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Past life intrigues politicians

It's not often that a nursery curriculum excites interest at the Home Office. But when that curriculum is linked with a reduction in delinquency and crime, it's a different story. So much so, in fact, that in 1993 that venerable department announced it was funding a three-year research programme in four inner-city nurseries in England. The findings will be published later this year.

The Home Office is investigating "a philosophy and a process with a detailed curriculum of international accreditation," according to Serena Johnson, the UK director of HighScope.

How British inner-city children get on with a nursery programme pioneered in 60s Middle America is a matter of interest both in crime prevention and education circles.

The Perry study, named after the Michigan school that used HighScope from 1962-67, has been tracking 123 people since 1962. Half of them went through the Perry school's HighScope programme and the other half had no nursery experience. All the children were African American, poor and believed to be at risk of failing.

What caught the Home Office's attention was that fewer of the HighScope adults got in trouble with the law (by age 27, 7 per cent had been arrested five or more times compared to 35 per cent of the control group). Economic success, too, was marked among the Perry group. At 27, nearly three times as many Perry adults owned their own homes as the control group members and even the Perry marriages were more successful.

HighScope has also attracted the attention of the National Children's Bureau. The NCB has just published an evaluation of Millbrook, a HighScope nursery in a deprived west Dublin suburb. The children attending that nursery were chosen because of their "significant individual problems." But after only a year, they were performing at a level that was within the normal range for their age and were, in the opinion of staff, ready to start school.

Since 1990, the HighScope Institute UK has qualified more than 100 trainers. Nearly 17,000 early-years workers have had HighScope experience and tens of thousands of children have been involved with the programme.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's new Desirable Outcomes makes an interesting contrast to HighScope. As far as Serena Johnson is concerned: "HighScope is broader and more detailed. The lack of philosophy of the SCAA document concerns us, as does the fact that it doesn't address the process. "

Undesirable outcomes, VIII

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