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Editor's comment

From the evidence of the election campaign so far, there seems little doubt that reforms in the early years and the nation's skills are emerging near the top of the educational agenda. The mainstream parties appear to have struck a consensus on the importance of investing in these areas - even if, as in the case of Labour's plans to raise the school leaving age to 18 as a response to skills deficits, the route maps may differ.

There is a particular synergy in the renewed emphasis on the early years and skills, in that expansion of the former could open up gaps in the latter. It is therefore encouraging to note the evidence (p1) that at least some pupils are making use of their Skills for Work courses in early education and childcare so they can get hands-on experience that could prove useful if they are contemplating it as a career. The combination of the early years and skills agendas could even begin to resolve the age-old problem of how to entice more men into the early years profession - although, as we report this week (p9), there are encouraging signs here too.

There is, of course, always the danger that educational priorities are fashioned in boardrooms rather than staffrooms. The fresh interest in the early years and skills reforms undoubtedly has its origins in the needs of the economy rather than education - getting young parents into work, creating employment and making UKplc more globally competitive. The best interests of young people could easily become overlooked in this heady swirl: the worst outcome would be policies which recreate the ancient divisions between the "academic" and "non-academic".

So, despite the emerging consensus, there is still much to be vigilant about.

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