‘Closing the gap in the early years’ is a community project funded by the Smart Start programme designed to give children in Warwickshire the best start in life.
Practitioners from early years settings (20 organisations) and community groups in Rugby and Leamington Spa have been involved in a 12-month project to close the gap of attainment, between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, in the early years foundation stage. The work has focused on communities where data indicates weaker outcomes in relation to school readiness. This project built on a successful pilot conducted in Nuneaton and Bedworth prior to the Smart Start funding.
Closing the gap is a priority for Warwickshire as research has shown that by the age of 3, children from disadvantaged backgrounds can be up to a year behind their more advantaged peers. The gap increases steadily over time, lasts a lifetime, and is apparent across a range of indicators, from health and wellbeing to income and attainment.
High quality and effective early years education is able to redress the balance, helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds to catch up (or not fall further behind) children from more advantaged families.
The project focused on four themes:
- Improving children’s communication and language skills
- Building leaderships knowledge for closing gap – ensuring children are ‘ready’ for school
- family engagement in learning – how engagement in learning improves educational outcomes
- Improving the quality of educational practice
The first face to face training session was held in October 2016 for 22 practitioners working in schools as well as private and independent early years education in Rugby and Leamington Spa. Results from the training sessions suggest attendees experienced a significant increase in their knowledge, skills and confidence as the following feedback explains:
- “Very enjoyable, looking forward to putting and feeding back to staff / setting”
- “Both trainers made it interesting and easy to understand”
- “I enjoyed this course and the information given to me as I was not sure about the project and now feel more knowledgeable on the project.”
- “Really got me thinking.”
- “Looking forward to putting this into our everyday practice”
Amanda King from the ‘Closing the gap in the early years’ project said:
“The Smart Start funding has enabled us to make real progress, working with early years practitioners to improve their skills and knowledge, which will have a positive impact on disadvantaged children in Warwickshire.”
Helen King, Smart Start Programme Lead and Deputy Director of Public Health said
“It is great to see such positive results from the first phase of the ‘Closing the gap’ project, with early years educators working to improve school readiness in Warwickshire. We are looking forward to the second phase of this project as through further Smart Start funding it is being rolled out across the county. The project will enable us to deliver on our ambition to improve early years education as set out in the Smart Start Strategy.”