Nurseries 'turning our children into yobs'
Last updated at 00:11am on 5th April 2007
Labour's drive to put toddlers in childcare so mothers can go out to work is damaging a generation, the Government's own research showed yesterday.
Young children who spend long hours in nurseries are more disruptive and anxious than infants mainly looked after at home by their mothers. The earlier they go to nursery, the worse their behaviour becomes.
Toddlers left in daycare for at least 30 hours a week are "significantly" more likely to bully other children, tease them, call them names and demand their own way.
But they also became worried and upset. They were more prone to pouting, frowning and stamping their feet if asked to try a new activity and to worry about not getting enough food, drink or toys.
The explosive findings, arising from the first study of its kind, blow holes in a decade of Government policy which has massively expanded childcare to encourage more parents back to work.
Billions have been poured into subsidising nurseries and childminders through the tax credit system, direct daycare benefits and the Sure Start project which was set up to help the neediest families.
The end of tax breaks for married couples and working tax credits which benefit parents who return to work effectively penalise those who opt to stay at home.
Ministers boasted last year that more than 700,000 children now attend nursery for more than four hours a day. More than half of mothers of children under two now have full-time or part-time jobs.
However the drive to expand childcare to cut the benefits bill has sparked an emotive debate over the impact of full-time care on development.
Now a major Government study, by a team of researchers from Oxford University and the Institute of Fiscal Studies, has found long periods spent in daycare increase the risk "problem behaviour".
The findings prompted critics to describe Britain's growing culture of "institutionalised" childcare as a "tragedy" for youngsters.
Cecily Hanlon, who sparked a debate on childcare at a teachers' conference yesterday, warned the country would pay the price with a rise in anti-social behaviour.
Children were already killing other children with guns and knives, she said.
"The message coming from the Government now is that as soon as you have had your baby, find your childcare, we will provide it and off you go" she said.
"Perhaps the Government should be thinking more about family friendly jobs rather than at present making people be job-friendly families." Education Secretary Alan Johnson yesterday dismissed arguments over working mothers as "faintly ludicrous".
"Having the opportunity to ensure they can combine their professional life with their family commitments is what Governments should be doing and is what we have done consistently since 1997," he said.
However the published by the Department for Education and Skills revealed how daycare can have "detrimental" effects.
The trend emerged in a study of the Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative, which was launched in 2001 to provide daycare for families in the poorest parts of the country using £370million of lottery and public funds.
By 2005, 1,400 nurseries had been set up to help working-class families back into jobs.
Researchers monitored 810 toddlers - average age two years and nine months - in 100 nurseries. Childcare workers were asked to complete a detailed questionnaire on each child which allowed researchers to draw up a picture of their behaviour.
While long hours in daycare built children's confidence - they were more likely to enjoy talking and be open and direct in saying what they wanted - it was also linked with worried, upset and anti-social behaviour.
"In contrast to the positive influence of centre-based provision on children's sociability and confidence, it seems that the amount of time children spent in their childcare centres can also increase problem behaviour.
"Children who attended for more time every week were rated as more anti-social by their care-givers than those who attended for less time. "Children who attended for at least 30 hours and/or three days every week were rated as more anti-social, for example more likely to tease other children and call them names, prevent other children from carrying out routines or be bossy and need their own way.
"In addition, children who attended for at least 35 hours and/or five days each week displayed more worried and upset behaviours." Younger children put in groups with older toddlers exhibited less "emotional security" than those looked after with peers of the same age.
Research from the US has suggested that anti-social behaviour linked with long hours in daycare as a toddlers persists at least into primary school.
The latest findings raised dramatic new doubts over Government efforts to encourage more mothers back to the workplace.
Three years ago the Department of Trade and Industry - then headed by current Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt - published a paper describing those who do not return to jobs in the first two years after childbirth as a "problem".
It said mothers who stayed at home were not giving the taxpayer a return on the cost of their education.
Meanwhile ministers plan to require every school to open for 50 hours a week - dubbed Kelly Hours after former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly - and offer childcare or after-school activities to make it easier for parents to return to work.
Mr Johnson said yesterday: "The argument that there's evidence women are letting down their children by going out to work I think is just faintly ludicrous."
But members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, meeting at their annual conference in Bournemouth, backed a motion calling for further research into the "institutionalisation of children".
Mrs Hanlon, a teacher from Leeds specialising in pre-school education, said: "There's a lot of concern among early years consultants about very young children in group care.
"I have seen lots of bewildered looking babies. I have heard from colleagues in daycare settings who have said that baby has been crying for 15 minutes. Why isn't somebody doing anything about it?"
Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said: "The research confirms that poor quality early years settings can have a negative effect on a child's development.
"We need to ensure that the drive to expand nursery education is not at the expense of quality."
According to the report, children put in nurseries for long periods, especially more than 30 hours a week, are more likely to:
SHOW ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
* Tease other children * Call other children names * Prevent other children from carrying out routines * Bully other children * Boss other children around * Demand their own way
SHOW WORRIED AND UPSET BEHAVIOUR
* Frown, shrug shoulders, pout or stamp their feet when given an idea for a new game * Get upset if they are not paid attention * Fight against or become upset at change * Worry about not getting enough access to toys, food, drink or attention
* Be open and direct about what they want * Be confident with other people * Tend to be proud of things they have done * Show interest in many and different things * Enjoy talking to others
HAVE SOCIAL SKILLS
* Easily get others to pay attention to them * Be friendly towards others * Join a group of children playing * Ask or want to play a game with other children * Talk to other children