The struggle of students from deprived families in Hertfordshire

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Children from poorer backgrounds are more likely to struggle at school in Herts than they are almost anywhere else in the country.

New figures from the Department For Education show less than half of Hertfordshire children who are eligible for free school meals will reach the minimum expected standard by age five.

That means that children from deprived backgrounds in Herts are more likely to under-perform than those living elsewhere in the UK.

Out of 152 local education authorities, only 21 have worse results for children eligible for free school meals.

Lara Norris, chief executive of the children’s charity Home-Start Hertfordshire, was not surprised, and said some students struggled even to hold a pen or change their clothes without assistance.

She said: “To think that in Hertfordshire children are starting their first day at school already at a disadvantage is just not acceptable.

“We need to see real investment in those early years to ensure the best outcomes for future generations.”

Home-Start Hertfordshire is a county-wide charity which provides a family support service with emotional and practical support to improve children’s outcomes.

Lara added: “At Home-Start ,both locally and nationally we have become more concerned about this problem over recent years.

“As a direct result in Hertfordshire we have changed our service to accommodate the need increasing our age range from 0-five years to 0-12 years so that we can help children be ready for school and make smooth transitions to secondary education.

“We do not believe that poor parents make poorer parents. The size of a parent’s bank account is not a good indication of their dedication and skills as a parent.”

She added: “Speaking to headteachers and other professionals we estimate that in Hertfordshire around six children starting reception classes this year struggled with basics such as holding a pen, eating, and getting changed unaided.

“Many were unable to tell a story or know how to use a book.

“We are currently seeking funding through the Big Lottery to increase the school readiness work that we do and have taken on a school liaison officer to build better relationships with schools and nurseries to try to identify families that need our support as soon as possible in a child’s life.”

David Williams, cabinet member for education at Herts County Council, said: “This is just one of many measures of performance and overall schools in Herts perform extremely well, with over 90 percent rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted.

“We will be analysing these results in detail to look at where changes could be made and are confident that our schools will address areas that need improvement as these pupils grow.”

> What do you think? Is child poverty a serious problem in Herts – and if so, how do we tackle it?

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The numbers:

46 per cent of Hertfordshire children who are eligible for free school meals will reach the minimum expected standard by age five.

That is below both the UK figure (52 per cent) and the figure for the East of England (52 per cent).

These figures do not come from formal tests but from teacher assessments of their development.

These assessments cover 17 areas, including listening and attention, self-confidence and self-awareness, reading, writing, and being imaginative.

The early years foundation stage profiles (EYFSP) compare children by a range of attributes, including youngsters’ ethnicity.

Asian and black youngsters were the most likely to be assessed as failing to meet all of the expected standards by age five, with 63 per cent being so rated.

But Chinese children were more likely to meet all the minimum expectations, with 77 per cent getting this rating from teachers.

This trend was not replicated elsewhere in the country.

The nationwide figures show far less variation by ethnicity, and Chinese children being slightly below the overall average.

The early years foundation stage profiles (EYFSP) also register whether children have special educational needs (SEN) or do not have English as a first language.

Children who receive SEN support in Hertfordshire are more likely to be meeting the government’s targets at age five than the UK average – 26 per cent compared to 25 per cent.

However children whose language is not English were less likely to fare well in Hertfordshire.

The countywide figure was 58 per cent reaching the expected standards – less than the 61 per cent across England. A total of 2,469 children were described as not having English as a first language.