Over the last few years the British government has spent a good deal of taxpayers’ money on educational activities for pre-school children, under the heading of ‘Sure Start‘, aimed especially at those from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’.
If this sounds vaguely familiar to American readers, that should not be surprising, as the Sure Start scheme is partly inspired by the American Head Start scheme.
This week research by academics at the University of Durham has been published, showing that the Sure Start scheme has so far had no measurable effect on the abilities of children entering school.
In view of the Head Start precedent, this should not cause any great surprise. Even supporters of Head Start do not claim more than moderate benefits.
Predictably, parts of the educational establishment in Britain have jumped to the defence of Sure Start. According to Prof. Ted Melhuish, writing in the Guardian (where else?) “The effects won’t show themselves for a couple of years yet and the really important effects won’t show themselves until adolescence”.
Are you sure, Ted? In most of the studies on the effects of Head Start, any educational benefits actually fade out after a year or two. Prof. Ted’s optimism therefore seems to be a triumph of hope over experience.