A project that aims to prepare young children for school has increased the numbers who are toilet trained and are good at playing with their peers, a study has found.
The scheme – called Big Hopes Big Future – is being launched in 80 communities across England today following a successful trial. Trained volunteers visited families who have young children, working with parents in areas such as school routines, toilet training and literacy.
Results from the evaluation of the project, involving 540 children, were released today. It concludes that a third of the children taking part showed progress in toilet training and between a quarter and a third of children improved in recognising their name, identifying letters, speaking clearly and counting.
The team, from the universities of Cambridge and South Wales, assessed childen before and after the visits. Volunteers worked with children on a range of capabilities, including using a fork and spoon. The academics found that around a third improved in their ability to play with other children.
Toilet training, in particular, has been a concern for teachers. Last year, the ATL union reported a rise in the number of children who had wet or soiled themselves during the school day.
Volunteers for Big Hopes Big Future worked with families for between three and seven months. The ages of the children ranged from 0 to 5, but most were under two and a half.
The trial involved no control group, but Home-Start, the charity behind the scheme, said it provided “compelling evidence” for ways that parental support might be linked to school readiness.
Dr Elizabeth Young, who coordinated the research, said: “There is statistically significant progress over a relatively short period, which suggests that it is not just about children reaching developmental goals.”
Rob Parkinson, chief executive of Home-Start, said: “Tragically, for many children, barriers exist that mean they start school already well behind their peers. Big Hopes Big Future has had a great impact in helping families get their children ready for school. Most importantly, we have seen that it has had the biggest impact on children in complex families.”
The project targeted disadvantaged families, including those that did not readily engage with their children’s early learning because they lacked confidence or felt alienated from the education system.
Ofsted published a report in April 2014 saying that, in 50 local authorities, less than a third of children were at a good level of development at the age of 5.