Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at the Oxford University, told the British Association of Early Childhod Education in Edinburgh last Saturday: "Reading to and playing with children whether you are social class one or social class five is what counts.
"Attainment is generally lower in class five but parental 'oomph' boosts that attainment. What the family is and does is twice as important as the pre-school setting."
In the pre-school setting, Professor Sylva told 145 teachers and pre-school specialists from all over Britain and Northern Ireland, "overly formal programmes lead to lower self-esteem in children and higher levels of anxiety. Instead of aiming too early at academic skills, early childhood settings might concentrate more on nurturing social skills in children, especially resolving conflicts, and strengthenng the child's emotional bond to peers and adults."
Professor Sylva was an adviser to the Commons Select Committee on Education and Employment's inquiry into early childhood education. She based her arguments on research which she and her colleagues have been carrying out based on a sample of 2,800 three to four-year-olds throughout England.
Addressing the conference, Professor Bart McGettrick of Glasgow University underlined the importance of developing good citizens in children from the youngest ages.
"At the earliest stages of the educational processes, we are trying to encourage young children to make the world a better place," Professor McGettrick said. "We are concerned with relationships, with friendships and with helping each other. Education comes through these very practical experiences and ideas."
He urged teachers to remember that children have memories. "These memories will be of school, and of teachers. They will rely on the smiling eyes of the teacher."