Complacency has no place in early years;Letter

10th April 1998 at 01:00
It was sad to see your editorial (March 27) reflecting such a complacent view about the state of Britain's early-years provision.

The suggestion that the superior performance of Flemish children, (featured in our report, Britain's Early Years' Disaster and Channel 4 Dispatches programme) may be partly accounted for by staff ratios and the superior performance of Swiss-German children, by pay rates, is curious.

Early-years classes observed in Belgium had higher child:adult ratios than most nurseryreception classes in Britain, with one teacher being solely responsible for 25 children in the classroom with no additional adult support.

Swiss kindergarten teachers have an entirely different pay structure to that of primary and secondary teachers and are paid considerably less than these. Taking into consideration the cost of living in Switzerland, kindergarten teachers' pay compares much more closely to that of their British counterparts.

Hungary - equally impressive, and providing a substantial proportion of the research evidence for the report and for the Dispatches programme, but not mentioned in your editorial - has both higher child:adult ratios and lower pay than Britain.

It was sad too that your editorial - in trying to explain recent statements by Estelle Morris and Margaret Hodge - made no reference to the work of Professor Sig Prais and his colleagues in Barking and Dagenham.

Our own report merely confirmed their findings which have identified crucial differences between the early-years' experiences of children in successful education systems and children in Britain.

It is this work which provides the real argument for trials of a radical new approach.

From our own research we know that such an approach, although very different to what is done at present, would have the support of many of our most experienced teachers.

There is never a case for panic. And there is never a case for introducing changes which have not been properly and exhaustively tested. But the evidence is unequivocal. The need for such trials is now pressing and urgent.

This is not the time for complacency.

David and Clare Mills 45 Loftus Road London W12

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