How can high school work with the early years agenda?

East Lothian services recognise the importance of early years at a strategic level. However, finding practical ways to make this commitment more than a paper statement – particularly if your main focus isn’t early years – isn’t easy. High schools in East Lothian have come up with innovative practise that use their key main assets – the young people attending the schools.

Tots & Teens is one great example of this where play groups have been set up in High schools that offer quality play and childcare experience for toddlers at the same time as practical learning experiences for pupils. See following aarticle for more info

Another example of good practise is from Musselburgh Grammar. The ‘Working with Children’ elective course for S5, was developed by Jane Cummings community learning and development officer. The course had the following aims :-

  • A basic knowledge of child development
  • Increased skills and confidence in delivering or supporting play activities
  • Increased knowledge of food hygiene and promoting good food habits in children
  • Increased awareness of different professional roles involving work with children
  • More informed decision making about future career options involving work with children

The following are some of the comments made by young people who chose the working with children programme which was conducted at Burgh primary school

I found the story telling was really good when we went to the Burgh, I have learned to be more confident about reading in front of people

I learned what ages children can do things at

I have learned that children love getting told stories and they also like to join in.

I learned how to make gloop and playdough and how you would help children to do it

The story telling I didn’t enjoy, it was embarrassing but is good as it boosts confidence and is a good way to interact with everyone.

I learned that children develop a lot quicker than I thought and that they would develop so much when they are in the first few years… what age certain important stepping stones are.

The experience was very positive for the Burgh Primary school  giving an opportunity for the primary children to work with positive young role models

An evaluation report has been written and can be accessed here

2012 Report grammar elective

MGS Elective Course Outline

Making it Clear – a research project about resilience

This project conducted in partnership with Queen Margaret Universities ‘Firefly’ research team aims to understand how parents and carers who attend groups (funded or supported by Support from the Start) in East Lothian bounce back after difficult times in their lives.

The ability to bounce back is called resilience

The Making It Clear tool has been developed by Queen Margaret University as a self-rating scale designed to screen resilience at an individual and community level. The present  project intends to psychometrically test the Making It Clear resilience tool for reliability and validity for use with parents of children in their early years. This will assist in identifying assets and gaps in current provision to help inform future planning.

More information  Making it Clear

Parent information Info Sheet v2





Midlothian Champions report

The Midlothian Equally Well Readiness to Learn test site was established late in 2009, as a development of the initial test site in East Lothian with a focus on early years. The rationale behind the Midlothian test site was to focus activities and learning around improving readiness to learn, to contribute to breaking the cycle of poorer than average health outcomes (in Midlothian) in the target communities: Gorebridge, Mayfield and Woodburn.

Its aims were:

> to develop sustainable improvements in early years’ services by involving local people in shaping services that improve health and wellbeing

to build understanding and support joint working between agencies and community organisations on health inequality

to support innovative approaches to improving readiness for learning.

The report linked here details the work developed by the Midlothian Service champions to imprve and develop services and engage parents in improving readiness to learn in the communities of Mayfield, Woodburn and Gorebridge, The report details some exciting work either developing exisitng good practise or services innovating and redesigning what they do to improve readiness to learn

 Midlothian Report LR

Briefing a new chief exec

Service champions recently met with East Lothian Council’s new chief exec Angela Leitch and head of children’s services Ronnie Hill at Whitecraig community centre. The purpose of the meeting was to brief them on Support from the Start. After meeting the champions Angela and Ronnie then went on to meet Whitecraigs community development officer Lena Hutton and Head teacher Joanna Taylor to talk about the impact of Support from the Start on the community of Whitecraig. Joanna & Lena were were accompanied by some other key operational managers of services in East Lothian.


‘Healthy Happy Bairns’

The output from a year long evaluation study led by the Queen Margaret Univerity ChangexChange team is linked below.


 The evaluation found that Support from the Start has created significant outcomes for children and their families. Children had new-found confidence, improved social relationships, were better equipped to cope with change, were more ready for school, and benefited from a more structured and more settled day and family life.  Parents involved improved their relationships with their children, were more able to avoid significant mental health issues, were less stressed and more able to cope with life events, had increased personal confidence, and were able to find support from extended social networks.

