Pre-school has made a change for the better

3rd August 2001 at 01:00
When future historians write up the period of education through which we are living, they will almost certainly give greater prominence to one development than the media do today. This will go down as the time when universal education was extended to three and four-year-olds - a change as important as the raising of the leaving age from 14 to 15 and then to 16.

Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, reported (TESS, July 20) that almost every four-year-old is offered a pre-school place and authorities are poised to meet next year's target of a place for all three-year-olds. The Executive and the 32 councils can take pride in the speed with which aims set in 1997 are being achieved. Already a generation of youngsters has benefited; I know as a grandfather as well as until recently a chronicler of these things.

Together with the advances in the first years of primary, through classroom assistants and early intervention programmes, opportunities for the youngest children are being enhanced all the time. Since all research shows that life chances are determined early, the outlook must be rosy, and that is what future historians will surely point to.

There is a reason for drawing attention to this success story now. In the next few weeks with publication of the Scottish Qualification Authority exam results, every minor glitch will be tracked down and described in apocalyptic terms. Scottish education will again be on the defensive.

Historians, will of course, analyse the reasons for last year's fiasco but, hopefully, they will be able to say that the system soon recovered. On the other hand, the story of three and four-year-olds was a permanent change for the better.

Willis Pickard

Lockharton Gardens, Edinburgh

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