New national project to help children get most out of school

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A leading children’s charity, Home-Start, is launching Big Hopes Big Future today, a new Scottish programme designed to meet the needs of children who are at risk of starting school without the skills necessary to get the most out of learning.

Big Hopes Big Future is led by trained volunteers working with children and families at home using a ground-breaking programme of activities and resources. Volunteers work with parents to create a positive home learning environment.

Funded by a grant of over £81,000 from STV Children’s Appeal, the project is highlighted in the programme STV Children’s Appeal – Changing Lives to be broadcast tonight on STV at 8pm.

Over 56,000 children are expected to start school in Scotland this August with up to 19% having at least one developmental concern that could affect learning. Children from the most disadvantaged areas are more than twice as likely to have at least one developmental concern including problems with speech, language and social skills.

The result is that teachers are spending increasing amounts of time and resources helping children who lack basic skills such as using a pencil, recognising their name when it is written or being able to use the toilet without help.

Home-Start shares the Scottish Government’s concern about the educational attainment gap in Scotland. Too many children from poorer backgrounds finish school with fewer qualifications than their more well-off peers which can have a negative lifelong impact.

To help reverse this trend, Home-Start Big Hopes, Big Future volunteers will undertake specialised training to enable them to help parents over a period of four to six months to gain understanding and confidence in helping their children get ready to thrive in nursery or school.

Home-Starts in Aberdeen and East Lothian will be the first to deliver the programme following its success elsewhere in the UK. Significant local authority funding is committed to help develop the work in East Lothian. Home-Start will be looking for similar partner engagement in other areas to help scale up the national programme over the next three years.

The programme’s approach reflects Home-Start’s commitment to deliver family support within the GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) model and is in line with the Scottish Government’s revised National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan (Dec, 2016) 4and Early Years Framework (Jan, 2009), incorporating parental and family engagement with support from local partners.

Shelagh Young, Director of Home-Start in Scotland, said, “Home-Start is responding to important research which shows that, as well as improving income levels for very poor families, the most successful means of tackling the attainment gap is to start in the early years working with children and their parents or carers together. We applaud the Scottish Government’s investment in targeting the attainment gap through support to schools but we are focused on the next generation of school children. They will benefit most from additional help long before they reach school or nursery.”

Elizabeth Partyka of the STV Children’s Appeal said: “The STV Children’s Appeal was established to make a real difference in the lives of Scotland’s children and young people, and we are pleased to be able to support Home-Start in launching Big Hopes Big Future to enable early years children to get the most out of learning when they reach school age. Since launching in 2011, the Appeal has raised over £13.7 million, with 722 big and small grants distributed to projects across all 32 local authority areas in Scotland, providing much needed support to over 62,000 children.”

After a successful pilot in 12 Home-Starts in England from 2013-15, Big Hopes Big Future has expanded into 94 Home-Starts and, at April 2016, has provided support to 378 families, including 831 children.

A study into a trial of the Big Hopes Big Future programme carried out with the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge and the University of South Wales, showed that the support led to between 25% and 33% improvement in the children’s preparedness to engage in a learning environment.

The study showed that children saw significant improvements in all four key areas related to being able to make the most out of school:

Language and cognitive skills (e.g. identifying letters of the alphabet, recognising own name, reads at home, counting to five)

Behavioural adjustment (e.g. tantrums, lack of patience, easily distracted, poor response to reprimands)

Children’s daily living skills (e.g. toilet training, using knife and fork)

Family support (e.g. being punctual, absence levels from nursery)

The biggest impact was seen with children from families with complex problems. The improvement in language and cognition was particularly evident for children who were eligible for free school meals, for families with mental health issues and for those with multiple deprivation.