 We are confident that ‘Healthy Happy Bairns’ will be a source of ideas and inspiration for a range of professionals and organisations seeking to make a difference to health inequalities in the early years.  We would recommend that practitioners, managers and leaders take the learning and use it to make the changes required to create a positive impact in the early years experience of all children, so that they can secure a stable, healthy and happy future.


Chief Medical Officer meets East Lothian Children’s Services staff

As part of our agenda of looking at how we can improve outcomes for our most vulnerable children, Children’s Services staff in East Lothian council asked Dr Burns to speak to us about the role of Attachment in Early years and the impact it has on health and outcomes in later life.

 It was very inspiring talk. Many of us in Children’s Services are very aware of how important attachment is. The key messages and learning for us were:

 ·         The physiological consequences of poor attachment in relation to brain development and good physical health in adulthood.

 ·         As service providers we need to be aware of the danger of making people passive recipients of services rather than being actively engaged.

           This increases their sense of hopelessness and being out of control   

 A summary of the talk follows below helpfully provided by Vivien McVie (Policy and Planning Officer) Children’s Services. Dr Burns presentation is linked at the bottom of the post

 Hopelessness and Life expectancy:

Studies have compared life expectancy in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow: there is 60 % excess morbidity in Glasgow – predominantly in four areas: drug-related, alcohol-related, suicide, violence

Susan Everson did a study of men in 1997 which found a connection between increased risks of dying from heart disease (x4) and hopelessness. The reason for this was that the group of men who felt hopeless had laid down more fat in the carotid artery than the others. Thickening of the carotid artery causes blockages in the artery and leads to stroke and death.  For a brief summary of the study see:

What causes the fat to be deposited in the artery?

Hopelessness is stressful. Stress produces cortisol – used for fight or flight reactions. Cortisol causes abdominal fat to be mobilised for use as energy (for use in fight or flight) so when it breaks away, it can end up lining your arteries if it does not get used up ( running).

Hopelessness may not be acutely stressful but causes ongoing stress – people have been observed to have consistently higher levels of cortisol over the long-term.   Only a slight rise can produce damage over the long-term.

 A study on re resilience

 A study of Jews surviving concentration camps (Aaron Antonovsky) found that while 70 % had the expected poor consequences for health and mental wellbeing, there were 30% who had survived the experience very well. Before their experience in the camps started, these resilient 30% had already developed a sense of coherence in their view of the world, which they had experienced as structured, predictable and explicable, and also had the inner resources to deal with what came next.   They felt they could meet things head on and try to purposefully deal with what happened each day – i.e. a sense of self-efficacy, even in such circumstances:

“a  feeling that … these demands are seen as challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.”

 Causes / Consequences of stress:

 People need to experience the world as understandable, manageable and meaningful, or they will experience chronic stress. Tests in Canada showed that the longer a child remained in residential care (“orphanages”) the higher their levels of cortisol were at the end of each day. Tests of adults have shown a link between lack of control in their working lives and higher cortisol levels.

Dr Burns observed in his own working life as a surgeon that people who are manual workers do not heal as fast from wounds, i.e. not the usual 10 days but 12 days to recover from abdominal surgery.  This is because these people are not as much in control of their working environment as their bosses and so experience more stress. Another consequence of the resultant higher levels of cortisol is an inflammatory response, slowing down healing and this inflammatory response also leads to heart attack and stroke.

The inflammatory response from stress is compounded if you smoke, and are overweight – if you have all three it is x8 worse.

Inflammation in the arteries causes clots to happen, arteries get ruptured  – heart attack follows.

 Attachment : Causes/ consequences of stress in children:

 Inconsistency in parenting is the most stressful for children (more than consistently abusive/neglectful parenting).

Brains of children who have disordered attachment are affected in three parts with a fourth under discovery:

1)     The part of the brain that deals with judgment and decision-making is affected

2)    Short-term/working memory is affected

3)    Aggression, fear and anxiety are all heightened

When fight or flight dominates, there is no room left for learning or any other type of executive functioning.

Domestic abuse can be experienced in utero and it blocks development of certain parts of the baby’s brain because the baby is stressed and is producing higher levels of cortisol – this affects the genes and so they can pass these defective genes on to their own child. 

 Further consequences – self-control is inhibited so this affects likelihood of committing crime, getting involved in drug-abuse, earning a steady income. Reaction times are slightly dulled so road traffic accidents are more likely.

