‘Disgrace’ children aged 2-3 arriving at Sure Start with only two words, say Kathleen O’Hare and Joyce Logue

Two well-known Derry educationalists have stressed how some children from poorer areas are arriving at Sure Start aged 2 to 3 with only two words in their vocabularies.

Kathleen O’Hare, a former principal of St. Cecilia’s College, said: “It was a disgrace to see that, in some Sure Start areas, children were coming to Sure Start at two or three years of age with only two words.”

Ms. O’Hare is a member of the Expert Panel on Educational Underachievement and a retired principal of Hazelwood Integrated College and St Cecilia’s College.

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She made the revelation while briefing the Stormont Education Committee on ‘A Fair Start’, a comprehensive report that was published in May of this year with the aim of tackling educational underachievement in the north.

From left, Jackie Redpath, C.E.O. of the Greater Shankill Partnership, Kathleen O’Hare, ex-principal of Hazelwood Integrated College & St. Cecilia’s College, Mary Montgomery, principal of Belfast Boys’ Model School and Joyce Logue, principal of Long Tower Primary School, members of the Expert Panel on Educational Underachievement.

The low vocabulary of some children from poorer backgrounds came to light during evidence sessions conducted by the panel.

“That was completely shocking for the panel to see,” said Ms. O’Hare.

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Joyce Logue, principal of Long Tower Primary School, told the committee a much greater focus on early years provision is necessary.

She said: “There is disparity in early years provision. It is not the same across the board. In nurseries that are attached to schools, you will have a graduate-led nursery. In nurseries that are outside of that, you will not have that. Training is also hit-and-miss across the board.

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“We feel that it is very important that there be a workforce that is uniformly educated across all nurseries, playgroups and nursery schools and that professional development be the same across the board.

“If that is the case, it will have an impact on children, and they will get the very best.

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“As Kathleen said, we have two-year-olds coming into Sure Start with two words.

“As a practitioner, I see that there is such need at early years. We have to get it right, and we are not getting it right at the minute. Professional development, valuing our workforce and all of that will go a long way to improving our early years provision.”

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One of the key areas in ‘A Fair Start’ is ‘Redirecting the focus to Early Years.’

The report cites recent research that suggests not providing good early years supports is a false economy.

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“In their 2018 report the Early Intervention Foundation highlighted the significant impact to the public purse of failing to intervene early and found that Northern Ireland spends a total of £536 million per year on late interventions. This equates to £288 for every Northern Ireland resident, or £1,166 per child,” the report states.