Bridging the attainment divide in Yorkshire education

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There is a level of urgency in easing attainment gaps for the nation’s most disadvantaged, the Children’s Minister has said, with a number of measures revealed for the region over recent weeks.

New projects, aimed at supporting early learning at home, will see measures including the introduction of health visitor assessments and expert guidance on play techniques for parents.

The announcements, as part of the Education Secretary’s vision to halve the number of children arriving at school not yet ready to learn, are aimed at supporting children in the early years in the development of language skills, confidence and learning.

While progress is being made nationwide, Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said, there is a degree of urgency in narrowing a divide between disadvantaged children and their richer peers.

“This is really important,” he told The Yorkshire Post, after it emerged a number of pilot schemes were to be trialled in the region. “There is a scandalous number – 28 per cent – of children leaving reception year unable to meet expected standards in reading, writing and communication.”

Figures from the Education Policy Institute (EIP) show that an attainment gap equivalent to four months of learning, between disadvantaged children and their peers, is already in evidence when children start school, widening to 19 months by GCSE age.

On a comparison level, one in five more children in the early years meet the expected standards in development in the City of London, when compared to analysis for Hull or Leeds. It is essential, Mr Zahawi has said, that moves were made to support children at the earliest possible stage.

“We’ve got to make sure that we are giving a range of support for parents in their home,” he said. “We have narrowed the gap by 9.5 per cent since 2011. It’s really not enough. We have extra targets to halve that 28 per cent by 2028. That is the level of urgency.”

Last week, it was confirmed that Wakefield is to be a target area for a trial over health visitor assessments, with nurses to be trained in language assessment tools. This week, a ‘maths month’ focus has been launched in Scarborough, as an Opportunity Area.

Two different projects have also been confirmed for the region, including a scheme for early years professionals to visit families at home. Being trialled at 120 schools, this will see a focus on getting parents more involved in drawing, singing and counting with their children, as well as encouraging them to use everyday activities to boost learning.

A separate project in Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley, will see experts visit 320 families twice a week for 15 months to demonstrate reading, conversation and play activities.

Disadvantaged families are also to receive free access to early learning apps for phones and tablets, as well as text message tips.

The power of technology can be harnessed as a tool for parents, Mr Zahawi has said, as part of a wider drive to raise outcomes for the most disadvantaged.

“There is lots you can do in terms of using play as a form of education,” he said. “We look at screen time as a harmless technology. We can harness technology to support development – it can be a great tool for parents.

“Even before your child gets into a nursery or school, there are things that we can do with them that will enhance their education and close that gap.”