Less than half of early years children from low-income families in Darlington are at the expected standard for communication and language, compared to almost 73% of their better-off peers.
And the 22.9% gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children in 2021/22 is more than three times wider than it was in 2017.
Darlington has fewer than the average nursery schools attached to primary schools, meaning that many children attend private, voluntary, and independent (PVI) settings.
Achieving consistent approaches within the range of nursery settings is therefore a key aim across the town.
SHINE is funding a project designed to narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers by developing a shared approach across all early years settings, from pre-school to reception.
Early childhood educators across the town are working together in triads, sharing good teaching practice, and identifying strengths and areas for improvement. The collaborative approach is helping the staff to refine their teaching practices and learn from each other, enabling them to provide better-quality learning experiences for young children.
The project’s main aim is that the improved interactions between adults and children will develop and increase expressive vocabulary among children and subsequently help to close the attainment gap for disadvantaged children.
Staff practitioners in each of the triads taking part in the project take turns to observe one of their sessions. They then meet to discuss what they saw and to reflect on the good practice and areas that could improve to support the children’s development, exploring what worked and what could be improved upon.
“We’re all equals,” explained project lead Amanda Jones, Foundation Stage Leader at Reid Street Primary School. “Everybody has their say, and you always come away from a session picking up at least one thing that you can use in your own setting.
“We see a real inconsistency in the children when they arrive at primary school, and a lot of that is down to the different ways they have been taught at nursery.