Free Nursery Places For Disadvantaged Children

Including 1,400 free early education places for 2 year olds

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Wandsworth Council has unveiled plans for giving disadvantaged children a better start in life.

The proposals include creating 1,400 free early education places for two-year-olds from vulnerable families by 2014 and strengthening the range of early years services provided in the borough's least well-off neighbourhoods.

"Disadvantaged children already do better at schools in Wandsworth than in most other parts of the country, according to Ofsted," said Cllr Kathy Tracey, cabinet member for children's services.

"This scheme is about identifying vulnerable children very early in their lives and targeting services to give them the best possible support before they start school. It also aims to support parents who need help to get back into employment."

Creating such a large number of additional early-years education places is a major challenge and means the council is re-evaluating its current use of one o'clock club and children's centre buildings. It is also consulting private and voluntary sector providers on innovative ways of working together, sharing sites and developing services.

Last year, the Government changed the way early years' services are funded, removing the ring-fence around funding for individual children's centres. Ministers have also asked town halls to ensure children's centres focus on their original aim of supporting the most vulnerable families. Extra funding for places for two year-olds will be allocated via the dedicated schools budget.

Together, these changes now allow councils to reorganise children's centres and early years provision more cost-effectively.

As well as consulting on how to make best use of existing council, private and voluntary sector buildings for the extra nursery places, views will be sought on how to concentrate on the children and families most in need and ensure that children's centres are in the borough's more disadvantaged neighbourhoods and provide the fullest range of services.

The proposal to consult on these plans was unanimously supported by councillors from both parties at the June 20 meeting of the children's services overview and scrutiny committee.

Last year, a detailed study by education and children's services watchdog Ofsted found that young people from low income backgrounds achieve more in Wandsworth than in many other parts of the country.

The independent watchdog said that inequalities are being reduced at a faster rate and that vulnerable and disabled children are enjoying better life chances in the borough than elsewhere.

Its inspectors concluded: "Achievement by very young children at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage is consistently higher than the averages in similar areas and nationally and improving.

"Very young children from families with low incomes also consistently do better than the same group nationally and the gap between them and their peers in the borough is narrowing well.

"Attainment for those from families with low incomes at 16 is improving steadily, is much higher than average nationally and the gap with others in Wandsworth is consistently narrower than for the country overall.

"Educational achievements for young people by the age of 19 are improving faster than elsewhere and standards are in line with similar areas. Those from families with low incomes consistently do well in comparison to the same group nationally and are catching up with their peers in the borough.

Officials also found that children living in the borough are able to attend good nursery, primary and secondary schools and enjoy high quality early years education and childcare.

"For children under five, provision in nurseries and primary schools has improved well and the very large majority is good or better.

"The very large majority of primary schools are good or better, none are inadequate and overall effectiveness has improved further.

"Standards achieved by 11-year-olds in national tests are higher than in similar areas, much higher than they are nationally and improving at a faster rate.

"For Asian young people and those of mixed heritage, attainment is improving steadily and is higher than the national averages for the same groups.

"Young people with special educational needs who follow the national curriculum consistently do much better than average nationally and the gap with others in the borough is narrowing against a widening gap nationally."

Cllr Tracey added: "We are absolutely determined to do everything we can to give all our young people the best possible start in life."

July 5, 2012