Summary: Supporting Families in the Foundation Years

04 September 2011

Over the summer the Government published a new vision and policy document: Supporting Families in the Foundation Years.

This policy sets out some real shifts and changes in direction for the health, wellbeing and early years agendas. It will be critical for organisations working in this area to start thinking about ways that they can contribute to this new landscape. In this post we give you a very quick run-down of the talking points and headlines, and some of the opportunities for the arts and cultural sector.


Supporting Families represents the Government’s official response to a number of reviews that have been commissioned over the last year, including Frank Field’s Review on Poverty and Life Chances, and Graham Allen’s Early Intervention report. The document is jointly owned by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and includes a timetable of activity that runs until 2013. A sister publication, Families in the Foundation Years, was published at the same time and aims to outline this agenda to parents and professionals outside children's services.

One of the key things to note is a change in language from 'Early Years' to 'Foundation Years'. The new term 'Foundation Years' covers a young person’s development from 0-5, including pregnancy.

Child development

The key focus of this policy statement is on child development and on early intervention. Supporting Families agrees with Frank Field that investment at the Foundation stages of a young person’s life, and support for families and parents, is the most effective way of ensuring that young people are able to break through economic and social barriers to achieve in later life.

It states that one of the key outcomes of a child’s development should be ‘school readiness’ and defines this as:

‘learning to walk and run, to speak and communicate, to relate to others, to play, explore their own curiosity, and to enjoy learning through their play, as well as beginning to read and write and use numbers.’

Clearly these are all areas where arts and cultural learning can make a significant contribution. Organisations wishing to work in this area should start thinking about how they evidence their projects and programmes and demonstrate the impact of their work.

The importance of communication to a young person's development is specifically flagged by this report. It quotes Frank Field’s assertion that ‘known vocabulary at age five is the best predictor of whether children are able to escape poverty in later life’ .

The importance of parents

Parenting skills and advice and support for parents are key priorities, as is the Government’s wish to involve parents more actively in the governance and running of services.

Proven, evidence-based projects

The report places a great deal of emphasis on the need for ‘proven’ and ‘evidence-based’ programmes which clearly demonstrate effective outcomes in terms of parenting, child development and early intervention. There are some tools that can be used to do this, particularly the Children's Workforce Development Council's Proven Parenting Evaluation Tool.

Partnerships and co-operatives

The need for integration of services and strong partnerships between different providers is a key theme of this report, with a number of different models suggested and promoted, including; mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises.

The Government aims to use the Localism Bill to help the voluntary sector to have greater involvement in the running of public services along with private sector providers. It has a clearly-stated ambition to encourage more private/public sector partnerships. For arts and cultural organisations these partnerships will be critical as health and learning partners can help to collect and analyse data, and can provide expertise in delivering against the outcomes and performance measures of their sector.

Gender equality

This report recognises that more needs to be done to specifically engage fathers in the lives of their children, with the benefits of engagement by both parents clearly articulated. The report also flags up the need to encourage men into the Foundation Stage professions.

Key initiatives

There are a large number of projects and initiatives mentioned in the report, but the key activities to note are as follows:

  • Payment by Results trial
    A new way of funding children’s centres is being trialled. They will be funded according to achievement of their performance measures, e.g. the number of families that attend parenting programmes.

    The nine local authorities in the first wave of the trial are: Southampton, Oxfordshire, Oldham, Gloucestershire, Devon, Croydon, Blackpool, Barnsley, and Barking and Dagenham.

    Nursery World
    recently published an article which includes all the headlines.
  • Foundation years 'One Stop Shop' Website
    Charity 4Children has been asked to set up a Foundation Years ‘one-stop-shop’ website for parents and for practitioners, This will be officially launched this month, but you can see the beginnings of the site set-up now. Interestingly, the site links through to Netmums, which has pulled together searchable local listings of things to do and places to go for parents and children. Arts and cultural organisations can submit their information for publication in this listing.
  • Qualifications and training
    Professor Cathy Nutbrown, professor of education at the University of Sheffield and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Early Childhood Research, has been asked by the Government to lead a Foundation Years Qualification Review which will consider both the content and quality of Foundation Years training courses. The scope of the review will be announced this month.

    A number of bodies will be responsible for training in the future, with the new Teaching Agency to have the remit for initial training of early years professionals and the National College of School Leadership (NCSL) continuing to deliver leadership training to the sector. The NCSL will develop a network for outstanding professionals and these leaders will be expected to support local leadership networks in their areas.

    The DfE has funded Pen Green Research Centre to set up a national network of 10 Early Years Teaching Centres from 2011 – 2013 (very similar to those being planned for schools). Teaching Centres will have a remit to raise standards and improve outcomes across foundation years settings within their reach area. They will offer professional development to governors and Foundation Years educators and will promote learning networks and opportunities for leadership development. Successful pilots will be announced in September.


There are no specific new funding streams for this policy agenda, though more money has been allocated to free childcare for disadvantaged two-year olds and more Health Visitors. At this stage, local authorities and children's centres are still expected to decide at local level how they want to use their funding to take this agenda forward.

The budget most likely to be used for this is the 'Early Intervention Grant' a non-ringfenced pot which is used to fund a range of different services. Each local centre and authority will be making decisions on how to use these funds on a case by case basis, but Supporting Families makes it clear that a national network of Sure-Start Centres must be maintained through this funding. It goes on to state that Sure-Start centres must re-profile resources so that they retain a focus on the most disadvantaged families.