Support should continue from birth to 19

Anne Longfield
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

At the heart of the Every Child Matters reform is the ambition to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities for children and young people.

To achieve this, powerful intervention models are being developed across the age range. Yet without a strong strategic framework there remains a risk that integrated ways of working could fall short of their potential.

Children's centres offer crucial support in the early years but are limited in their ability to provide long-term support as children move into school. Extended schools provide important opportunities, as does integrated youth provision, but, again, each offers support for a relatively limited period of time.

Evidence from the Institute of Education shows that the benefits of early intervention will be lost as the child moves through school if support is not continued. Similarly, evidence from programmes such as Sure Start increasingly shows that inequalities will only be successfully tackled by long-term intervention to support children and families. This will be particularly important for those families experiencing poverty and more complex challenges, who will need support over a significant period of time if long-term gains are to be made.

The development of a coherent birth to 19 strategy is something that an increasing number of local authorities are now considering as a priority. At Leeds City Council, early years, childcare and youth services are now integrated within one department with a city-wide joint preventive partnership covering all ages. Area-wide initiatives are now also digging deeper with the development of a birth to 19 rapid response service in areas of particular need to co-ordinate and tailor specialist support. This is being complemented by an early intervention partnership in the Beeston area to bring together planning and delivery across the age range.

Serlby Park Learning Community in Nottinghamshire is also part of an innovative movement of all-age schools pioneering a new approach to learning. Bringing together an infant, junior and secondary school, the Learning Community now operates as one, led by a chief executive. The approach delivers a number of clear benefits including sustaining teachers' knowledge of pupils and maintaining parental involvement. Children also experience a more continuous and personalised curriculum throughout childhood.

Developments of this kind reflect a changing approach to services, which are increasingly responding to the needs of children and young people. Bold initiatives like these can be challenging but are essential if we are to narrow the gap in outcomes for all children and young people.

- Anne Longfield is chief executive of 4Children. Email

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