Developing an Early Years Strategy, Cumbria

Themes this local practice example relates to:

Early Years

Organisation/s submitting example:       Cumbria County Council
Local authority/local area:   Cumbria


Development of an Early Years Strategy, where all Early Years Providers and professional partners that support the development of early years’ services work together to improve the life chances of all children from pre-birth to five years.

Context and rationale

The aim was to develop an Early Years (EY) Strategy that was informed, shaped and owned by all partners in the Early Years Sector.  

 A wide range of colleagues from education, health, social care, children’s centres, private, voluntary and independent settings, childminders and voluntary groups, and everybody working with the youngest children in Cumbria, were brought together in order to explore how they could more effectively work together to raise outcomes for children by the age of 5 years.

The challenge was to change a culture of ‘silo working’ to ‘partnership working’ within the early years. The strategy for improving the early years was developed using the ‘turning the curve’ methodology.  


The percentage of children aged five achieving a good level of learning at the end of Foundation Stage as measured by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile has been exceptionally low in Cumbria from 2008 to 2011. In 2011, Cumbria was one of the lowest performing Local Authorities in the country. Compared to statistical neighbours, the local authority (LA) was performing at an exceptionally low level, particularly for outcomes in communication, language and literacy.  The gap between girls and boys was wider than that nationally and growing. However, the gap between the lowest 20% of children and the median was narrower than that nationally up to 2010. In 2011, the gap widened to be similar to the national gap.

The quality of the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector was also a concern.  LA statistics showed that a high percentage of PVI nurseries were in high intervention categories requiring a significant amount of improvement.  The percentage of nurseries graded good or better by Ofsted was slightly lower than the national average.  Only one nursery was graded inadequate.  Data collected from the PVI sector for children’s attainment at age 4 years showed a high percentage of children at levels below age related expectations, particularly in communication, language and literacy.

It was clear from data analysis that there were issues relating to communication, language and literacy development in the youngest children which meant that many children were starting Reception classes at significantly low levels. 

The quality of assessment in the PVI and maintained sector was also considered and to ensure that assessments were accurate and in line with national exemplification.  A full moderation of all maintained infant and primary schools was therefore undertaken.

Knowledge Base

As part of the self-evaluation processes, a variety of research papers and looking at how other LAs have brought about rapid improvement in the early years sector, particularly in terms of improving outcomes were considered. 

Using outcomes from research into communication and language from University of WestEngland (UWE), Bristol: ‘Early Communication Environment and Language Development’, it was clear that a child’s language development and levels of vocabulary by the age of 2 are a strong determining factor of achievement later in life, but particularly in determining school readiness.


  • To improve outcomes for all children by the age of 5 years so that the percentage of 5 year olds attaining a good level of learning is at least in line with national figures
  • To improve the quality of all Early Years provision across Cumbria so that a smaller proportion of settings require intensive support and the proportion of settings graded good or better by Ofsted are at least in line with that nationally.
  • To bring all professionals working in Early Years together with a common purpose, to identify the key issues for improvement in Cumbria and implement appropriate work streams to achieve those aims.

To change the way the Early Years team works to ensure smarter working brings about significant change and improvement in the Early Years sector.

Read the full printer frendly report here

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