 Supplied byVivien McVie  April 2011

Dr Burns presentation

Harry Burns Presentation 8 March 2011

Solihull Training opportunity – The First Five Years

Solihull Approach Foundation Course: ‘The First 5 years’ two-day training

 The Solihull Approach is an integrated psychodynamic and behavioural approach for professionals working with children (0-5) and families who are affected by emotional and behavioural difficulties. It is a highly practical way of working with families within a robust theoretical structure. It has a major contribution to make to the ways in which practitioners in health, education, social work and the voluntary sector can work with families to ensure that children have a good emotional start in life.  The Solihull Approach will help you to address emotional problems in a different way, giving you greater confidence in your own skills and practice.

 The Solihull Approach has been identified as an effective model for working with parents and young children and is part of East Lothian’s Parenting Strategy. 

 It is suitable for: Health Visitors, social workers, nursery nurses, community development workers, midwives, paediatricians, learning disability nurses, children’s nurses, speech therapists, family support workers, behaviour support teachers. 

  Two day training:  9.30am – 4.30pm May 3rd and May 17th.

Participants must attend both days to complete the training. The two training days are separated by a fortnight to allow professionals to use the model in their practice and feedback their experiences on Day 2.

 Venue: Training Department, Administration Building, Edenhall Hospital, Musselburgh

 If you wish to attend the training please contact (

Early years framework case studies.

The early years framework describes ten elements  of transformational change and the team at Scottish Government who lead on the framework are looking for case studies to show how transformational changes is taking place around early years in Scotland. The case studies below add to case studies in the HMIE Report of 2009 Positive Start, Positive Outcomes.

Lots of inspirational work in East & Midlothian that would make good case studies – so why not put forward your work to the team at or 0131 244 0274.

Examples of good practice from across Scotland can be found below (Support from the Start is one of the case studies)

Can we support parents ante-natally to improve attachment post birth?

Penny Rackett educational psychologist from Norfolk was invited to talk about her research into interventions before birth that are designed to enhance attachment once the child is born.

Penny gave a presentation to a wide range of practitioners and managers at a twilight  seminar on Thursday 3rd February and the next day met with the members of  a  Support from the Start working group looking at a range of  initiatives and training needs around utilising recent research and development on attachment theory. 

The first presentation below reviews current research on what works in attachment theory and practise. The second presentation reviews research on assessment of attachment behaviours ante-natally.

East Lothian presentation 1


‘The Foundation Years’

Frank Field MP was commissioned by the British Prime Minister in June 2010 to provide an independent review on poverty and life chances by the end of  the year. The aim of the review is to: 

• generate a broader debate about the nature and extent of poverty in the UK;

• examine the case for reforms to poverty measures, in particular for the inclusion of non financial elements;

• explore how a child’s home environment affects their chances of being ready to take full advantage of their schooling; and

• recommend potential action by government and other institutions to reduce poverty and enhance life chances for the least advantaged, consistent with the Government’s fiscal strategy.

His report is now available and although it is a UK government document it is well worth a read you can download it here TheFoundationYears1 The following is a quotation from the introduction on the findings of the review

We have found overwhelming evidence that children’s life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in the first five years of life. It is family background, parental education, good parenting and the opportunities for learning and development in those crucial years that together matter more to children than money, in  determining whether their potential is realised in adult life. The things that matter most are a healthy pregnancy; good maternal mental health; secure bonding with the child; love and responsiveness of parents along with clear boundaries, as well as opportunities for a child’s cognitive, language and social and emotional development. Good services matter too: health services, Children’s Centres and high quality childcare.  (Page 7 The Foundation Years 2010)

Can’t disagree with that – but this is not just another report weighing the evidence on the importance of early years. In chapter four he describes a very practical vision for ‘Building Foundations Years Services’  the principles of which which I think many practitioners in Scotland would find very positive.

Perhaps one of the key things for me in this report is that he puts parents at the centre of his thinking – not in a patronising way – but making it clear that improving outcomes for children cannot be achieved by services alone.

What parents do is the most important factor in children’s development.  Services need to be better at engaging parents and building on their strengths. More opportunities to learn parenting skills should be provided, including through the school curriculum.