Mornings in Feltham, west London, start like any other town centre.
The high street is bustling, teeming with parents taking children on scooters to primary school. Warm and friendly staff in the local coffee shop serve bleary eyed people on their way to work. Beside a duck filled pond, the star of Freddie Mercury holds pride of place on the pavement. The new builds and roadworks give a sense of the same rapid development happening across London, but the low flying planes serve as a reminder of just how far from the centre you are.
Looking beyond ‘everyday life’, a picture of wide-ranging challenges begins to emerge. The most prominent being high levels of deprivation, particularly impacting the area’s youngest community. Feltham has an average child poverty level of 32% after housing costs. Unlike the majority of London, Feltham is in the bottom 10% of areas for the Index of Multiple Deprivation ‘barriers to services’ measurement, meaning essential support services can be inaccessible to residents. The borough of Hounslow has seen levels of deprivation rise, with 16 areas in the 20% most deprived in the country, up from 12 in 2015. Cuts to local services have led to closures of children’s centres and the introduction of Universal Credit increased the number of two-year-olds eligible for the free childcare entitlement by 45%, increasing pressure on the local system.
As the evidence shows, children growing up in poverty are less likely to be school-ready than their peers and make less educational progress throughout school.
This can culminate in a sustained attainment gap, with disadvantaged young people becoming 18.4 months behind by their GCSE years. Around 40% of that gap emerges before the age of 5. This damaging trend is seen in the average outcomes of Feltham’s young learners, with a 13% gap in the good level of development between children eligible for free school meals and their peers.
Interventions in the earliest years are crucial in addressing this inequality. Requiring collaborative working across different local services and provisions to address the wide-ranging influences on children’s early learning.
To address these educational inequalities in Feltham, Save the Children has partnered with Reach Children’s Hub; a charitable arm of Reach Academy Feltham, to develop the Feltham Early Learning Community. This collaborative approach brings together the evidence of ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’ in the local context through the lens of parents, children, and professionals, to produce a long-term strategy for Feltham.
The Feltham Early Learning Community is bringing together and supporting schools, statutory bodies, local charities, and parents and children in communities.
Over a 3-month period, we looked together at the root causes of issues affecting outcomes in these communities and aim to make a sustainable difference to the lives of children growing up in poverty.
This broad coalition of organisations has come together in the spirit of collaborative working, and has considered a three-strand approach to the evidence. The research base, local data and the views of local professionals, children and families – to create a plan to improve children’s early learning outcomes in Feltham. As this plan is developed, we have started delivering programmes supporting settings and families in Feltham, and created an Early Years Network for early years professionals providing free development opportunities.
Central to this approach is recognising and utilising the assets that exist locally. There are strong pockets of communities, creating a distinct ‘Feltham’ identity, which is embodied through long-standing community organisations such as Feltham Arts Association and Feltham Community Development Association who passionately support the area. There are multiple, high-quality early years settings and a new Early Help Hub offer for Hounslow, which provides a great platform for working across the system.
In order to make a sustainable difference to the outcomes of children growing up in poverty, we need to transform how early learning systems collectively provide support, recognising that there are many different people, organisations and services that play a key role. The solutions to the Feltham Early Learning Community strategic priorities exist within the community; through engagement with young people, families, and professionals. It is through working in partnership that lasting change can be leveraged to transform the outcomes of children growing up in poverty.
The Early Learning Communities programme explores how working together through a whole system approach can fundamentally change the way children living in poverty are supported to learn and develop.