Press Release

Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives report calls for schools to be at the centre of a ‘fresh start for Sure Start’

May 10, 2024
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Centre for Young Lives
A new report published today (Friday May 10th) by Child of the North and Anne Longfield’s Centre for Young Lives think tank, “Building the foundations of a new ‘Sure Start’: An evidence-based plan for connecting and coordinating support and services in and around education settings”, sets out the case for a new updated model of Sure Start that puts schools and nurseries at its heart. It proposes a national network of ‘hubs’ in educational settings that can provide services such as:

[.download]Download the Report[.download]

The report is the fourth in a series of Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives reports to be published during 2024, focusing on how both the Government and Opposition can reset their vision for children, to put the life chances of young people at the heart of policy making and delivery.

Analysis of evidence by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has shown how Sure Start made a significant difference to the educational outcomes of some of the most disadvantaged children, as well as improving health outcomes and boosting parental employment. However, between 2010 and 2022 funding for Sure Start decreased by over two-thirds and over 1,300 centres closed. This happened alongside a 49% reduction in council spending on early intervention services for children between 2010/11 and 2017/8. At the same time, total expenditure on late interventions like youth justice, safeguarding and child protection, and looked-after children, has risen by 47%.

Since then, the current Government has introduced its own Family Hubs, but these are on a small scale and, on current trajectories, it would take over 30 years to reach all the areas of disadvantage that Sure Start was going to reach. The Labour Party, meanwhile, has committed to funding new youth hubs as part of its plans to tackle serious violence, and has committed to universal breakfast clubs and a mental health support team in every school.

Today’s report says that providing schools with the support and resources they need to deliver more than just lessons in a classroom should be a priority. However, it warns that teachers, school staff, and current school budgets cannot be expected to deliver this ambition all on their own.

It argues that nobody needs to reinvent the wheel: policies such as Sure Start Children’s Centres, Every Child Matters, Extended Schools, and Family Hubs already provide principles for what works and what has been less successful, and can be applied in a new and creative way to meet children’s and families’ needs today.

The report says that with the right support network most schools have the potential to be the focus of a vital resource for children, families, and communities. It argues that schools are trusted anchor institutions accessed by most children and are often the first port of call when families need help. At the same time, schools have connections to organisations that can provide support.

The report shows how bringing schools together with services, the community, and other organisations (including voluntary groups, local service providers, local business, faith groups, and others) is already working in some parts of the country, but it is ad hoc and reliant on forward thinking multi-academy trusts, local authorities, or charities who already recognise the crucial role schools play in building strong communities.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including:

Today’s report says there is growing evidence that services can work together, and deliver benefits from doing so, even when finances are stretched. New ways of linking services are emerging that are based on the understanding that children’s needs across different aspects of their lives and service domains are completely connected. It calls on Integrated Care Boards and Integrated Care Services to take this opportunity to develop imaginative collaborations between health and other services. Using data more effectively between agencies will also assist more timely inter-agency collaboration and better services.The report highlights the Born in Bradford project which has showcased the potential of connecting data between different services to encourage an integrated approach to care. Similar approaches to linking data are being adopted by other projects across the North of England including in Leeds, Doncaster, Wakefield, and Liverpool.It also provides examples where innovative, creative approaches to early intervention around schools are having tangible results:

Anne Longfield, Executive Chair of the Centre for Young Lives, said:

“The dismantling and hollowing out of Sure Start since 2010, alongside the big cuts in early intervention funding, was a historic mistake and incredibly short-sighted. As the recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows, Sure Start was making a significant difference to the educational outcomes of some of the most disadvantaged children, as well as improving health outcomes. While many Family Hubs are doing good things, the network just does not begin to match the scale and scope of Sure Start.

“We cannot turn back time and, with little new money available to rebuild an infrastructure of this scale and impact from scratch, we need to look for new and creative ways to deliver more joined-up support for vulnerable families as their children grow up.

