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

‘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.


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.

Support from the Start – Development Session

On the 8th October the East Lothian service and community champions met together with the planning board and steering group members to look at how Support from the Start was developing, what the successes and  challenges had been and what was going to carry the work forward in a difficult financial period.

The Scottish Governments Joint Improvement team facilitated the event which started with participants reconnecting with the vision of the test site and then identifying actions that would bring the vision closer, and address the challenges.

A report on the session is linked here East LothianSupport from the Start Development Event -Final Report (2)

and a summary of feedback from participants here East Lothian Support from Start Event 8 10 – Feedback Report

The planning board will discuss the report, and implementation of the actions arising from the session at its next meeting in early December.

Civic conversation


Start of the Conversation

Engaging parents, communities and services in the message of early intervention and reducing health inequality has always been seen as of key importance for the test site. We have called the engagement process a ‘civic conversation’.

The following report summarises the first eighteen months of the ‘civic conversation’ and the next steps to be taken in developing the conversation

civic-conversation summary no pics

This version of he report has had some of the photos strippped out to keep the file size down – if you would like a version with pic email me on or

What can you achieve for less than £600?


Summer transitions

Sometimes large amounts of public money can be spent with minimal return – but sometimes very small sums can free the creativity of staff and parents to make a difference. The enclosed evaluation was sent to me earlier today. Its an evaluation report on a piece of work taken forward by staff in Prestonpans that made me think wow all that happened because of £600.

Service champions for Support from the Start have access to a small ‘simple rules’ development fund. The idea behind the fund is to provide a resource for champions to test out ideas that might lead to service redesign that will contribute to tackling health inequality in early years.

Helena Reid wanted to build on work that the integration team had been developing on supporting parents whose children are in transition from nursery to primary school.  Being ready for school and the school being ready for the children that they are to educate is, to my mind, a key area where services can support parents and children to help themselves. There is no doubt that the more a child can take advantage of educational opportunities the more likely it will escape poor health in later life.

The enclosed evaluation of a summer transition programme gives an exciting glimpse of how services can support that transition process for children that may have difficulties and engage parents who may need support in getting their children ready for school.

I was excited reading it and I hope you are.

Summer Programme Evaluation 2010 (2)

Civil society or big society – its still parents supporting parents

Most support for parents is provided directly by parents to parents both informally and as part of constituted groups. 

Over the last eighteen months I have talked to many parents involved in baby / toddler groups or groups for parents. The need for this type of support was summed up for me this week when I was at the Patchwork toddler group, which was having its first session back after a few weeks break. I had arrived before the group started and as parents arrived I overheard many of them saying something to the effect ‘This is a God send’ 

How well does society / community  support parents to support each other?  My impression is that funding in this area is a mosaic of overlapping grants which are applied for competitively and therefore time consuming to obtain and account for. Support for community groups can be patchy and it can be difficult to sustain. Yet these groups are clearly part of the fabric of communities – should we be supporting them more strategically?

Patchwork EH32 is one of the community champions for Support from the Start. They have also been a beneficiary of the service development fund with Lorraine Congalton community development officer in Prestonpans and a service champion for Support From sponsoring a bid to help develop the capacity of the parents group to reach more parents.

Here are some of the people involved in Patchwork talking about the group.

Patchwork parent

Patchwork parent2