In January, David Cameron spoke about children's early years and the role of parents, calling it "the most important job we'll ever have". He took some flak for suggesting that parents deserve more support than we currently give them, but he was right. Focusing the Government's passion for improving life chances into a national programme to improve our children's development should be an open goal for the Prime Minister. I don't want him to hesitate and fluff his chance.
There is incontrovertible evidence that how children grow and develop in the first years of life makes a huge difference to their future chances. How we do at school, the success of our relationships, our health, our earning potential, even how confident we are at being parents ourselves, are all affected by those critically important formative years.
As a father, I remember being emotional and excited when my daughter was born. She always looked at me with interest as I sang, spoke and played with her. Every day that I spent with her meant we were constantly connecting and strengthening our relationship. At that age a child's mind is full of curiosity when it comes to discovering new things. Research tells us that brain development in the first five years is very important. So, with under-5s spending 70% of their time with their parents, it's imperative that mums and dads can support their child's development - after all, they are their child's first teacher.
In a recent poll we found that two out of three parents (66%) of children under five are worried their children won't be ready to start school. That's parents who are concerned that their child is struggling to talk, listen and understand what is being said to them, socialise with others, or even play and connect with the world. By the time they reach school, one in three children will have not reached a good level development, which stores up a whole raft of problems for those children, the schools they are entering and for society more generally.
Those early years playing and learning at home create the foundation for children to grow up healthy, social and curious, all of which are crucial in future life - but some parents need extra help to provide these building blocks. That's why the Prime Minister is right.
Starting school is a huge milestone in every child's life so we want to make sure that every parent has the support they need to help their child be ready for that first day in class.
This summer, the Government will publish its Life Chances Strategy. All the signs are that it will focus on GCSE results, family breakdown, getting parents into work and substance misuse. These are all important, but by introducing one more area of focus - the number of children reaching good levels of development by age five - the Government can transform the way national policy supports children's futures. It will encourage policy makers to think about children's home learning environments as well as formal early education. By offering support to parents that is affordable, non-judgemental and sensitive, we would make a huge difference to our children's future life chances.
Don't hesitate, Mr Cameron. Surely this is at the core of what it means to be one nation.
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