Not So Sure Start

Over the past year I have been completing a research project aiming to answer the question of ‘what are the common characteristics of intervention strategies used in secondary education’.

The ultimate conclusion from my research is that although common characteristics exist, there is in fact a more pressing concern with interventions in the sense that they would be better focused on the early developmental stages of a child’s life rather than dealing with performance issues later in a child’s education.

Socio-economic factors, such as ethnic background, social class and upbringing play an important role in determining educational attainment. Research in this area makes it clear, socio-economic factors are actually the biggest determining factor in academic achievement at school and although some of the pastoral interventions put in place by schools aim to tackle some of these issues, by the time a child reaches compulsory school age, it is often too late.

The greatest intervention which could take place would be to ensure the barriers which exist prior to a child entering nursery. A key example of this was Sure Start Children’s Centres which were introduced by Gordon Brown in 1998 which aimed to provide easy access to a range of community health services, parenting and family support, outreach services, integrated early education and childcare, and links to training and employment opportunities for families with children under 5.

Under the Sure Start scheme, many of the barriers which would in other circumstances lead to poorer performance in school were tackled early in a child’s development.

An impact report in 2010 showed that there were four ‘significant’ effects on those families who attended Sure Start centres. These were “engaging in less harsh discipline, providing a more stimulating home learning environment, providing a less chaotic home life (in particular for boys) and parents having better life satisfaction” (Department for Education, 2010, p. 11). This demonstrated clearly that intervening in the early years could have a positive impact on later educational outcomes for the children involved. Not only did this help to improve educational attainment, it also allowed children to develop social skills and be at a similar ability level to their peers when entering formal education.

Sadly, the majority of Sure Start centres have either closed or their purpose has changed to such an extent, their impact in a more holistic sense is lessened. This means that those from poorer backgrounds will start their education at a point which is on average lower than their peers. With government cuts to most public services causing the Sure Start services to be depleted we face a situation where these students are systematically held back throughout their educational life, progress 8 ensures schools only have to get low achieving students to do as well as their peers and pupil premium funding can only ever make marginal gains when compared to early intervention during a child’s early development.

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