Improving outcomes in the Early years Foundation Stage

Our aim

To give children the best possible start in life and learning.

Why is this an issue?

We want to ensure that all children have the very best start to their education. In 2016, the percentage of all pupils achieving a good level of development (GLD) in Stoke-on-Trent was 65.1% in comparison to a national average of 69.3%. Ward level data shows that only 11 of Stoke-on-Trent’s 37 wards managed to meet or exceed the national average, with children from Etruria and Hanley gaining the lowest scores.

The number of children eligible for pupil premium across the city exceeds the national average. However, despite high eligibility, take up of free education for 2-year-olds is below the national average by 2%. The number of 3- and 4-year-olds benefiting from early education has remained below the national average since 2008 (currently ranking 102 out of 152 local authorities).

Data shows that attendance for funded places is often patchy: 15% of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds attend less than the available 15 hours, with the majority situated in the wards of highest deprivation. There is also a correlation between poor take up of early education and pupils not achieving a GLD. For example, in Tunstall, Etruria and Hanley, where take up is poor, children achieving a GLD is at its lowest.

In Stoke-on-Trent, the number of children achieving and exceeding expected levels for early learning goals for speaking and reading (2016) shows that they again lag behind the national average. This problem is most extreme in the most disadvantaged wards. The data also demonstrates that, while some areas showed improvements over the period 2015-2017, others have fallen back. Evidence shows early language acquisition affects all aspects of children’s non-physical development. Children who are behind in language development at age 5 are 6 times less likely to reach the expected standard in English at age 11, and 11 times less likely to achieve the expected level in maths. This gap in early language development between disadvantaged children and their peers is often called the ‘word gap’.


What will we do? 

We want to make sure that all children, regardless of background or circumstances, have a fair and equal start in life. We’ll build on progress already made to boost the number of children attaining and exceeding expected standards in the early years. Further support will ensure they gain the fundamental skills, abilities and confidence they need to make a flying start in key stage 1.

We will focus particularly on 3 areas of learning and development, speech, language and communication (SLC), Understanding the World, and literacy. This does not exclude other learning goals such as numeracy.

We aim to improve early language development and close the ‘word gap’ by extending existing, recognised and proven activity throughout the city to support the SLC of all pupils. We will ensure there is an enhanced focus on geographical areas and groups of children where SLC delay is most marked, including those children who speak English as an additional language (EAL).

To develop a richness of experience for all children, we’ll undertake an audit across the city, working with national leaders of education (NLEs), specialist leaders of education (SLEs), and our EEF Research School, to look at practice in early years teaching and learning in Understanding the World. This will have a strong focus on effective use of the pupil premium, identifying excellent practice and where more support is needed. We will draw on the City of Culture bid to increase understanding of Stoke-on-Trent’s heritage, uniqueness and place in the world.

By examining emerging trends in the achievements of summer-born children, with a particular focus on maths, we’ll identify evidence-based practices, drawing on work with our local and national experts, to close the gap between these pupils and their peers.

To support excellence in early years practice, we want to make sure that all early years practitioners are well equipped when they start work, and have continuing access to quality continuing professional development (CPD) throughout their careers. We we’ll team up with Stoke-on-Trent College and early years providers across the city to develop pre-employment training alongside the current early years teaching framework, to ensure new entrants are truly ready to work in an early years setting. This may include, for example, work trials at the beginning and end of training.

Building on the training and development already available for early years practitioners in the city, we will work with partners to consider what more we can do to support excellent practice and increase the number of settings with a level 4 quality mark.

In 2018 we will:

  • build on current work under Stoke Speaks Out to introduce a programme on SLC to deliver targeted specialist support to around 25 primary schools that have lower than average numbers of children attaining a good level of development by the end of reception
  • expand the fledgling ‘parent ambassador’ initiative, working with parents to determine best practice and using the locally developed ‘Together We Learn’ package to build the engagement and skills of parents, early years staff in nurseries, and staff in the first years of primary
  • evaluate Together We Learn using the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) DIY package
  • focus on parents and children who are not accessing early years settings to support language development and encourage take up of places
  • identify outstanding local practice in Understanding the World by March 2018. We will then work with local early years leaders on an action plan from September 2018 to share best practice between settings, using the momentum around the City of Culture bid to improve children’s understanding and outcomes
  • identify evidence based practices in partnership with our EEF Research School and the EEF, working with our local and national experts, to close the gap between summer-born pupils and their peers in maths. There will be pilot activity in areas of the city most in need of additional interventions from September 2018
  • map the training on offer to practitioners in early years settings. In collaboration with local partners, identify any gaps and consider what more we can do to build and support excellence in early years practice by April 2018, and introduce any additional training in by autumn 2018
  • support work led by Stoke-on-Trent College to design a work-readiness element for existing early years courses, which will be implemented from summer 2018.

Our target for 2020 to 2021

We aim to close the gap between children in the city achieving a good level of development and their peers nationally. This will mean that by 2021 to 2022 at least 100 more children will have reached this level than was the case in 2016. By 2022 to 2023, the city will have closed the gap entirely and will be in the top half of all local authority districts for pupils achieving a good level of development.