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Published : 22/08/2012 00:00

Innovative early years project gives two year olds a flying start

A scheme to boost the attainment of economically disadvantaged two-year-olds across Leeds is going from strength to strength.

The programme which has been running for five years, gives up to 15 hours of free early education to two-year-olds who are identified as disadvantaged based mainly on economic factors. It has been so popular that all eligible families took up the offer last year, which has led to an agreement by Leeds City Council to fund even more places this year from the Early Intervention Grant ahead of new Government investment for places  in 2013.

The overall aim is to raise attainment among the eligible children, but a key element of the scheme is to work directly with the parents and encourage them to be much more involved with their children’s learning at home.

Parents who take up the offer are encouraged to take part in courses at their local children’s centre, to help them support their children’s learning, as well as building their own confidence and skills.

Professionals at the children’s centres work with parents to look at their individual needs to ascertain what courses would be the most suitable for them. Some parents take part in a ‘learning through play’ course which teaches them how to play creatively with their child, other options include healthy cookery courses, as well as confidence, first aid and computer literacy courses.

Since it began, hundreds of families have benefited from the programme, with some using the opportunity to continue their own education or training with the aspiration to obtain or return to employment.

Councillor Jane Dowson, deputy executive board member responsible for children’s services said:
“It is fantastic that so many families are taking up this offer and it’s been so popular that we’ve been able to expand it this year.

“This programme is so much more than just about free childcare, it is about providing skills for life, not just for the children but for the parents too. Not only does it enable parents to learn important parenting skills, it has also been proven to raise aspirations in those who take part.

“By equipping parents with the skills they need to help their own children continue their early education at home, be it through play or reading, or establishing routines, we are helping them create children who are happy and confident and ready to progress with their education at school.

“Children’s centres have proved to be a vital resource to families with young children across the city since they first opened six years ago. And despite the current economic situation nationally, here in Leeds we have been able to keep all our children’s centres open. In fact, we are already seeing some very positive results. The attainment levels of children who have just finished their reception year at school are showing a good improvement on previous years. Demonstrating the impact of projects like the two-year old scheme and other great work our children’s centres across the city do.”

Case study – Seacroft Children’s Centre Parenting Programme –“ 2gether We Grow “
The scheme has been well received by many parents including those at Seacroft Children’s Centre who take part in their programme “2gether We Grow”.  Shareen Bradshaw, Pauline Ferguson, Lisa Pawsey and Vivienne Bartolome have all found being part of the group has benefited them in different ways:

Pauline says; “It can be hard work looking after kids 24/7 so having somewhere like this to come can be really good fun, and gives us a chance to meet new people and have a bit of time with other adults. Being part of this group gives you more confidence and we have a laugh.” Vivienne agrees “It’s been great for sharing ideas and everyone is really supportive.”

The group have taken part in a number of organised sessions including the Henry healthy eating course, first aid training, cooking, learning through play and movement play sessions. Some members of the group also visited a local college which has encouraged one member of the group, Lisa, to consider applying for a college course to continue her education.

Not only have they enjoyed being part of the group, the members have also noticed a difference in their children. Pauline said “It has really helped with (my child’s) socialisation and their talking has come on a lot since we’ve been coming here. The kids like knowing we’re here as well. I have found I’ve used things I’ve learnt on the courses we’ve done, you don’t do it knowingly, it just comes naturally.”

Shareen was reluctant to attend at first, she said; “I didn’t think I’d like it, I thought it would be boring but I’ve really enjoyed it, and met loads of new people.” Pauline agrees “I was a bit scared at first but I was made to feel really welcome. I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.”

Interviews can be arranged with parents who attend the Seacroft Children’s Centre “2gether We Grow” programme – please contact Emma Whittell on 0113 2474713  to arrange.

Notes:
Since 2006, Leeds has successfully provided personalised packages of support for disadvantaged two years old and their families. In 2009 Leeds received funding from the former DCSF to target support for the 15% most disadvantaged two year olds.  This gave Leeds a target of 284 children. This target was maintained in 2011-2012 and funded, as the government intended, through the Early Intervention Grant. In 2012/13 an additional £1 million of funding has been allocated to increase the number of 2 year old funded places to 632. Indicative numbers identified by the Government suggest that Leeds will have funding to support at least three times as many children and their families by 2014/15.

The Leeds model has been developed over 5 years, it:
• Offers 2 year olds up to 15 hours of free flexible childcare and early learning in children’s centres and approved childcare providers across all sectors;
• Delivers a targeted family outreach service to reach the most vulnerable and isolated families;
• Provides home learning environment support. Actively supporting parents to devise activities to support their children’s development;
• Provides a range of family support services based on the needs of children and families;
• Targets services towards eligible families, and;
• Builds expectation around involvement and attendance for children and parents.

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact:
Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713
Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk