Physical activity programme to plug social mobility gap

A programme has been launched in a bid to close the educational gap for the UK’s most disadvantaged children and help them to become school ready.

The Youth Sport Trust (YST) is set to make waves in West Somerset with its new approach to tackling a 30-million-word gap in the early years settings, through active play and a focus on healthy and active lifestyles.

The programme is in partnership with Somerset County Council and Futures for Somerset. In principle, a 30 million word gap means that by three years of age, children from the wealthiest communities know 30-million words more than children from poorer communities. The West Somerset Physical Literacy Programme will ensure that every child in the area gets the opportunity to develop their language and literacy skills and in doing so give them a better start to their primary school life.

West Somerset is ranked the lowest in the Government’s Social Mobility Index. It was announced to be one of six Opportunity Areas by the Education Secretary, which has resulted in the roll out of the programme.

In a bid to close a gap which for many, keeps on growing with age and impacts on future life opportunities, Ali Oliver Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust, explains the importance of reaching children at a young age:

We want to help create a future where every child enjoys the life-changing benefits that come from play and sport. One of our strategic objectives is to unlock sport’s potential at every stage of a child’s life, especially where they face inequality or disadvantage. It is vital to get things right in the early years if young people are to fulfil their potential at primary school and in later life.

“In West Somerset, we have the opportunity to achieve this and use the insight and lessons learned to inspire a broader roll out across the whole of the UK. But we know this cannot be achieved by any one organisation or sector and through this programme are excited by the potential to bring together families, communities, business, enterprise and education. We know that by truly working collaboratively, we will make a difference over the next three years which, in turn, will give more young people a better start in life.”

Targeted at two to four-year-olds, the Youth Sport Trust has begun training early years professionals in all nurseries and children’s centres across West Somerset. Specialists will be using resources from the YST Healthy Movers programme; developed by the charity to support early years specialists and families in taking a holistic approach to the child development, using social, thinking, creative and physical themes to develop physical literacy. Physical literacy can be described as giving children the foundations and confidence they need for lifelong participation in physical activity.

The early years teacher toolkit and parent home pack has been designed to ensure professionals and parents can develop the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to ensure every child has the physical, social and emotional maturity to be ‘school ready’. 

Physical development and early years specialists will work on the ground with parents to use active play environments to inspire, motivate and support children in West Somerset to become more physically literate and build a foundation of physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

Frances Nicholson, Somerset’s Lead Member for Children’s Services, said:

I am delighted that the Youth Sport Trust is joining the West Somerset Opportunity Group and working in communities across the whole of the district. It is so important that young children learn to move and play at an early age and supports their future development to become ‘the best they can be'.

The programme, funded by the Department for Education, will run until 2020. For more information about the Youth Sport Trust’s ‘Healthy Movers’ resources and training for early years teachers and families please visit www.youthsporttrust.org/healthymovers

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