Glasgow pupils are arriving in P1 with IQs significantly higher than anticipated, thanks to a landmark parenting programme.
It provides some of the clearest evidence yet that the best way to improve children's life chances is to concentrate on the early years.
Mellow Parenting, an intensive Glasgow project that works with vulnerable parents to build better attachment between them and their children, has led to an eight-point increase in the verbal IQ of children by the age of five.
Programme consultant and principal teacher Christine Puckering said that having strong verbal skills when children start school was "one of the key things that would impact their education".
"This is not just about literacy - these children are in an environment where everything's done verbally; even communicating with another child about sharing paper or a rubber," she said.
The study of a group of 70 mothers compared their responses to using family centres where Mellow Parenting was offered with those of parents accessing centres that used their own parenting intervention programmes. Follow-up one year later revealed the difference in IQ of the children from the Mellow Parenting group.
Dr Puckering said subsequent research, undertaken when the children were 11, found that, although the IQ difference was less marked and they were not "academic high fliers", teachers did not view them as "problem children". They were much better placed to "negotiate the challenges of the school experience successfully".
Mellow Parenting employs staff from backgrounds in health visiting, nursery nursing, psychology and social work. It uses home videos of interactions between mothers and their children to draw out messages about positive parenting. Parents from a background where there are child- protection concerns, or instances of domestic violence, are eligible to take part in the programme.
Staff and other parents give feedback on the skills observed and discuss why they are important. Parents can explore the links between their childhood experiences and their parenting.
Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow, hailed the findings and said the first three years of a child's life, when they acquire "non-cognitive or `soft' skills like empathy, compromise and negotiation" were the "most crucial period".
Children whose parents successfully passed on these life skills entered school ready to make the best use of education, while those who lacked them were more likely to become detached and excluded, he explained.
Early-years initiatives such as Mellow Parenting were "important" because they "gave parents the confidence to cope with all the difficulties that parenting brings".
Investing in such programmes also made economic sense. "For every pound;1 spent on vital early years education, you must spend pound;7 to have the same impact in adolescence," he added.
Dr Puckering, honorary clinical senior lecturer at Glasgow University and research fellow at Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children, outlined the findings, the first of which emerged in 2004 but have not been widely publicised, at a Mindroom conference on learning difficulties in the city last week.
Another version of the project, Mellow Babies, has been developed for parents and vulnerable babies under one year, and an antenatal programme, Mellow Bumps, for mums-to-be with additional health and social care needs, was recently introduced.
MELLOW PARENTING AIMS
- improvement in attachment between parent and child;
- support child's cognitive development;
- reduce maternal depression;
- reduce parental stress;
- reduce need for child protection registration and measures of care;
- accelerate children's language and development.
Original headline: Positive parenting scheme `raised IQs' in early years