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Earlier the better

LAST week's report from the End Child Poverty coalition of charities confirms the Poverty in Scotland 2002 report: the attainment gap between rich and poor children can begin as early as 22 months, and widens as they grow older. The "opportunity gap", as Jack McConnell's rhetoric has it, widens with age.

The Government's family policies are bringing together the right sort of "joined-up thinking". Its Sure Start programme supports children from conception to 14, and it is investing in "wraparound" early childhood centres in deprived areas, linking health, welfare and high-quality education - on both sides of the border.

Findings from an Oxford University project which tracked more than 3,000 children from the ages of three to seven back up early years policies (TESS, last week). They show conclusively that high-quality early education does make a difference, particularly for poor children. Integrated centres and dedicated state nursery schools tend to be the most effective.

These reports are further evidence of the crucial contribution the early intervention programme is making to bridge social and educational inequalities. But they are also further evidence that early intervention from primary 1 is not early enough.

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