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Child development gap widening in Torbay

Saturday, November 30th, 2019 8:12am

By Ed Oldfield, Local Democracy Reporting Service

The figure is lower for those on free school meals

The development gap between disadvantaged and better-off children is widening in Torbay.

Councillors were told data for early years between the ages of two and five shows a growing difference.

Figures for 2019 revealed 53.2 per cent of early years children receiving free schools meals achieved a “good level of development”.

The same level achieved by non-free school meal children was 76.9 per cent.

Councillors heard the gap was growing and achievement was generally lower at school-based nurseries compared to the private, voluntary and independent sector, regardless of deprivation.

Councillors heard work was going on to challenge school leaders on whether they were focussed enough on the youngest children.

Assistant director of education Rachael Williams told a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee: “What we do know is our gap for children within the Early Years is growing in this local authority area, and we are growing our disadvantage gap at a rate that is higher than our statistical neighbours and the national picture.”

Ms Williams told councillors the education and public health teams were working on a new scheme targeted to support families with young children in Barton and Watcombe in Torquay.

It has a working title of the “Torbay Promise” and would involve a new approach to support families from before a child’s birth to when they go to nursery aged two.

Ms Williams said the programme was still being designed and funding sought but it was hoped to launch in April 2020.

The idea is based on the Harlem Project in New York which created a “Baby College” to deliver family support.

The committee met in its role as an Anti-Poverty Task & Finish Group to hear evidence on the theme of Turning The Tide on Poverty.

The meeting on Tuesday was its second session, under the title Give Every Child The Best Start in Life.

Councillors heard how the education and health teams were working to support children and families, and voted to support a series of next steps outlined in a report.

They were: 

  • developing the Torbay Promise;
  • further integration of early help and 0-19 services;
  • launching a Home Learning Campaign called Chat Play Read;
  • the ‘Imagine This’ partnership and the capacity to deliver additional family support services;
  • developing a Trauma Informed Developmental Approach to services – taking into account how past experience may affect behaviour.

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