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Schools should take children from age two, Ofsted chair says

Schools should take children from disadvantaged homes from the age of two to counteract the “dire” start to their education caused by “weak” parenting and “poor housing”, the chair of Ofsted has said.

Poor children are often 19 months behind their peers by the time they start school at the age of five, and schools should start taking children from two or three years of age in a bid to overcome this, Baroness Sally Morgan said.

Speaking at an Ark Schools event in central London today, Baroness Morgan said too many children were not ready to start formal schooling due to dysfunctional home lives and described it as an “obsession” of hers to get support to the poorest children.

Ofsted published a report over the summer, which revealed that poor five-years-olds were more than a year-and-a-half behind their peers by the time they started school.

“What a dire start to their educational life," Baroness Morgan said. “Those children had low level social skills especially reading and communication. They're not ready to learn at school. 

“Weak parenting, low educational attainment of parents, poor diet, poor housing and so on – the gap between affluent and disadvantaged is greatest in that group.”

The Labour peer said there needed to be major changes in early years.

“I think there needs to be a big brave move on the under-fives agenda to target funding heavily on the children who will benefit most and increasingly I think to look to strong providers to go further down the system. We've increasingly got five to 18 schools, why not three?”

She later added: “I said three to 18, it could be two to 18 as far as I'm concerned.”

The proposals are likely to meet serious opposition from certain corners, with many parenting and childcare groups voicing concerns that early childhood is already in danger of becoming too heavily affected by formal education.

A letter from a group of academics and educationalists to the Daily Telegraph in September called for formal schooling to be delayed until the age of six or seven.

But Nick Ward, principal of the Marine Academy in Plymouth, which has an intake of 0-19, said getting children from the earliest age was key to “what we’re trying to do”. 

“Early intervention ensures that all our pupils are school ready from the start when they begin full-time education,” Mr Ward said.

“We can also inculcate values of aspiration and ambition from the earliest years. We believe this is absolutely key to successful progression through the education system and beyond.”

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