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Cambridge pupils falling behind by primary school age

By Gemma Gardner

Pupils in Cambridgeshire are falling behind
Pupils in Cambridgeshire are falling behind

More than three out of five children from deprived families in Cambridge are already falling behind by the time they start primary school, a new report has shown.

The government’s Social Mobility Commission found 37 per cent of five-year-olds on free school meals achieve “a good level of development” by the time they start school.

This is four per cent lower than in any other area in the Eastern region and far lower than the 52 per cent national average. In South Cambridgeshire, the figure is 45 per cent.

Campaigners say it highlights the need for early years support and comes just two months after Cambridgeshire County Council agreed to close 19 of the county’s 40 centres including Romsey Mill, Homerton and Cherry Hinton.

Liberal Democrat activist Nicky Shepard said she will challenge the children’s centre decision at a meeting on Tuesday in light of the commission’s report. “I intend to challenge the council’s whole financial justification for these draconian cuts,” she said.

City councillor Rod Cantrill added: “We believe that investing in high-quality early years education has a huge impact on children’s future attainment. Our most vulnerable children have the most to gain from an excellent Early Years setting, in which partnerships with parents are a key component.”

The commission assessed the development of children from nursery to university, ranking each of England’s 324 local authorities for social mobility. Cambridge came 176th and South Cambridgeshire came 101st, with the top 10 places going to London boroughs.

Only 30 per cent of pupils on free school meals in Cambridge go on to achieve the expected level in reading, writing and maths by age 11. Of those, 68 per cent go to a secondary school with a good or outstanding Ofsted rating, below the England average of 73 per cent. Of those who finished school at 18, 30 per cent achieve two or more A-levels, or equivalent qualifications, and 14 per cent go to university.

At least one in eight children who was eligible for free school meals is not in education, employment or training by the age of 17.

Dr David Whitebread, co-director of Cambridge University’s Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning, who previously described closing children’s centres as “madness”, explained that national and international research shows high-quality pre-school education can have a “significant” impact on a child’s educational achievements, wellbeing and level of life satisfaction.

The county council says changing the way children’s centres are delivered will enable the areas of highest need to be targeted.

“Over the coming weeks and months we will be able to firm up the ideas of how this reinvestment will be used – but currently our emphasis is working with communities to see what they need and where our more flexible approach will pay dividends,” said Simon Bywater, chairman of the county’s children’s and young people’s committee.


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