Giving our youngest children the best start in life

Making sure that our youngest children get the best possible start in life is something we all want and to make sure this happens the County Council is looking at proposals to change the way the Children’s Centres system works.

It is vital we get this right and we want to consult with families and communities on the best way to make sure our proposals work in the real interests of the children who need the best start in life they can get. We hope to start an 8-week formal consultation shortly and will be asking people for their ideas and thoughts and I would urge people to have their say.

The present situation is far from ideal. At the moment our Children’s Centres only reach a quarter of families with children aged 0-5 and only a quarter of those are from the vulnerable families who need the help the most. Furthermore, at the end of their first year in school, only 54 per cent of children are assessed as having reached a good stage of development for school which is not acceptable – we need to improve this.

The new proposals will shift the focus from buildings to people – ensuring that the children who need it most get the help they need where they need it. The changes we are proposing are all about children and not buildings.

Under the proposed new system we will work with schools, health service, safeguarding services, police and others on a joint-up approach to commissioning services to improve family life in each of our districts.

We’re proposing that we keep 10 main Children’s Centres, transfer 24 to schools with a stipulation they use the space for helping 0-5s, and offer 20 to the community. At our next Cabinet meeting we’ll be putting the proposals forward and will make a start on the consultation.

On a different topic, poetry – a big congratulations to Harry Shenton for winning the title Young Staffordshire Poet Laureate. Harry, aged 17 from Barlaston, near Stone was chosen following a tough competition, impressing the judges with his poems and his plans to try and make poetry more popular amongst young people in the county.

Harry has a busy year ahead of him, writing and performing poems for special events across our great county and we look forward to reading his work and listening to his poetry. Thanks also to our former Young Poet Laureate Natalie Coterill, who has done a marvellous job of promoting poetry to a younger audience over the past year. I hope the position leads on to greater things for her.

While it seems far off, I would like to remind parents that they can now apply online for their secondary school place for September 2015 by visiting www.staffordshire.gov.uk/admissions.

Last year, nine out of ten parents were allocated their first choice secondary school, with 99 per cent allocated one of their top three preferred schools. Parents choosing a school face a number of key considerations, including the school’s latest Ofsted inspection, its performance at GCSE and A Level, how the school fares in specific subjects that align to their child’s particular skills, and what links a school has with employers.

This is an important time for both parents and pupils and we want to be able to give parents the information they need when choosing a school. A good starting point is www.staffordshire.gov.uk/doyourhomework for the latest performance data on schools in your area. The new site also gives parents tips on choosing the right school for their child, and general information on school performance. Please have a look before you make your choices.

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