The Parent Early Education Partnership was started in 1995 and  has developed a five-year programme offering developmentally appropriate support for parents and carers.  It covers the period from their child’s birth to starting school. Already well established in Midlothian this programme is relatively new to East Lothian, and Support from the Start has sponsored training for around 30 practitioners to bring this programme to more parents and children in East Lothian. The cluster champions groups that have got going so far have all identified PEEP as one of the resources they would like to bring into there communities.

 PEEP Programme Aims

  1. To promote parents’ and carers’ awareness of children’s very early learning and development through making the most of everyday activities and interactions.
  2. To support parents/carers in their relationships with their children, so that the children’s self-esteem will be enhanced.
  3. To affirm the crucial role of parents/carers as children’s first educators.
  4. To support parents/carers in the development of their children’s literacy and numeracy.
  5. To support parents/carers so that they can encourage the development of positive learning dispositions.
  6. To promote and support parents’ and carers’ lifelong learning.

Maureen Black family, engagement worker, has been runnig a PEEP group for babies and their parents in partnership with the Musselburgh Burgh Primary school using the schools community room. The sessions are very popular with parents as this recent feedback suggests

We’re really enjoying these Wednesday afternoons with you. The sessions are really relaxed and fun for the wee ones (and us big uns) and you are so welcoming. 

For more information on PEEP and the evidence base for the programme visit



Natural Outdoor Play – in the playground

Another great report on the value of outdoor play opportunities for children. This one by the Forestry Commission on a project at Merrylees School in Glasgow. Thanks to Judith Wood for high lighting this report.

Lots of East Lothian schools and nurseries are thinking along these lines often initiated or prompted by parents. It is something parents can really help schools achieve  Its fun – its healthy – and its good for the birds and beasties and if that’s not enough reason then it also helps children’s learning. So if you like what you read – get your parent council interested and get stuck in!

Natural Play Study_Forestry Commission_100811[1]


Natural Play: Making a difference to children’s learning and wellbeing

presents the findings of a longitudinal study of the pioneering partnership between Forestry Commission Scotland, Glasgow City Council and Merrylee primary school in Glasgow. It provides evidence to show that children’s engagement with a natural play space within school grounds has a multitude of positive impacts on their learning and physical and emotional wellbeing. The study also provides a value for money assessment, concluding that the cost of developing natural play spaces is comparable with those of building traditional tarmac playgrounds. In view of the benefits outlined in the report, it is argued that the provision of a natural playspace within school grounds represents excellent value for money.


Support from the Start phase 2

Equally Well test sites are due to come to an end in March 2012 – East Lothian has been looking at the lessons from the test site as part of a review of early years services commisssioned by the Support from the Start planning Board. The following represents the current thinking in that review of how the lessons from the test site can be developed in the coming years. The ideas in the following paper will be disccussed and developed further at a conference on the 7th Feburary.


East Lothian Council Champions Early Years

A launch pad for the second phase of Support from the Start

1. The Case for Early Years

We know that getting it right for children and young people, families and carers, from the start, ensures that young children are healthy, happy and ready to succeed in life. To a very large extent, children’s life chances, depend on the quality of experience they have in their first years; the secure and reliable attachments they have with parents and other adults important to them; the relationships they build with other children and within their families and communities; the quality of care they are given by parents and other carers; the richness of the learning opportunities they have; and the support and services which children, parents, families and carers can rely on.

East Lothian Council and its partners in health, the voluntary, third and private sectors have done much in recent years in this area. A key development has been the Support from the Start test site which has been running in some areas of the county. Learning from the outcome of the test site will be used to launch an engagement and partnership approach across the county, for the benefit of all East Lothian’s children.

The main aim is to ensure that East Lothian’s children all get the best possible start in life.

