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Sure Start 'has failed to boost children's literacy and numeracy' Watch

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    Experts studying the development of 117,000 children starting primary school in England over eight years said their findings showed that early years programmes needed to be reviewed to check whether they were reaching those most in need, particularly pupils from poor backgrounds.

    Basic levels of development in early reading, vocabulary and maths remained largely unchanged between 2001 and 2008, the team from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (Cem), at Durham University, said.

    They looked at how children starting at the same 472 state primary schools each year scored in measures called Pips (performance indicators in primary schools), which include tasks such as counting to seven, discriminating between different sounds and solving simple problems.

    Dr Christine Merrell, who led the research, published by the Oxford Review of Education, said: "Given the resources put into early years initiatives, we expected to see a rise in literacy and numeracy scores in schools, so it's disappointing that there has been no improvement."

    "Our findings reinforce the concern that the poorest families in our society are not accessing the full range of educational opportunities and resources designed to help them. If we really want to improve life for the more vulnerable and poorer sections of society, we need to target assistance much more effectively.

    "Access is still a major issue. If disadvantaged families can access and use the full range of resources, advice and expertise available, then Sure Start could offer significant help to children from poorer backgrounds."

    The first Sure Start schemes were introduced in 1999 in the most deprived neighbourhoods, and the programme was later expanded to run from children's centres in areas with a wider mix of families. The coalition has called for them to refocus their efforts on the poorest children, with middle-class parents likely to be charged for an increasing number of services.

    The charity 4Children, which runs a number of children's centres, said it knew from experience that Sure Start was important in helping families overcome the damaging effects of poverty and disadvantage.

    Its chief executive, Anne Longfield, said: "These findings go against the grain of a mountain of new research which shows the enormous benefit of Sure Start for children and their parents.

    "Criticisms highlighted in this study are already being addressed and should not cast doubt over the excellent work happening across the country to ensure that Sure Start makes the biggest difference to those who need it most."
    Thoughts? Are the coalition now right to enact reforms to Surestart?
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