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Agenda item

National Evaluation of Sure Start Children's Centre - Presentation by Dr Christine Merrell, Durham University


Dr Christine Merrell, Durham University gave a presentation on her paper ‘Changes in Children’s Cognitive Development’ at the Start of School in England 2001-2008 (for copy, see file of Minutes).


Dr Merrell explained that the Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) was part of Durham University who delivered 1.1m assessments each year.  CEM systems were used in 44 countries and assessed pupils aged 3 – 18 years.


The study had looked at the Foundation Stage, age 3-5 years, increased nursery provision, curriculum, Sure Start, Education Action Zones and other initiatives and assessed if they had changed children’s cognitive development at the start of school.


Performance Indicator in Primary Schools (PIPs) tests were carried out by teachers in primary schools to give a baseline assessment on entry.  There were more than 2000 schools in England used every year.  Once the pupil was assessed, schools returned the data to CEM for analysis.


A computer adapted text was used to assess vocabulary, phonological awareness and early reading and mathematics.  Date of birth, sex and first language was also recorded.


A sample was taken from 472 state schools in England.  Means PIPs Scores indicated that in terms of educational differences, things had remained similar over the years.  Statistically there had been a significant decrease from 2001 to 2008 for early reading and picture vocabulary.  However, the effect sizes of the differences were small.  There had been significant increase in early maths scores although the effect size was also small.


Dr Merrell explained that success from early interventions aimed at influencing the development of young children was difficult to achieve.   Reduction in efficacy of small scale programmes when rolled out and limitations with data analysed were reasons why the scores remained so stable over time.


Councillor Strading queried if she was a critic of Sure Start.  Dr Merrell explained that she was a critic of interventions not being evaluated correctly.


Councillor Armstrong queried if data was obtained where Sure Start had been present in comparison to where it had not.  Dr Merrell advised that the data had highlighted that all interventions or what schools were doing had made no significant improvement.


Councillor Vasey commented that some Sure Start Children’s Centres had only recently been opened.  There had to be a way of obtaining the data in order for a full evaluation to take place.


Mr F Jassat, Overview and Scrutiny Manager explained that Members had been working on a review of Sure Start, its impact, success and value for money.  The committee would have the report prior to it being considered by Cabinet in April.


RESOLVED that the information given, be noted.




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