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Is the Welsh Government giving a ‘Flying Start’ to all children who need it?

Between 2007 and 2018 the Welsh Government allocated more than £600 million to fund its flagship early years anti-poverty programme, Flying Start. A further £76 million has been allocated to it in 2018-19. On Wednesday 23 May 2018, Assembly Members will discuss to what extent this programme is reaching the children who most need it.

21 May 2018

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

Between 2007 and 2018 the Welsh Government allocated more than £600 million to fund its flagship early years anti-poverty programme, Flying Start. A further £76 million has been allocated to it in 2018-19. On Wednesday 23 May 2018, Assembly Members will discuss to what extent this programme is reaching the children who most need it.

The debate will centre on the recommendations of the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee and its report into Flying Start Outreach. Assembly Members on this Committee decided to look into this programme in response to stakeholder concerns that the geographical targeting of the programme was creating a ‘post-code lottery’ that could potentially create further inequality because it was not reaching a significant number of children living in poverty.

Picture of a child playing with paint

What is Flying Start?

Flying Start was introduced in 2007 and the Welsh Government made a key commitment to its continuation in the programme for government ‘Taking Wales Forward 2016-21 (PDF 118K). The Flying Start programme is delivered by local authorities and within defined geographical areas.  The programme consists of four core elements. These services are universally available to all children aged under 4 years and their families in the areas in which the programme runs:

  • Free ‘quality’ part time childcare: for all eligible 2 to 3 year olds for 2.5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 39 weeks. This should also include at least 15 sessions of childcare provision for families during school holidays;
  • Enhanced health visiting: with caseloads of 1 health visitor per 110 children in Flying Start areas, this is a significantly reduced caseload compared with the generic service;
  • Parenting support programmes: to be decided based on local need and which have been judged to generate positive outcomes for children;
  • Speech, language and communication provision: each eligible family should have access to a ‘language and play group’. Where needed, more specialist support should be offered.

Latest Flying Start statistics for 2016-17 are published in this Welsh Government bulletin.

Where is Flying Start delivered?

Flying Start was initially targeted on the catchment areas of schools in deprived areas. The expansion of the scheme from 2011 resulted in a revised criteria where funding was allocated according to the estimated number of 0-3 year olds living in income benefit households in local authority areas in lower super output areas (LSOAs). See the map on page 9 (PDF 2.3 MB) of this Welsh Government publication for the latest Flying Start areas as of 2016.

What is Flying Start Outreach and who is eligible?

In 2014, the Welsh Government issued Flying Start Outreach Guidance (134 KB). This requires local authorities to identify children living outside defined Flying Start areas who would also benefit from the programme. It allows local authorities to choose from a ‘suite of options’ in terms of outreach for which they are then required to outline their chosen approach within their Flying Start Delivery Plans. More recent 2017 guidance (PDF 523 KB) states the three groups of children who are eligible for outreach:

  • Children moving out of Flying Start areas;
  • Children outside of Flying Start areas; and
  • Communities of interest, with Flying Start teams having autonomy to decide which groups in their areas would benefit most from specific elements of Flying Start.

Funding for Flying Start Outreach?

The Welsh Government’s Flying Start Financial Management Guidance 2017-18 stated:

The funding level for outreach activities is set at 2.5% of the uplift from 2012 funding levels. This should be used to deliver elements of Flying Start to children, with an identified need, across the wider local authority.

During the course of the CYPE Committee’s inquiry the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies AM, changed the percentage of the overall Flying Start funding which local authorities can use for Outreach. In his response to the Committee’s report the Minister said:

In November 2017, following discussions with local authorities and in recognition of the need some expressed for greater flexibility, Ministers relaxed the funding limit to allow authorities to use up to 5% of their full Flying Start budget allocation on outreach with immediate effect, this was in line with the amount that could be vired between programmes.

What did the Children, Young People and Education Committee find?

The Committee’s report, published in February 2018 said that the ‘Flying Start programme is an important source of support to the children and families that are able to benefit from it’. It ‘welcomed the Welsh Government’s commitment to early years’ provision’. However the Committee also said ‘a significant change is needed if the flagship Flying Start early years programme is to succeed in reaching out to those in most need of support’. The Committee’s report highlighted some of the challenges faced in targeting all the children who need such support, saying:

Members are mindful that the majority of children living in poverty fall outside defined Flying Start areas, and so are less likely to be able to benefit from Flying Start services. The Committee remains to be convinced that retention of the postcode allocation of resources is the most appropriate basis on which to continue administering the wider programme.

This was based on evidence such as that from Public Health Wales who said[…] nearly two thirds of people who are income deprived live out-side of geographical areas that are defined as deprived’. It went on to say.

It is therefore highly unlikely that the relatively small proportion of Flying Start funding available for outreach work is sufficient to meet the needs of families living outside of Flying Start areas.

In response to the Welsh Government increasing during the course of the inquiry the amount of funding available for Outreach, the Committee said. The Committee said it was ‘pleased that the light it has shone on this matter is already starting to result in some progress’ however was ‘unconvinced this additional flexibility will be sufficient to meet the needs of service users (or children and families that should be service users).’

Chapter 4 of the Committee’s report looked at whether there was evidence the overall investment in Flying Start is making a difference to the outcomes for the children that receive support from the programme. The Committee was provided with some evidence about positive outcomes, for example the improved outcomes achieved by the Flying Start Speech and Language Therapists. However in respect of nationally collated and published data across all four elements of Flying Start, the Committee said:

[it is] concerned that, based on the results of evaluations of the Flying Start programme published to date, much of the data presented shows limited hard evidence of benefits to children and parents receiving support. The Committee also notes that limited baseline data was collected from the inception of the programme.

The Committee made 7 recommendations to the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government’s response

The Welsh Government accepted two of the Committee’s recommendations, accepted a further four in principle and rejected one. In its response Welsh Government states:

Flying Start is currently being delivered to over 37,000 children under 4 years of age living in some of the most deprived areas in Wales. This equates to around 25% of all children under the age of 4 in Wales.

It goes on to say:

In October, Ministers agreed to a rapid review of Flying Start to ensure it remains fit for purpose. We want to build on the considerable achievements of the programme and learn from what works well, not least in how we can deepen partnership, collaborative and multi-agency working arrangements across sectors in support of young children and their families. Work is progressing and we anticipate being able to update the Committee on this, later in the year.


Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Source: Image from Pixabay by anaterate. Licensed under the Creative Commons.