Why wait until they annoy us?
Funding should be diverted from universities to nurseries if Scotland's violence problem is to be solved, according to one of the country's top policemen.
Detective chief superintendent John Carnochan, head of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, believes shifting 5 per cent of funding from higher education to pre-school could have a dramatic impact. "If we improved nursery education and early years support today, we would see a difference in primary schools within three or four years," he said.
As each new P1 cohort worked its way through school with the "necessary life, communication and social skills, then they would make far better use of the technical skills teachers would provide them".
He believes it is a misconception that early years intervention requires decades to take effect, and that the prospect of quicker results is helping win the politicians' support.
DCS Carnochan acknowledged higher education's importance to the economy, but added: "We need to be careful we don't see higher education as the panacea that will solve every problem for now and evermore, because it certainly won't."
He revealed his dismay at low salaries in nursery education and recent news stories about nursery closures, during a presentation at the annual conference of the Catholic Headteachers' Association of Scotland, in Crieff.
He showed CCTV footage of a knife murder committed by a 15-year-old boy in Glasgow. At the subsequent court case, the judge said: "There did not seem to be anything to suggest that David was anything other than a perfectly ordinary teenager."
DCS Carnochan explained that, although the boy only came to authorities' attention as he entered his teens, he had been brought up amid drugs, violence and convicted criminals, while his mother had died after years of drug abuse. "When he started annoying us, we paid attention to him," DCS Carnochan said. "See when he needed us? Nothing."
Lessons could be learned from a mind shift in policing. Senior officers had long realised that merely reacting to crime was like an ambulance waiting at the bottom of a cliff for people to fall off; sophisticated preventative approaches to crime were favoured now.
"Criminal justice isn't working - it's keeping a lid on it" he said. And backed the theory of Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois, that violence is an "infection", spread by locking up young people.
DCS Carnochan conceded that serious social problems could not all be solved in this generation, but that was not an argument for piecemeal reform: "We need to aspire to build cathedrals and not garden sheds. If you're going to fail, fail spectacularly."
The Educational Institute of Scotland's general secretary, Ronnie Smith, said: "The evidence shows that investment in nursery education is vital to provide all children, but particularly those from less affluent backgrounds, the best chance of reaching their potential during their school career.
"Additional investment in nursery education is clearly a priority, although it is important that other sectors of education also continue to be properly and adequately funded."
Children's Minister Adam Ingram last week sought to reassure the Government's critics of its early years policies by announcing courses to give teachers specialist skills in early childhood education (p2).