Recently the House of Commons gave over three hours to debating how we can improve life chances for the least well-off in society.
It was a great privilege for me to open the debate. This is an incredibly emotive subject and one which first drew me into standing for Parliament.
I am far from alone in this. MPs from all parties come alive when debating how to give every child a real chance at success in life. It is something which needs urgent attention.
New figures show we now have nearly a million young people unemployed and not in education. This is rapidly progressing from a terrible waste of talent to a full-blown crisis. Something is not working in our system.
It is an immensely thorny issue with all kinds of contradictory indicators and statistics. There is much traditional orthodoxy on all sides which needs to be challenged if we are going to look for real answers with fresh eyes. But thanks to the reports published by Frank Field and Graham Allen we have compelling proof that we need to act in the earliest phases of a child’s life. By age five it is possible to make an astonishingly accurate projection of where that child will be in his or her 20s.
It means looking again at what we are doing in the early years; Sure Start and similar programmes are the right idea, but after 10 years of investment the key early predictors of later educational success remained pretty much unchanged.
So we need to think afresh about what is done, how it is done, and who benefits – how best to reach the hardest to reach. We especially need to support parents in difficult circumstances in deprived areas.
Most new parents discover they have much to learn, however good their own childhood was. The bigger challenge is those whose own childhoods may not have been so good and who may not be so eager to learn. Reaching out to these parents is key if we are going put an end to ever more of our young people ending up out of school, out of work and out of options by the time they are 24.