Town’s youth face tough start

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YOUNGSTERS from disadvantaged Wigan families are falling behind their peers in early years education, according to a new report.

The percentage of children in the borough eligible for free school meals achieving a good level of development is among the lowest in the country.

Inspectors from children’s watchdog Ofsted assessed schools, child-minders and children’s centres who cater for youngsters up until the age of five.

The results show that just 19 per cent of disadvantaged children were achieving expected targets. Only Warrington is ranked lower with 18 per cent.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said: “We should all be deeply concerned that so many children from poorer homes are being left further and further behind.

“It’s a damning indictment of this Government’s strategy which has seen early years funding slashed and nearly 500 Sure Start centres closed.

“This children’s secretary has shown he has little interest in what happens to children outside of the school gates, but as this report shows, children don’t do well at school unless they are well supported from an early age.”

Assessment is judged on the “three prime areas: communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development plus literacy and mathematics targets.”

It states that “only a little more than a third of children from low income backgrounds reached a good level of development. In some local areas, this was less than a fifth.

“One factor is that some types of provision, such as child-minders, are considerably less likely to be good or outstanding in deprived areas.”

Children from low income families make “the strongest progress when supported by highly qualified staff” and that nursery schools often have graduate level staff and perform “as strongly in deprived areas as in more affluent ones, the report states.

Wigan Council director of children and families, Anne Goldsmith, said: “The local authority early years foundation profile (EYFSP) changed in 2013, becoming a harder test, which has resulted in a reduced score for most local authorities.

“There have been surprising outcomes nationally as local authorities have interpreted the application of the assessment in different ways.

“The borough’s Nicol Mere Primary school was recently included as an example of good practice in the Ofsted report Are you ready? - Good practice in school readiness. The publication highlighted how the most successful Early Years providers ensure disadvantaged and vulnerable children are better prepared to start school.

“We are committed to improving our performance in this area and have now established a head teacher EYFS Profile group, which will analyse data and address potential issues regularly. We are also coordinating work to improve data monitoring, and Local Authority EYFSP training and briefing sessions for schools.”

The report also highlighted that parents are often faced with tough choices about early years providers because “information that is available to every parent is not clear and simple enough.”

And that authorities, parents, providers or the government must definitively identify which children are ready for school and which are not.