To achieve this we will:

· Promote awareness of the importance of early years for everyone in the county

· Engage with parents, young people and partners to take local action to improve the lives of young children and families

· Raise the profile of East Lothian as a national and international example of a place where people work together to give all young children the best possible start in life

· Create an approach free from jargon and unnecessary red tape which is firmly rooted in our communities

· Do things which fit in well with other council and partner priorities and ways of working

· Be open to and share information about imaginative sources of funding, help and learning about what works

· Work with partners to help local people reach their own solutions


2. Engagement with Local People is Key

We will, with our partners, engage with parents, carers, young people, and other people in the county to find out how they think the quality of life of young children and their families can be improved and work with them over the coming years to take action for improvement. We will engage with them to find ways of working together and supporting each other to ensure all young children:

· Have positive parenting and experience good attachments at an early stage

· Are ready to learn and achieve

· Can access quality child care experiences

· Are healthy & happy

· Are not living in poverty

· Have a good opportunity for play, and

· Are protected from harm

3. Cluster Based Engagement

3.1 To achieve this level of engagement we will establish Support from the Start Link-up groups in each cluster area (East Lothian’s school cluster model). These groups will have close relationships with and be linked to local community planning structures where these exist. Each Link-up group will comprise of, champions from a range of services and organisations from all sectors as well as, parents and carers, and others having an interest in the early years. The Link-up groups should be empowered to engage with any relevant Council or Health department.

3.2 In keeping with the lessons from the evaluation of Support from the Start, Council and Health colleagues on Link-up groups should be regarded as Early Years “Service Champions” who should think and act imaginatively and nimbly to assist local parents and communities to improve the quality of life of young children and their families. Council and Health staff serving in Link-up groups should be given time to devote to this work.

3.3 The link up groups will be supported with administrative time and Public Health Practitioners employed by the NHS will help to establish, facilitate and coordinate the work of each Link-up group. A key role will be to ensure that all parents and carers, especially those who do not have positive experiences of working in groups like these, have a voice.

3.4 In keeping with one of the main messages from “Joining the Dots” there should be a “bias for action” and reporting and scrutiny should be kept to a minimum. The Public Health Practitioners would, however, be expected to ensure that any public monies spent by Link-up groups are properly accounted for. In the establishment phase development funds would remains with the Education and Children’s Services department and be administered by the Public Health Practitioner (s), but this may change to more local arrangement as the groups develop.

3.5 Each cluster based Link-up group will be provided with detailed information on their local area, including population trends and service availability and accessibility. This will be provided by Council and Health information analysis working together. Information would be updated on an annual basis. Updates will include data from the use of the Early Development Instrument (EDI) which will help provide an evidence base for early year’s community development. This data from EDI will be available next year but the establishments of Link-up groups should not wait until this is available. Link up groups should also gather and evaluate information about their own areas.

3.6 Link-up groups will be empowered to discuss how services are currently delivered and to engage with service managers to secure change and innovation to better meet local need where change is required. This is not a “one size fits all” approach. Rather it is an approach which will help tailor services to meet the discrete needs of different communities. There will be challenges made to the current way of doing things in some link-up group areas and service managers and staff will need to be responsive to these challenges.

3.7 To be fully effective, each Link-up group will have access to funding which they can deploy to develop new initiatives in their area, or to adjust or build upon existing provision to achieve the objectives set out in sections one and two above. Link-up groups will be encouraged to secure matching funding from a variety of sources.

4. Governance

Link up groups are accountable directly to the Support from the Start Planning Board and their local community through the locality community planning structures. The chair of each link up group would have a seat at the Support from the Start Planning Board. Each link up group would operate within terms of reference set by the Planning Board but would adopt its own ground rules and procedures. The terms of reference would include ensuring that appropriate representation and reporting is established at ommunity/neighbourhood planning groups where these exist.

Each group would have a “simple rules” process for local champions to access the development fund. During the development phase link up groups will report through the Support from the Start engagement officer to the head of childrens services and the Support from the Start Planning Board. The budget for each group would ibe held by the had of chidlrens services and managed by the public health practitioners who would provide reports to the Support from the Start Planning Board. Arrangements for locally held budgets will be developed in accordance with local need and require approval by the Planning Board.