“The days of some schools sitting in isolation from the rest of the community, shut up for the holidays, focused almost exclusively on exam results, should become a thing of the past.

“This report shows how we can place schools at the heart of a fresh start for Sure Start around a core of breakfast clubs and after-school and holiday provision to provide childcare, local joined up services, and the sort of support that can transform neighbourhoods and life chances.

“The task is now urgent. The unsustainable amount our public services are spending on responding to crises is a sign that the present system is failing many families and children.

“This can be an exciting, ambitious moment of change for children and families. Whoever wins the next election, has an opportunity to deliver it.”

Dr Camilla Kingdon, former President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“I am so delighted with this report and its recommendations.  We aren’t trying to bring back the past, despite many child health professionals knowing that Sure Start had a huge impact on many children and families. What this is, is a brave re-imagining of how a new version of Sure Start might look and how it could make a seismic impact on children’s lives.  Nurseries and schools are a hugely under-utilised resource and the recommendations of this report allow us to realise the huge potential of the education system to be an anchor for creating a solid foundation for the health and wellbeing of our children.

“As a paediatrician I am excited by the potential benefits this could bring. Bringing health and education together must be our collective vision for the future.”

Professor Mark Mon Williams, Child of The North report series editor, said:

“University research shows early support for children improves their health and later life prospects. Our nurseries and schools can help connect health and education and other services. This is the once in a generation chance to reverse the poor health of our population and create a healthy workforce. The next government must seize this moment and create a reimagined Sure Start 2.0.”

Report author Liz Todd, Professor of Educational Inclusion at Newcastle University, said:

"The best Sure Starts had parents and children helping to develop services with professionals. Schools now have the opportunity, working with Citizens UK, to involve the community in shaping together the kind of interagency hub that is most needed.

"We don’t need to reinvent the wheel - there are lots of school hub models to build on. But we need to avoid having a succession of short-term initiatives that come and go, leaving people with almost nothing, by having long-term developments that are properly funded and evaluated."


[.download]Download the Report[.download]

For further information or interview opportunities, please contact Jo Green on 07715105415 or
  1. The report can be accessed here:
  2. Today’s report has been produced by eight research intensive universities in the North of England – the N8 Research Partnership – in collaboration with a wider academic community (the N8+) as part of the Child of the North initiative, and the new Centre for Young Lives think tank, founded in January 2024 by former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield. It is the fourth in a series of Child of the North/Centre for Young Lives reports to be published during 2024 looking at how to encourage the Government and Opposition to reset their vision for children and show how putting the interests and life chances of young people at the heart of policy making and delivery is crucial to Britain’s future success. They shine a light on some of the biggest challenges facing the Government while also providing rigorous research and pragmatic, evidence-based recommendations which acknowledge the ongoing financial limitations on government spending. Seven principles will be a theme throughout the twelve reports: the Government must “put children first”; inequality must be addressed; place-based approaches must be adopted; public services must work together more effectively; education must be at the heart of public service delivery; universities must become the ‘research and development’ departments for local public services; and information must be shared across public service providers and used effectively.
  3. Child of the North is a partnership between the N8 Research Partnership and the Northern Health Science Alliance / Health Equity North and includes partners from across the North of England. Its vision is to develop a platform for collaboration, high-quality research, and policy engagement to support fairer futures for children living in the North of England. The N8 Research Partnership is a strategic collaboration between the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York, and aims to maximise the impact of this research base to enable business innovation and societal transformation. The N8 universities receive around 80% of competitively awarded research funding in the North of England, and employ more than 18,000 academic staff, forming the largest research-pooling partnership in the UK. N8 creates programmes involving a critical mass of world class academics which form networks of innovation excellence with partners in other sectors, to drive investment and economic growth.
  4. Health Equity North is a virtual institute focused on place-based solutions to public health problems and health inequalities across the North of England. Health Equity North brings together world-leading academic expertise from the Northern Health Science Alliance membership of leading universities, hospitals, and academic health science networks, with the aim of fighting health inequalities through research excellence and collaboration.

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