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Some troubling research emerged last week from the think tank Demos in England, including a frightening finding: More than one in 10 children begin primary school unable to learn and unwilling to build relationships with their peers. The research has enormous implications for their ability to function in school in years to come and shines a spotlight on how crucial the early years are.

The study finds a “disengaged generation waiting in the wings” and recommends far more early intervention even before children enter school. Proper pre-school support, the report says, can help younger children concentrate, connect with others and behave better. The children of parents who are poorly educated and have low income levels gave a greater chance of lagging cognitive development, the report found.

Some of the data should not come as a surprise to U.S. researchers who have found similar connections between poverty and early school success.

According to the Demos report, the difference between in the success of children from the poorest and the richest families is stark, with a fifth of those identified as “starting school without the behavioral skills” coming from the poorest section of society, and only 4 percent coming from the richest.

The report criticizes the government for not spending enough on pre-school children, according to an article in The Guardian.

“We have seen from programmes in the US how effectively these schemes work, and there’s plenty of evidence now that the first few years are influential in forming habits later on,” Anne Longfield, chief executive of children’s charity 4Children, told The Guardian.

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Liz Willen, a longtime education journalist, has led the award-winning Hechinger Report staff as editor in chief since 2011. A sought-after moderator of education conferences and events, Willen also writes...

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