5. Timescale

5.1 The Public Health Practitioners will seek to establish Link-up groups in each cluster from autumn of 2011. While each group will have their own distinct character and priorities, and while each will develop at a varying pace, learning between each will be important and encouraged.

5.2 A county wide conference will take place in February 2012. This conference will be the formal launch pad for the second phase of Support from the Start, it will bring together the range of parents and partners engaged in each of the Link-up groups, Early Years Champions and elected members. The minister for Children and Early Years, national or international experts in the field will be invited to address the conference.


Ronnie Hill

Head of Children’s Services October 2011


Nature Play & Nurture

Whitecraig primary made a short video about their experience as a exemplar for the nature, play and nurture training held at the school earlier this year. This involved the nursery class working with Aline Hill from Big World training and Ros Marshall a nursery teacher and forest school leader, to run an outdoor learning programme. The programme included sessions that could be observed by staff taking a three day course in Nature Play & Nurture. Stobhill Primary in Gorebridge is currently hosting this training and acting as the exemplars. A further course will be available in the spring.



The Year to come

The Scottish Government recently published its spending priorities for the next year. I’ve taken the section on early years and reprdouced it below.  There is a lot in it and much to be excited about.

However, it seems odd that the coming year has the promise of being a great period of opportunity for early years and early intervention. I say odd because there is also a lot of fear about the future in the real world. My wife (a nurse) came home this evening with  the ‘news’  from the NHS staff grapevine that people on my pay grade in the NHS are to be made redundant. Whether this is real or  chinese whisphers it represents the uncertainty which many families feel. Pay freezes and rising bills mean that for families in work things are tighter, and a changing benefits system is a real concern for some of the poorest families.  There is little doubt that the next few years are going to be tough for families and services.

What will turn high profile support for early years and early intervention into more resilient families or better support for families that are struggling and prevent families from ‘failing’? Scotland is good at policy, but policy makers need to bring ordinary families with them so that we can all believe that we can contribute to a future Scotland that will be a better place for children.

From the Scottish Spending Review and draft budget document

In 2012-13 we will:

i) Have a greater focus on early years by:

– introducing legislation on the rights of the child and young people;

– consulting on legislation for the early years and early intervention – a draft Children’s Services Bill for introduction later in this parliamentary term;

– introducing an Early Years and Early Intervention Change Fund and working with partners to focus Scottish public sector spend on early intervention, accelerating the implementation of the early years framework

–  delivering the next phase of the Play Talk Read programme and developing a national parenting strategy that encourages agencies to work together to support new parents, giving parents the skills they need to best support their children;


In addition, we will develop support for families to meet a range of needs, including a new generation of family centres, flexible childcare options, and support for families in conflict.

ii) Help improve the life chances of vulnerable children and young people by:

– continuing the implementation of Getting it Right for Every Child ensuring that universal services deliver for the most vulnerable children;

– implementing the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 to improve outcomes for children and young people, and their families, who experience the Children’s Hearings System;

– working with partners to strengthen strategy and practice around looked after children and young people, children and young people at risk of going into care and young people who offend, giving a greater focus to earlier and more effective interventions to improve outcomes for some of our most vulnerable children and young people, and their families and communities, and to reduce the bureaucratic burdens on those working with them;

– driving and supporting the development of a competent, confident, valued social services workforce, primarily through the Scottish Social Services Council.

 – working with the Care Inspectorate to develop a new integrated children’s services inspection, ready for piloting in 2012; and

 – improving guidance for frontline child protection professionals: – on working with children affected by parental substance misuse; in families where disability is a key factor; on assessing the risks for vulnerable children; and on training.


Roots & Fruits

Two East Lothian community grups have worked with schools to develop gardening for learning and health promotion. The work was developed using the champions development fund. The video describes the work they have been doing.

