A RECENT focus on early years education by Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, is very welcome.

His remarks that children are entering school without being able to recognise simple written words or speak in full sentences is, at first sight, worrying.

Before we all decry what’s happening and how badly our children are performing, let’s look at what is being said and take account of some of the issues it raises.

Neither adults, nor children, “speak in full sentences”, at least not in the way we expect to see sentences written down. I’ve transcribed many hours of everyday speech and I can say that not even the most articulate adults speak grammatically correct sentences.

Speech just isn’t like that. It’s simply not how we communicate. Try recording a brief conversation and you will hear many ungrammatical phrases, incomplete sentences and fragments of thoughts that jump around.

We have the capacity to make sense of this melange of sounds and phrases. When we write, we do so in a very different way trying to carefully communicate with precision and clarity.

Any journalist will tell you that, no matter who they interview, the speech has to be “cleaned up” for use in an article. There will be hesitations, “ums” and “aahs”, verbal repetition etc. For example, overuse of the word “like” or saying “you know” after almost every statement.

There will be breaks of thought that eventually lead back to the main point. All these things need editing so that the final “quotation” makes sense. Journalists know how to do this without wilfully altering the meaning of what was being said.

In very young children, grammatical mistakes are very common. My granddaughter at two-and-a-half will point to a toy doll and say, “what she call?” rather than “what is she called” or “what is her name”.

This does not mean she is “falling behind”, indeed across all my grandchildren I can see varying rates of learning to speak, read and write – even within one family. It demonstrates one thing. Children do not all develop at the same rate and their ability to speak, read and write will also vary considerably.

To blame the parents for this is absurd. If one of my grandchildren is ahead of the predicted levels, then one that is behind cannot be simply behind because the parents are not doing something. If they all come from the same home environment, they will all receive the same levels of care and attention.

There must be something else at work. The call for more parental involvement should not go unheeded. Parental participation in a child’s growth and development is very important.

It should be valued and supported. Prior to the coalition government we had a national chain of Sure Start centres that would support child development and were there to provide parents with what they needed to help their families.

We also had many libraries that had active children’s sections and activities such as reading groups on Saturdays. As austerity hit Sure Start centres were rapidly closed and our national library system has been decimated.

Added to this we have a government narrative that not being in work is lazy, a dereliction of duty and a bad thing for the economy.

The growth in zero-hours and low paid work with the advent of the gig economy, self-employment and no obligation to pay yourself even a “living wage” has led to many parents juggling more than one job. In our 24-hour economy, lots of parents have an irregular pattern of working hours and an unstable income month-by-month.

The idea of being at home to look after your child is frowned upon – think of the number of initiatives we’ve had to get parents back into work as soon as possible after the birth of their baby.

Yes, there has been some help, for example the free childcare that is offered to parents, though this does not compensate the nurseries and child care system for the true cost of looking after children.

The result is that parents are pushed to farm out their children as soon as possible to get back to work to contribute to our economy and to lower unemployment.

The Government is now condemning those same parents for not spending enough time at home teaching children basic language and writing skills before they even get to a school.

The closure of Sure Start Centres was a gross error of judgment and it should be reversed. We need some joined up thinking from government on this – not flip flopping and blame, such that whichever way a parent turns, they get the pilloried when things go wrong.