Opinion: Making the two-year-old programme work

Teacher Tom at Canterbury994I’m a governor at Seven Sisters Primary School and South Grove Children’s Centre in Tottenham, where we’ve been running a programme for two-year-olds from deprived backgrounds for the last three years. We’ve tracked the progress these children make, and it’s clear there are real benefits. This is a good Lib Dem policy, aiming to break down the barriers that hold back children from poorer families.

In September, the eligibility criteria for the programme will be widened, so that around 40% of two-year-olds become eligible. In Haringey, that means that around 1,790 children be entitled to a place. Now Haringey has two problems – first, that it only has around 650 places, and, secondly, that take-up of places is low.

The Department for Education are encouraging primary schools with nurseries to take up the scheme. This makes sense, as it eases the transition to nursery education and it starts building the links with parents that are so important during a child’s time at primary school. Also, the school can achieve economies of scale by sharing staff between the nursery and the two-year-old provision. A school that has a children’s centre is at a natural advantage here – it is easier for them to recruit two-year-olds, as they have built relationships with parents already, they have experience of working with very young children and have the required facilities.

However, this model is being threatened by potential outsourcing of children’s centres, which many local authorities, including Haringey, are considering. If an external provider runs the children’s centre, it is unlikely to establish such a close relationship with its neighbouring school. Without the economies of scale that can be achieved through staff sharing, the costs of providing the two-year-old programme (which is not generously funded by central government) may prove prohibitive.

The education of children from deprived backgrounds must be considered in a holistic way. Through building up relationships and trust with families over the long-term, poor children will achieve far more. So, local authorities should consider carefully the impact of commissioning external providers to run children’s centres.

Photo by earlyarts/Professional Development for Creative people

Editors’ note: The header of this piece originally appeared along with the wrong article on Saturday. Our apologies to Cara and readers for this mix-up.

* Cara Jenkinson is Vice-Chair of Haringey Liberal Democrats and PPC for Enfield North

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  • Richard Dean 21st Jul '14 - 12:37pm

    I don’t understand how “economies of scale” are achieved by staff sharing. Without the primary school, are the nursery staff not fully employed, and vice versa?

  • Cara Jenkinson 21st Jul '14 - 12:50pm

    Richard, afternoon nursery sessions are not always full, so there may be staff to redeploy there. Furthermore ‘rising 3’s’ – the children that are turning 3 soon, can be moved up into the nursery, creating more spaces for younger 2 year olds. There can also be sharing of costs around Admin e.g around admissions that can be shared between school and children’s centre.

  • Richard Dean 21st Jul '14 - 4:31pm

    Thanks for your quick response, Cara. I have another question. As far as the children are concerned, is it not beneficial to have a change of venue at 5 years? Rather than continue on at the same school and with the same teachers? Not all children get along well with their teachers, and a child who doesn’t would at least have a chance of a new start at 5. Do these children form bonds with teachers, between 2 and 5, that ought not to be broken?

  • Cara Jenkinson 21st Jul '14 - 11:15pm

    Hi Richard – I think that’s a valid point. In practice in my experience the Early Years (currently 3-5) in most schools is run as a separate phase. When the children move up into Year 1 (aged 5), there are different staff and usually a different phase leader. There is also a more ‘grown up’ environment with different classroom set up. Many schools now have an early years area which is much more open plan, with the children determining a lot more which activities they do, whereas in Year 1, things are more formal and structured.

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