Scotland's early years policies are 'way ahead' of England's

18th June 2010 at 01:00
Scotland is way ahead of England in realising that the first few years of life are crucial to children's future success.

Scotland is way ahead of England in realising that the first few years of life are crucial to children's future success.

Robin Balbernie, a Gloucestershire-based consultant psychotherapist, has been impressed by the willingness of policy-makers north of the border to support early years interventions.

He spoke at a recent early-years conference in Glasgow, organised by Learning and Teaching Scotland, where he explained his work in identifying vulnerable children before they had been born.

Mr Balbernie helps parent and child to understand each other better, and he claims to have seen dramatic improvements. In one case, a mother and her two-year-old, who was thought to be autistic, made little eye contact. By helping them communicate with each other, and homing in on problems the mother had in her own upbringing, the girl had flourished; now aged eight, she is on course for a place at a grammar school.

"The quality of early relationships has a long-lasting impact on how people develop, their aptitude for learning, their capacity to regulate their own emotions and their ability to form satisfying relationships later in life," Mr Balbernie said.

He told The TESS that research revealed early intervention in any one case might only show its full worth after 15 to 20 years, which could make it difficult to sell to governments. Yet "Scotland has really taken it on board - far more than England", having realised that there were huge long- term social and economic benefits.

There were also huge implications for education. Neurological evidence, for example, showed that a good time to introduce children to foreign languages was between the ages of six and 12 months. After the age of two until three, much of a child's brain growth and density was complete and the ability to absorb new skills, such as speech, began to diminish.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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