Today’s Daily Mail includes an article about Save the Children’s annual report “State of the World’s Mothers” (whaaat?) which concludes that in terms of children’s well-being, Britain lags behind Estonia and 21 other developed countries.
The study is apparently based on three factors, pre-primary enrolment, secondary school enrolment and under-five mortality rate which might suggest that Save the Children is of the view that a child’s well-being is almost solely gauged on enrolment into the machine of state education. Indeed, the Daily Mail’s version of the report deals only with pre-primary enrolment which, we’re told, stands at 81 per cent compared with 100 per cent “in countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands”.
Now, on a purely anecdotal level, as much as I enjoyed school and academic success it formed a very small part of my personal measure of well-being which was framed more in terms of freedom , family, friendships, health and food on the table. I am, therefore, extremely dubious about the basis of this report from an NGO which – in my view – has ceased to have any credibility since it added politics, in the form of a ‘climate change’ agenda, to its brief . Further disquiet arises in my mind when it is clear that Save the Children’s Chief Executive, Justin Forsyth, is peddling the line that pre-school education is a key to later educational achievement. Apart from the fact that educational standards are generally held to have been in decline over the past couple of decades (as pre-school education has become the norm), we have the example of countries like Switzerland where despite formal primary education starting between 1 and 2 years later than here, its educational rankings regularly out-strip those of the UK.
What is most interesting about this report, however, is that it follows hot on the heels of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report called ‘Doing Better For Families’ which looks at the decline of marriage, working mothers and the claimed effects of these factors on the children of working mothers. This, too, featured in the Daily Mail just a week or so ago when we were given a number of bullet points including these:
- Half of British mothers now go out to work before their child’s first birthday – despite clear evidence it can harm their development;
- Mothers in the UK are more likely to rush out to work than those in other Western countries, ignoring research that those who stay at home tend to bring up children who are better behaved and do well at school;
- Children of working mothers fare worse in reading and maths tests, tend to be more badly behaved and are more likely to have attention problems;
- Only Denmark has a higher proportion of mothers in paid work when the child is a year old.
- More than a quarter of mothers in the UK – 28 per cent – are in paid work before their child is six months old. But the children of mothers who go to work before they are six months old end up performing worse at vocabulary tests at the age of five, and significantly worse at reading and maths at seven compared to the children of stay-at-home mums;
- The correlation is the same, but less marked, for children whose mothers waited until they were between six months and a year to go to work;
- In both cases, the attainment and behaviour are even more affected if the working mother is educated to degree-level. Around a third of British women with degrees are back at work within six months.
- In the UK, early maternal employment (full-time and part-time) appeared to have a very small negative association with vocabulary test scores for children aged four to five. However, the association persists, and is somewhat larger for children aged seven.
- Maternal employment also has a serious effect on behaviour and attention spans by the time the child is seven, again with the situation more marked if the mother went to work before the child was six months.
At least one acquaintance has suggested that the OECD report is a barely-veiled attack on women but hers appears to be the standard, knee-jerk, feminist reaction and I cannot agree. Despite the feminist orthodoxy, the role of women – and men! – has always been a social construct designed to benefit the state, often at the expense of the individual and it seems to me that this report is an indictment of how far extreme state intervention as practised in the UK and the US has disrupted normal familial relationships and blighted childhood.
In support of thisview, I should, perhaps, have mentioned that the OECD report tells us that in most of the world, maternal employment does not harm child development – but this is not the case in the UK and the US. Hmmm..
Of course, the OECD report is not saying that that pre-primary education is a bad idea but it might suggest that the Save the Children view of a child’s well-being is just another instalment in a long tradition of wresting children from their parents who might be a little more free-thinking than the state would like.
Let your kids play free would be my advice.