Sure Start 'fails to boost literacy or numeracy'

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Early years initiatives such as Sure Start and the free entitlement for threeand four-year-olds have not improved children's literacy and numeracy by the time they start school, according to new research.

The study by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at DurhamUniversity surveyed the PIPS (Performance Indicators in Primary Schools)scores of 117,000 fourand five-year-olds at 472 maintained primaryschools throughout England between 2001 and 2008.

PIPS are standardised computerised assessments carried out by a teacherwith all children in the first few weeks of starting reception tomeasure numeracy, literacy and problem-solving skills. Children are notassessed on their personal, social and emotional development, motorskills or creative development.

Dr Christine Merrell, CEM's primary director, said, 'We would haveexpected to see some change by 2008, with nursery education now sowidespread. It's a bit disappointing that we haven't seen aneducationally significant rise.'

She added, 'Access is still a major issue. If disadvantaged families canaccess and use the full range of resources, advice and expertiseavailable, then Sure Start could offer significant help to children frompoorer backgrounds.'

Small-scale studies have found that early years interventions make adifference and lessons needed to be learned about how to apply this whena programme like Sure Start is rolled out on a wider scale, shesaid.

Dr Merrell said that earlier studies of Sure Start local programmes hadshown gains. 'We need to have constant monitoring to check we'rereaching the right children.'

But Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, 'Sure Start is along-term programme, and the true impact will only truly be seen whenthe first generation of Sure Start children leave school. Respectedexperts including Frank Field MP now testify to the central role of SureStart in improving educational attainment and parenting skills.'

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