past, not robustly acting to ensure the individual right of any child to have a an equal chance for life not just our own. The circumstance or environment the accident of birth presents that individual child should be judged a reason for the removal of a chance at life.
    I tend to think that’s community, society as well as a family failings, but most of all its mine I have to take personal responisbility for any child not having and equal chance, so do you. People need to do more than looking out a window or at the 50 inch electric one.
    I am not convinced universal action and investment works as it tends to be resource lead rather than demand lead, and it not just about money. I also think if you will allow me, cajoling men to take part in the up bringing of there children is in the main no longer a fair one.
    Currently what is lacking is robust quality control in child life chance development and management, a 24/7 investment by society, from conception to completion and for those who provide life chance management for the individual child, and the right that individual child has for a equal chance at, and for life, however difficult the perception of leveling the playing field might be. Every child deserves to be spoiled from time to time.

  5. DougtheDug says:

    A well educated, secure childhood is a laudable aim but what is need in this piece is some reference to numbers. If our children are are now, “less well fed and less well off…more vulnerable, more abused and more neglected”, than they were twelve years ago then how much worse are they and how many children does it affect and does it affect all social groups in Scotland? I’m always a little wary of an article where the author doesn’t refer back to any sources to give some flesh to the bones of their arguments.

    I’m also a little wary of blanket condemnations where the use of, “we”, defines all parents in Scotland as failures. Again some sort of figures to show how extensive the problem of poor parenting in Scotland is would be better than a simple definition of everyone as a consumer goods obsessed, greedy and self-centred parent.

    The solution of changing the education system and extended family involvement in children’s lives is again laudable but if women are not to lose income when mothers then there has to be a system where they can have children and also work which is where I assume that your call for kindergartens and child-centred nurseries comes in but that shifts the burden of childcare onto the state and also removes the child from it’s mother for large periods of the day. Getting extended families involved in childcare is also a solution but where people must be mobile to find work the old style family where aunties, uncles and grandparents are just round the corner disappeared a long time ago. Fathers often have less time to be involved in their children’s upbringing because they work and if fathers are to have more time for their children then work patterns need to change. Again the blanket condemnation of all fathers as not involved in their children’s care and upbringing makes me uneasy. I can also understand teachers’ reluctance to again change everything for some government inspired scheme as although I’m not a teacher I’ve heard plenty of moaning about government and “expert” inspired educational systems imposed on those at the chalkface which have in the end been worse than useless for both the children and the teachers.

    I support your call for intervention to ensure that children from deprived backgrounds, both emotionally and economically, can get help from the state but this has to be targeted but I’d have to see the figures on child attainment and neglect across all social groups and geographical areas before calling for wholesale changes in the entire education system and in the social structure of the country to fix a problem which has not really been defined here.

  6. Paul says:

    “Learning skills rather than subjects”

    Do you really think good teachers weren’t doing this until the Curriculum for Excellence? Going to the extreme in over emphasising the teaching of skills as opposed to subjects in state schools will only reinforce the privilege of private school students who are thought capable of rigorous, academic education. Skills should be taught yes, but what does education mean if we don’t pass on the best that’s been thought and said – to all, not just to a privileged elite?

  7. burdzeyeview says:

    Hi Doug

    Some stats for you:
    15,288 children were looked after and/or accommodated in 2008/09 – the highest number recorded since 1983 (Scottish Govt data)
    · at March 2010, there were 2,518 children on the child protection register – fewer than in 2009 but still 230 more than in 2006 (Scottish Govt data)
    · the numbers of children requiring protection due to emotional abuse more than doubled between 2006 and 2009 (Scottish Govt data)
    · over half of looked after children leave school with no academic qualifications (Scottish Govt data)
    · 31,000 (almost 12%) young people in Scotland were not in education, employment or training (NEET) in 2009 (Labour Force Survey stats)
    · 250,000 children live in poverty in Scotland, 90,000 of them in severe poverty (Save the Children)
    · The Institute of Fiscal Studies has estimated that as a result of tax changes and welfare reform, by 2013, 200,000 more children in the UK will be living in relative poverty and 300,000 more will be living in absolute poverty (IFS)
    · it is estimated that at least 65,000 children are growing up with parents who regularly drink to excess (Scottish Govt estimate – no data collected)
    · there were over 6000 reports of child sexual exploitation to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in 2010 (CEOPS data)
    · at any one time, about 10% of children and young people will have a mental health problem serious enough to affect them on a daily basis (taken from NCH Children in Scotland publication)
    · children living in Scotland’s most deprived areas are almost twice as likely to be admitted to hospital and almost 3.5 times more likely to die as a result of unintentional injury as children in the least deprived areas (as above)
    · In 2009-10 there were 22,000 children without a home to live in (Shelter Scotland)

    On children being less well fed, the NHS had HEAT targets to meet on childhood obesity ie to reduce it over the last 3 years – there has been no reduction

    And your points about parents, families and work I think illustrate the point I was trying to make, that as currently constructed, our society puts greater emphasis on work than on parenting

    1. DougtheDug says:

      Kate, these are rather depressing statistics but what they don’t tell me is how the trend over the last twelve years has been in the numbers for each individual statistic. All they are is a snapshot of what is happening now or a comparison with one other year in some cases.

      They don’t tell me if child poverty and the other indicators are worse, better or the same as they were in comparison to the start of devolution in 1999.

  8. burdzeyeview says:

    Is your contention or at least hesitation, because you think our society and structures are allowing and enabling our children to succeed?

    1. DougtheDug says:

      Is your contention or at least hesitation, because you think our society and structures are allowing and enabling our children to succeed?

      Kate, without the numbers, I have now idea how well our children are succeeding because what is also missing from the statistics is an indication of what percentage of children in Scotland are not in poverty or at risk and how that percentage is changing over time.

  9. Rob Murray says:

    Kate, a good piece of work.

    Whole heartedly agree with what you are saying in principle.
    We really need all Scottish parties to push leglisation through to fully support children and young people.
    We need to tackle some of the terrible conditions that young people suffer from such as poor diet, lack of a well rounded and worthwhile education, a strong foundation for future development and a safe environment for growth. In my view this needs to be an early intervention approach starting at nursery and primary school. Yes the Curriculum for excellence might help in the education format however there needs to be an increased focus on reading, writing and arithmetic. We need to encourage a healthy diet and support new parents when bringing up children.

    The family unit is important for a child’s future in terms of stability however i strongly disagree with this claim about single parents. It does not matter about how many parents you have its the quality of parenting and the support they get from family members. Society is changing and the ‘traditional’ family unit has been replaced with a more fluid unit however one should not knock the work a single mother could do. More determination for child to succeed if only one parent in my experience!

    I do hope change does happen in Scotland as we are seeing too many children and young people move through the cycle of deprivation. The big society idea will hopefully pave the way for an increase in work with early years protection of children.

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