“If we get the early years right, we pave the way for a lifetime of achievement. If we get them wrong, we miss a unique opportunity to shape a child’s future.” Pg. 3
I was recently invited to the launch of the new Ofsted report called ‘Unknown Children- Destined for Disadvantage’. It was launched by the new Chair of Ofsted David Hoare who has made his views very public about the negative impact of inequality especially for our youngest children. Indeed, he has come out strongly as an advocate for early years and the power of early intervention.
But the report upset and angered me in equal measure. Why are we still hearing about child poverty as if it was a new phenomenon? Why is Ofsted so shocked ? Has it been asleep for the last 10 years? My challenge at the meeting was, “Wake Up and look outside your front door, there is a raft of reports going back years and we seem to have an increasing not reducing problem“.
The updated poverty statistics from the London from the Child Poverty Alliance Group (CPAG):
- In 2014-15, UK child poverty increased by 200,000 to 3.9 million (after housing costs)
- 66% of poor children live in working families (up from 64%)
- London remains UK region with highest rate of child poverty (37%)
- Child poverty in London remains unchanged from last year (2013/14)
- 37% of all children in the capital live in poverty – that’s around 700,000 children
- Nearly 1 in 5 poor children in the UK live in London (18%)
I spoke at a conference in Scotland earlier this year and the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) ten year evaluation of child poverty implications was presented. LINK .Their report also made pretty depressing reading. Here is a summary:
|Position of Children
|Less good health during the first 4 years
|Poor diet at age 5
|Below average vocabulary
|Below average problem solving ability at age 5
|High social emotional or behavioural difficulty at8 years
|Lowest level of life satisfaction at age 8
|Poor mental health during their child’s first 4 years
The Ofsted report identified a similar picture although as with all things Ofsted the focus was on education and longer term school success whereas the Scottish report looked at health and also the health of the mother. In 2015, 44% of children who had not reached the expected level at the age of five went on to securely achieve the national benchmark in reading, writing and mathematics at the age of 11. This compares with 77% of children who had achieved a good level of development.
The specific details look like this:
- The speech and language gap between children from the lowest income families is equivalent to 19 months (Sutton Trust, 2012).
- Poorer children’s basic level of communication was limited because they cannot confidently articulate their thoughts, ideas, opinions and views using a breadth and depth of receptive language.
- Around one quarter of disadvantaged children were unable to communicate effectively because they lacked the concentration, vocabulary and listening skills to focus their attention and understand what others were saying
- A quarter are unable to control their own feelings and impulses or make sense of the world around them to ensure that they are ready to learn.
- One fifth of disadvantaged children lacked the confidence and independence needed to tackle new challenges, make new friends or understand how they were feeling so they understand their basic impulses.
- Around a quarter lacked the experience and understanding of the people, places and environment around them to make sense of their world and their ability to interact successful within it.
- Access to high quality provision in poor areas remains a barrier with only 8% of children living in prosperous areas in proviso that is less than good, while this is 18% in poor neighbourhoods.
What did Ofsted think we need to do?
- We need leaders across children’s services, health and education and in local authorities who have a broader understanding of what disadvantaged means and how to tackle it successfully.
- We need leaders who understand what school readiness means and with specific regards to the importance of the wider health and social care contribution.
- We need to reduce professional distrust, and limit the reluctance to share vital information therefore avoiding duplication among health and education professionals.
- Professionals must increase their awareness about the circumstances faced by poor families.
- Services need to be better joined up services with local authorities having a more co-ordinated strategic approach to tackling the issues facing children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds.
- There is no place for weak leadership, lack of management oversight and inaction.
- More needs to be done to ensure additional funding from the Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) has impact. Half the schools visited as part of the report had not identified the children entitled to additional funding, and some could not account for the spend.
- We need to improve parents’ skills and the home learning environment
- Ensure access to free two year old early years education. A third of eligible children ( 80,000) did not take up their funded places in 2015.
Really, now tell us something we didn’t know!
Can you guess why I was depressed? Here we have a report which shows that things are getting worse for many poor children but present solutions that shaped a National Strategy twenty years ago and led to initiatives such as Sure Start which have been kicked into the political-ideological long grass.
Sure Start was created to provide childcare and support services in areas of poverty, including health and education as one offer, supporting families to better understand their role as leaders of their children’s learning in the home. Yet, instead of being improved and perfected it’s been left to die slowly by our previous Coalition Government and the more recent Conservative approach of Tackling Disadvantage led by Mr Cameron may never see the light of day.
The challenge of Ofsted to local authorities for a strategic approach comes very late in the day when local authorities are starved of resources.
The access to free childcare is stymied by the lack of funding and a policy of requiring A to C GCSEs as entry requirements for Early Years staff which has more or less dried up the pipeline of qualified staff and centres working with disadvantaged children need the best staff.
So feel my frustration given my life’s work of creating LEYF; a social enterprise which has at its very heart reducing disadvantage and where all of our 38 nurseries are good or outstanding. There are many others like LEYF also feeling this frustration too. What is needed is not a report with a list of solutions that have been rejected very often on politically and/or ideological grounds.
Turn the report around and start with all those leaders who are doing a good job for children from poor and disadvantaged families. Collect this evidence in one place and share it widely. Create a directory of social businesses and look much more closely at small changes that can make a big difference.
The GUS report repeatedly demonstrated that better cognitive ability is linked to home learning activities. Home learning benefits all children irrespective of social class but for those who are from poor and disadvantaged families it can moderate, though by no means eradicate, the effects of socio-economic disadvantage. The research (Bromley 2009 & Bradshaw 2011) revealed that being read to everyday from 10 months, being actively involved in daily home learning activities at 22 months and visiting a wide range of places from 22 months were all significantly related to vocabulary ability and improved cognitive skills even after taking account of socio-economic background.
At LEYF we looked at this research and the very elements that make the difference. We run action research like a thread through the organisation developing pedagogical leadership as a core competence. That means instead of looking at high level and often unassailable solutions we look at what we can do and how we can develop and apply research in each nursery. For example, deputy managers like Jessica Whiteley are examining how literacy rich environments and working with parents will improve the vocabulary and receptive language of the children, especially boys. Across the organisation we have Each One Teach One champions who are rolling out the pedagogical conversations with parents to improve our approach to Home Learning.
So, I challenge Ofsted that if it really wants to reject the stark differences between children from disadvantaged families and their better off peers, then use its power as both a regulator and improvement lead to shout out about what is happening in the sector and show where and how those leaders and practitioners are working together to make a difference rather than present a set of solutions which are a bit old hat and have not created the necessary systemic change.