Supporting early development – A 2019 focus area

28 March 2019

Introducing Early Development – one of our three 2019 focus areas into which we’ll direct multi-year support to new project partners. This is only possible thanks to the incredible generosity of our amazing donors and Strivers.

Hop over to our 2019 Focus Areas for Big Change blog to discover the research process and the context for all three focus areas, including how they differ to our 2017 cohort.


There is overwhelming evidence that early development is a key factor in setting young people up to thrive. Did you know that over 85% of our brains are developed before we’re five years old? Gains made during this crucial stage help set young people up to thrive, and any gaps only get exacerbated as time goes on.

The Need for Change

The level of educational inequality in England is high by international standards, with family background the key driver. As LSE academic Leon Feinstein showed in 2003:

“The children of educated or wealthy parents who scored poorly in the early tests had a tendency to catch up, whereas children of worse‐off parents who scored poorly were extremely unlikely to catch up and are shown to be an at‐risk group”

Overall, children who qualify for free school meals currently arrive at primary school an average of four months behind their peers and leave secondary school 18 months behind.

Despite our growing understanding of the importance of both early intervention and parental engagement, family support services for expectant parents and those with babies and infants, are being severely rationed, or completely withdrawn, as a decade of austerity results in public sector retrenchment. In fact, over 1,000 Children’s Centres have closed over the last eight years – that’s 1/3rd of the total number.

The Emergent Opportunity

Early years education for 2, 3 and 4-year olds can significantly reduce these gaps if it is of sufficient quality. Research from The Sutton Trust also shows that evidence-backed programmes in parental engagement in home learning can help to narrow the attainment gap between high and low socioeconomic status families.

Supporting parents to engage in early childhood development can bring about better outcomes-evidence from research performed by the Aspen Network suggests that an emotionally safe, cognitively stimulating environment at home contributes to better social, emotional and academic development.

Home learning environments affect academic success as well: a study from the Department for Education found that a good home learning environment has a positive impact on future A-level attainment.

Previous Big Change Support

We are proud to have already worked with three pioneering organisations working in different areas of early years development under our previous focus area, Early Years. These are:

  • EasyPeasy: the home learning app that has reached thousands of parents and children and hundreds of early development providers across the UK
  • Voice Bradford: whose 50 Things to Do Before You’re Five program has been funded by the Department for Education to scale in 13 additional locations
  • The Communications Trust: which has been training Health Visitors to help families build oracy skills in their young children