'School readiness' programme to help thousands more children

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A programme to reverse the trend in children starting school without the skills they need to learn, is to be expanded to 80 communities across England.

boys-holding-pencils

The Big Hopes Big Future programme aims to help children develop basic skills, such as holding a pencil, ready to start school

The Big Hopes Big Future programme, developed by children's charity Home-Start, is to be expanded thanks to £380,000 in funding from the Department for Education.

It follows a pilot of the programme involving more than 220 families, including 540 children, in 12 Home-Start centres in England, which was found to improve children's 'school readiness' by 25-33 per cent.

The pilot specifically targeted the most disadvantaged families. Many had chaotic lifestyles, were disabled, suffered from poor health or did not have English as their first language.

Home-Start developed the Big Hopes Big Future programme in response to findings from the Marmot Review, which revealed almost 300,000 five-year-olds do not posess the skills they need to start learning, such as being toilet trained or able to hold a pencil.

The programme, which provides volunteers with resources and training to work with families with children not yet ready for school, aims to:

  • help parents to understand the benefits of early learning for their children and overcome barriers to their engagement in learning;
  • encourage parents to create a positive home learning environment for their children;
  • build parents' confidence to engage with other services;
  • embed learning carried out in external settings in the home;
  • help parents manage the transition into early years settings;
  • identify and support parents' own learning needs.

Researchers from the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge and the University of South Wales, who carried out an evaluation of the pilot, found that children showed improvements in their language and cognitive skills, behavourial adjustment, daily living skills and family support –indications of school readiness.

The biggest impact was seen with children from families with complex problems and those who were eligible for free school meals.

Rob Parkinson, chief executive of Home-Start, said, ‘For many of us our first day at school is one of our earliest memories; a milestone in our young lives. Tragically, for many children barriers exist that mean they start school already well behind their peers. Big Hopes Big Future has had a great impact on children in complex families and successfully targets some of the most hard-to-reach families, who often need the most support.’

He added, ‘Investment is now a priority and I hope that commissioning services and other funders and partners will support our ambition to reach a further 5,000 children by 2020. We want to make sure that the big hopes we have for our children on their first day at school translate into improved life chances and big future for them all.’

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