7. The Early Years Programme - Hattersley Towards a Learning Community
The project is one of six strands that make up the education activity of Hattersley's SRB Programme. It provides comprehensive early years activity for the children and parents in the area, by enabling the community to provide a wide range of quality childcare services, and providing support for families of young children.
There is also an emphasis on increasing educational attainment, through improving literacy and numeracy skills, and increasing parental awareness and involvement of all areas of their children's education.
Background - Problems to be Tackled
- In this project, parents are put at the heart of their children's education. They are supported as parents and encouraged to increase their knowledge and parenting skills in an unobtrusive but effective way. They are considered to be the key players in a child's development and education.
- The project has encouraged local people into the jobs available. All but one of the staff working in the Early Years H.Q. live on the estate. The other has just moved off it. The staff know and share the problems of being a parent on the estate, and have known and shared the problems of being a young person on the estate. This has led to early acceptance from local young parents, and a project that is focussed tightly on real problems and possibilities.
- Though this SRB project is spending more than half of its core funding on education and training activity, the benefits may only be felt in full after the lifetime of the project.
- A wide range of partners have come together to fund activities jointly, and to ensure that their standard work is conducted in a more complementary fashion. This is achieved not only through joint projects, but also through sharing local knowledge among professionals. Day to day partners in early years activity include the Health Authority, schools, the Library Service, GPs, health visitors, as well as the dedicated staff and resources made available through the SRB programme.
- Staff from different organisations have become used to working in a multi- disciplinary fashion. Within the bounds of professional ethics and propriety they are able to share information about clients and devise joint programmes for action with the least possible bureaucracy and formality.
Hattersley, a large council estate on the outskirts of Manchester, suffers from many of the problems of peripheral estates and social housing in general. There are very high numbers of single parents, elderly people, and unemployed people: 52% of children on the estate are being brought up in families where there is no wage earner.
The estate is short of services, and there are few job opportunities. Levels of educational attainment and indicators of wealth are both lower than average.
The scheme recognises that there is a cycle of deprivation in Hattersley, and seeks to 'develop a learning community with new aspirations which is capable of creating and sustaining a better future for itself.'
Specifically, the problems which the programme's activities have addressed are:
How the Project was Developed
- hostility or indifference to education;
- lack of good quality childcare;
- low standards of parenting and
- Stress experienced by young families in crisis.
The importance of the education strand of Hattersley's SRB Programme - to which the Early Years projects belong - is demonstrated by the fact that it accounts for more than half of the area's current SRB funding.
The heart of the project is the Early Years Centre. This is a mobile unit comprising two former classrooms, toilets and office in the grounds of Pinfold Primary School in the heart of Hattersley. The centre aims to co-operate rather than compete with other childcare providers in the area, and defines its objectives as:
There are five different, but related projects:
- to promote knowledge and awareness around the importance of quality and professional standards in child care around the principles of:
- children's rights and responsibilities
- respecting and valuing children as individuals
- children being different but equal;
- to increase opportunity for young children in the community to develop the skill for successful learning.
- to increase parent/carer opportunities for involvement in their children's development and education.
- to provide and facilitate training, support and advice for both childcare practitioners and parents/carers and
- to increase parent choice by developing the level and range of child care provision in the community.
- Childcare provision
A breakfast club and an after school club both cater for up to 42 children from two different primary schools, and allow parents to work around the school day.
Both clubs provide some food and drink for the children, and the afternoon club includes a variety of structured educational activities delivered through play and computer use.
There is also a crèche/playgroup, which offers 20 full time places to the children of parents taking part in courses or working in the area. During the school holidays, most of these are replaced by a day long holiday play scheme for up to 20 children, at a cost of £2.50 per half-day session.
During the summer this is supplemented with activities for more children, with activities, which recognise that it is a holiday period - and are fun - while remaining educational.
- Childcare training
A series of courses aim to help improve parenting skills and knowledge. A central tenet is to involve parents as equals in the education of their children.
Although all the courses aim to improve participants' ability to care for their own children, some also improve employment prospects - one of the graduates now works at the Early Years Centre, and others are seeking employment as class room and care assistants, jobs which would otherwise have been beyond their reach.
A reading and writing course links parents, children and schools. At an early stage, teachers identify children who appear to be having reading difficulties. The children then participate in activities at the centre during school time, in which parents also help.
There are also courses which, while not directly related to early years education, aim to improve parents' 'living skills'. However, all of the training affects not only children's development, but also works to improve the confidence and morale - and in some cases employability - of the parents who take part.
Homestart, the only one of these projects not based at the Early Years Centre, is a voluntary organisation which offers support, friendship and practical help to young families under stress in their own homes. The aim is to prevent family crisis and breakdown and emphasise the value of family life.
Volunteers, who receive organisational support from a paid social worker and an administrator, are trained in basic child development theories, the ethics of visiting people in their own homes, and resources that are available within the community.
This scheme introduces children to books at an early age. At the 34-week test that all babies have, the Bookstart officer distributes to parents a book pack containing a baby-proof book, a laminated card, and advice on reading and involvement in reading.
This is followed up regular sessions with participating parents at the Early Years Centre, as well as a further free book at the age of 18 months, and introductory sessions at the estate library. Bookstart is also included in the…
- Co-ordinated Individual Record System (CIRS)
This is a co-ordinated system for recording information currently held by the local education authority, social services, and health authority. As well as improving communication between these departments, it aims to encourage parental involvement, awareness and knowledge in all areas of their child's development.
The record takes the form of a small ring binder to be held by the parents, which initially contains information about the child's development over the first twelve months. This enables the parent to compare their child's progress against the mean, in order to recognise late development so that any problems can be dealt with early on.
As a very effective incentive to take part in the scheme, parents are offered free photographs of the children - to be used for the frontispiece of the record, but also for family snaps - at the initial registration, shortly after their babies are born. This is repeated at the six-month stage, so that staff at the Centre can discuss the record and anything that it reveals.
Preparations are being made to carry the record through to school age, as a supplement to the more formal record and baseline that will be taken in the first few weeks of school life.
Budget for the five-year period: £852,225, of which £223,000 is from SRB and the balance largely from the LEA and Health Authority, with growing amounts of private sector sponsorship.
Outcomes and Achievements
Anticipated Positive Outcomes
- The project came into full flow only in the 1998/99 financial year and the Bookstart scheme's first intake, for example, will not receive any formal educational evaluation until one after the SRB has come to an end.
- However, the scheme was preceded by a comprehensive baseline study which examined most areas of education and relevant social activity. Moreover, staff and parents are convinced that the combination of activities that the project has initiated is proving effective. More and more parents and their children are coming forward for all the programmes.
- Teachers are sending growing numbers of children on the reading programme, and report improvements in those participating.
- Children are accustomed to books from an early age.
- Parents know how to play with their children, read to them and involve them with things in a positive way around the house, rather than relying on the television as a babysitter.
- Medical problems that could slow educational progress, such as poor eyesight and hearing are picked up quickly because the parent, as well as the professional, recognises potential symptoms;
- Remedial reading activities are picked up quickly and wherever possible, involve the parent.
- Children are fed before school so that they can concentrate on education and social activities.
- Adults who have not taken advantage of education when they were at school can begin a learning process in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable to the benefit of themselves and their children.