A better start to school

Kathryn Morris, Early Years co-ordinator at Blackpool Better Start, describes how services are working together help prepare children for the transition to school.

Kathryn Morris

The idea to create a ‘Getting Ready for School’ resource pack initially came from discussions in our Community Mobilisation Workgroup and the Early Years Phase Transition Workgroup.

Early Years Professionals working directly with children and their families, and also those working in leadership, advisory and community based provision, had raised concerns about that some parents may find it difficult to access the ‘Preparing for School’ information usually circulated around the time children transition from Nursery to Reception Class.

It was agreed that new, more innovative ways of reaching parents with these messages needed to be considered. The groups discussed the wealth of information that was available online for parents to access, but conversations with parents revealed many of them faced difficulties accessing this information. Limited data allowances, only having one device available that was being used to home school an older sibling, or only being able to access online material using their phone, could all present barriers.

In the meantime, books and resources had been sourced from the National Literacy Trust’s Get Blackpool Reading Campaign and the Book Trust’s Book Start Treasure Packs to add to resource packs for children coming through the Blackpool Speech Language and Communication Triage Panel. When sourcing these books, it was established that the Book Start Treasure Packs had not gone out to Blackpool children this years through the usual channels and that there would be an opportunity to get these books out to more children.

How we made it work

We decided to work on a ‘Sandgrown Family Gets Ready for School’ book template, which tells the story of what Junior might need to practise through the summer in preparation for going to school.

This template was shared with the early years advisory team, and early years professionals and their feedback was used to ensure the book was developmentally appropriate and reflected what starting in a new reception class was likely to feel like and what skills children would need.

In addition to the book, the working groups felt it would be a good idea to add a list of activities children could easily take part in to practise these skills over the summer period.

It was tricky sometimes ensuring that all the voices were heard and coming up with a consensus that everyone was happy with. At one stage, there was an idea to have an activity card that reflected the skill needed and how to practice it, to match every page of the story and some members of the team worked very hard on creating this. However, it was felt that seven additional activity cards might feel overwhelming for parents and that it would be best to stick to a one-page fun, tick-the-box-when-you’ve-achieved-the-task activity sheet.

We then talked about how we could enhance this offer for children living in Blackpool Better Start’s wards and we created a smaller working group to look at this with just three members each coming from a different perspective: health, community and education.

We decided to create resource packs, similar to those created for the children coming through the Speech, Language and Communication Triage Panel. These packs would contain a Book Trust Treasure Pack and an accompanying activity sheet, information about oral health with a toothbrush, toothpaste and timer, and information about the role of the community connectors and how to contact them to help access wider support. Parents of children living in the Blackpool Better Start wards would receive a registration form with the Sandgrown Family gets Ready for School book for them to be contacted by a Better Start Connector and to receive pack.

In addition to this, as we had been successful in continuing to distribute the Book Start books, Blackpool was offered the chance to order an additional thousand books covering the age ranges of 0 – 10 years. These books will be distributed to children across Blackpool in August and September through their childminders, nurseries and schools.

Going Live

The Sandgrown Family gets Ready for School book and the ‘15 day countdown until school’ activity card will go out to all children who have accepted their place at school and are going into reception class in September 2020. This will reach approximately 1600 children and their families.

We hope to reach between 200 and 300 children with the Better Start Pre-School Pack and distribution of the Book Start books will begin next month.

Kathryn Morris is the Early Years co-ordinator at Blackpool Better Start.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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