Gap between poor five-year-olds and their better-off peers has grown

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The early learning gap between children in poverty and their peers has widened in half of areas across England, according to new analysis.

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Research by Save the Children suggests poorer children have fallen further behind their classmates in 76 out of 152 local authority areas in England by the end of Reception.

The figures form part of a nationwide disparity between children in poverty and their peers which has widened in the last 12 months (by 0.3 per cent) for the first time in four years, said the charity.

Save the Children conducted analysis of the Government’s report ‘Early years foundation stage profile results: 2017 to 2018’, which provides the number of children reaching expected levels of development in key areas at the end of their first year of primary school.

Children in poverty are falling behind in areas such as speaking in full sentences, following simple instructions and expressing themselves, the charity said.

The national learning gap is 17 per cent, with two in five (43 per cent) of disadvantaged children struggling with basic skills at age five compared to just over a quarter (26 per cent) of their more privileged classmates.  

According to the analysis, the learning gap has widened in three regions, the North East, East and South West, and is closing in just two - Yorkshire and the Humber, and the East Midlands.

Regionally, the biggest gap was found in the South West, at 22 percentage points – twice the difference in London, which was the best performing region at 11 percentage points.

Progress in closing the early learning gap has stalled in 22 local authority areas, the analysis found.

Overall, the biggest early learning gap was found in West Berkshire, where disadvantaged five-year-olds were 33 per cent more likely than their classmates to have fallen behind.

By contrast, Hackney was the only local authority in the country with no early learning gap at all.

Steven McIntosh, Save the Children’s director of UK policy, advocacy and campaigns, said, ‘Our analysis shows that a lack of support for childcare quality in England is still letting poverty dictate children’s chances. Not only that, but the gulf between children in poverty and their peers is widening in many places.

‘Children who start school without the tools to learn find it incredibly difficult to catch up, which risks further locking children into poverty in the future.

‘The Government has made welcome commitments to close the early learning gap. But they are ignoring an early years staffing crisis that will continue to undermine children’s potential – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is a national shortage of graduate early years teachers who are specifically trained to help children who are falling behind.’

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