Are We Getting it Right ?

Getting through my ‘to read file’ – this time going back to the fascinating parliamentary review by the finance committee of early years interventions

The committee members had quite a challenge to absorb the depth of information / evidence provided verbally and in writing to the committee. Reviewing some of the evidence offered to the committee really make you ask the question – Are we getting it right for children in Scotland. Scandinavian countries have been in the news a lot for the wrong reasons in the last few weeks – but their investment in children clearly pays off in improved outcomes. For example

Sweden’s strong focus on prevention starts at the very beginning of life with emphasis on breastfeeding (98% of Swedish mothers begin breast-feeding and 72% have maintained this at 6 months vs 79% and 22% in the UK). In addition long periods of maternity and parental leave support attention to the needs of the child in its earlier months. 100% of hospitals have BFHI (baby-friendly) status (compared with less than 10% in the UK) and early parent training is provided for a high proportion of the population.

What Works in Early Years Education, a review of approaches to Early Years Education across the globe, cites two international comparisons of academic performance in English schools, in one case with Slovenia, in the other case with Switzerland. Though the Slovenian children started school two years later, within 9 months they had caught up on English mathematics attainment. The Swiss children started school a year later than those in England, yet the Swiss one year younger than English children performed better in maths. A study which addressed why this was the case identified the variable academic ability of children in the English reception class.

However, one report given to the committee as evidnece stood out for me because it chimed so strongly with the ethos of Support from the Start – It is a report from an organsation called the Wave Trust which has produced a comprehensive review of international evidence on violence reduction. It gives the following six success factors  in improving social & health outcomes.

1. Those who prioritise investment in the earliest years secure the best outcomes

2. The quality of parenting/care is the key to a successful society

3. There could be a major dividend from focused commitment to ensure children arrive at school ‘school ready’

4. The impact of poor early care can be alleviated by the right experience during school years

5. Galvanising the community is the secret of success

6. Innovative approaches to social care can provide significant benefits at minimum cost

We know that many of Scotland’s closest neighbours are so much better at improving outcomes for its citizens, and this reports emphasises that, but it also give a clue about what can be done to change it. The success factors / key messages they outline are relatively simple but they need to be applied systematically and need relentless leadership in pursuing them. They also need Scotlands citizens to be engaged and demanding better services for children.

Steven Wray


National Evaluation Report on Equally Well Test Sites

A report from the team leading the evaluation of all eight Equally Well test sites is now available on-line at
This evaluation focuses on the generic service redesign for health inequalities learning from the full programme. This is in addition to the 8 local evaluations carried out in each test site. A communication plan is being finalised, which will include promotion of these learning points and approaches via routes such as presentations, conferences, email distribution, web distribution, distinct and bespoke products to help others adopt these approaches etc.

‘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.


What have we been doing & where have we been?

The link below will take you to a document that attempts to describe what has been happening as a result of the Equally Well test site in East Lothian and the rationale behind that activity. It is a report to the National Programme for Equally Well on the two years in which the test site has been in operation.

The report is not an evaluation of Support from the Start,  it simply seeks to tell the story of what we have been doing and why.

I will, however,  shortly be able to post the outcome of an evaluation of Support from the Start in East Lothian, which was taken forward by a Queen Margaret University. The evaluation was delivered using an innovative approach that develops a local partnership linked to academic support to make sure that evaluation is both relevant and rigorous. Two East Lothian practitioners – John Boyce and Ann Hume – were seconded part time to the university to work with a ‘firefly’ team led by Professor Kirsty Forsyth. They carried out a number of focus groups with parents that had been involved in  champion led developments and initiatives, as well as completing a survey of champions. The output from the evaluation includes a resource for practitioners and planners who might want to use some of the approach and ideas that have been used in the test site. The resource is called healthy, Happy Bairns from a comment made by one  of the parents involved in the focus groups. Watch this space

Test site report to Scottish government National Programme for Equally Well