The Early Years Service and Children’s Centres in Slough provide universal, targeted and specialist support for children aged birth to five and their families.
This is done through directly providing early education, care and support services, and training practitioners who work with the youngest children. High priority is given to early intervention and prevention, whilst supporting children’s learning and development throughout the Early Years Foundation Stage.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is the statutory framework that sets the standards that all Early Years providers must meet to ensure that children aged from birth to five years learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. It promotes teaching and learning to ensure children are ready for school and gives children the broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for good future progress through school and life.
The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile measures children’s attainment at the end of their Reception Year, at the age of five. Since 2013, children are defined as having reached a Good Level of Development (GLD) at the end of the EYFS if they achieve at least the expected level in:
The Institute for Public Policy Research explains that high-quality early education is good for children, with positive short and longer term impacts on their development. Early year’s education is also good for equality, with the most disadvantaged children reaping the greatest benefits from childcare. Intervening in the early years can save money later. Investing early protects against costly negative outcomes in later life, like illiteracy or innumeracy; and, for human capital development there is a greater return on early investment than late.
The period between birth and the age of three sees cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and motor development. Rapid growth in vocabulary starts at 15–18 months, and the ability to identify and regulate emotions is well under way in the second year of life (Center on the Developing Child 2007). Inadequate stimulation or barriers to opportunities for productive learning can lead to sizeable and persistent gaps in attainment. At 18 months, children of parents with lower incomes and lower levels of formal education are already scoring substantially lower in development tests than their peers. These gaps typically continue to widen, with the children of homes with higher socio-economic status having double the vocabulary of their low-status counterparts by the age of three (Hart and Risley 2003).
Research shows that because the foundations for future learning are laid down during the first years of life, early development is highly predictive of later achievement (Sénéchal et al 2006, Potter 2007). There is now a broad evidence base demonstrating that interventions in the first years of life, in the form of high quality early years education, have a positive impact on this early development. This in turn leads to better outcomes, in both the short and medium term, than those experienced by children cared for at home.
Evidence in Graham Allen’s report on Early Intervention demonstrates the need for and potential impact of early intervention. It cites as examples:
Current priorities in Slough are closely linked to: the provision of early identification, and prevention; the significance of high quality early education in Children’s Centres, and private, voluntary and independent settings; and the importance of family learning.
I Talk – Speech, Language and Communication Development programme
All Slough settings are currently engaged in this programme, designed to improve practitioners’ and parents’ skills in supporting children’s speech, language and communication development from birth to four years. Data collected in December 2014 demonstrated that of 2299 children, 29% were at risk of delay in their speech and language development.
From September 2014, the 40% most disadvantaged 2-year-olds in England were entitled to 570 hours of free early education per year. Slough has a target to provide funded early learning to 1005 eligible two year olds and focused work is underway to ensure that all of those eligible children are able to access a place. The Department for Education has more details on early learning for 2-year-olds.
On-going tracking of children’s progress from birth to five is analysed to identify gaps in children’s learning and development and to determine the support that parents may need to support their child at home. Tailored family learning programmes are co-designed and delivered to targeted families via the Family Services Team, Quality, Care and Learning Team and Adult Learning.
The revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) requires that parents and carers must be supplied with a short written summary of their child’s development in the three prime learning and development areas of the EYFS, when the child is aged between 24-36 months. The purpose of the Progress Check is to enable earlier identification of development needs so that additional support can be put into place, in the child’s early years setting, in the home and to help to shape the nature of family learning packages on offer. At present, this is in addition to the 2 year development check undertaken by health visitors. It is intended that, in 2015-16, the Progress Check and Development Check will be aligned, which will require a cohesive approach from health and early years professionals.
The statutory Progress Check at 2, has strengthened the need for careful and accurate assessment and tracking of children’s progress, in order that any additional needs are identified early. At present, early years settings may choose their own format for recording progress and/or attainment. The Early Years Teams have worked to produce an electronic tool for tracking and recording children’s progress and attainment throughout the Early Years Foundation Stage, from birth to five years, and this is currently in use in the Children’s Centres. This tool enables us to promptly identify any children at risk of delay in their learning and development, intervene appropriately and design appropriate family learning.
The Children’s Centres provide a hub in the community of early identification and help for families, through multi-agency working and strong links with health services, in addition to offering funded early learning for 2, 3 and 4 year olds and childcare for working parents.
In order to optimise opportunities for the most vulnerable children and families to access services, we need to make sure that all eligible children are taking up their entitlement to 2, 3 and 4 year old places and are reaping the benefit of access to high quality early education.
We acknowledge the importance of the ‘1001 critical days’ from when a baby is conceived until the age of two. This period of life is crucial to increase children’s life chances, and we need to work with all stakeholders to ensure all babies and very young children have the best possible start in life.
There is still much to be done in terms of awareness and workforce development across all agencies regarding the importance of early years and of the early intervention benefits that can be achieved by early years providers and Children’s Centres. We need to continue to focus on promoting the benefits of registration at Children’s Centres to families, as well as raising their awareness about the importance of their role in their child’s learning and development.
Sénéchal M, Ouellette G and Rodney D (2006) ‘The misunderstood giant: On the predictive role of vocabulary to reading’, in Neuman S B and Dickinson D (eds) Handbook of Early Literacy Research: Volume 2, New York, NY: Guilford Press
Potter C (2007) ‘Development in UK early years policy and practices: can they improve outcomes for disadvantaged children?’, International Journal of Early Years Education 15(2): 171–180