Hertfordshire toddlers ahead on developing key life skills

Nursery nurses and health visitors examine thousands of children to check their mental and physical development, as part of the Healthy Child Programme

Monday, 1st March 2021, 10:03 am

Toddlers in Hertfordshire were ahead of others across England on developing key life skills last year, figures suggest.

Nursery nurses and health visitors examine thousands of children aged between two and two-and-a-half years old across the country to check their mental and physical development, as part of the Healthy Child Programme.

The assessment gives parents an insight into how well their child is progressing and is used to help plan and improve local services.

Hertfordshire toddlers are ahead on key life skills

In 2019-20, 91% of children in Hertfordshire met expected standards across the five areas of communication, problem solving, social interaction, using fine motor skills such as holding a pencil, and gross motor skills including kicking a ball.

That was among the highest proportions of 130 council areas across England – the national average was 83.3%.

Across the East of England, 85.1% of children reached the expected levels, which was the fourth-highest proportion of England’s nine regions.

The proportion of children hitting development milestones varied widely across the country – just a third of children were at the expected levels across the board in the London borough of Brent, while nearly all (94.6%) of those assessed in Bracknell Forest in the South East were doing well in all skills.

The Government must urgently invest in children’s centres and family hubs to give children the support they need to be school-ready, he added.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said the early years sector has been “severely underfunded” for years.

“This is especially detrimental in disadvantaged areas, where parents have limited funds to pay for additional hours or optional extras, and many children have additional needs,” he said.

Mr Leitch added that the Government should urgently review the early years pupil premium – extra childcare funding for parents receiving certain benefits and tax credits – so children who have missed out due to the pandemic can get extra support.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We want every child to have the best start in life. We have kept nurseries and childminders open during lockdown to ensure the continuation of the care and education of our youngest children, and we continue to fund settings as usual.”

The department has provided £9 million for the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme to support children in Reception to catch up on lost learning, more than £4 million for early years charities, and committed £14 million to champion family hubs, the spokeswoman added.