Social science impact on the Sure Start initiative

Primary-school-children-Large

June 2012

Social science underpinned by ESRC support played a major role in establishing and delivering the Government's Sure Start initiative in 1999, which aimed to provide integrated early years services for disadvantaged groups.

The UK Government established Sure Start in 1999 to provide integrated early years services targeted primarily on disadvantaged groups. In 2005, the Government decided to integrate Sure Start programmes into a national network of children’s centres.

Social science - underpinned by ESRC support - played a major role in establishing and delivering Sure Start, through the active participation of leading researchers in discussions about the policy implications of research findings. Social scientists contributed directly to a cross-departmental review of children's services, set up to discuss possible ways forward.

Research undertaken by Dr Steve Johnson of the University of Hull traced the history of the Sure Start initiative and the contribution made by social science, through documentary research and interviews with key informants who have been involved in the development, implementation and evaluation of Sure Start.

Of particular importance was the series of seminars convened by Norman Glass of HM Treasury, which brought together social scientists, interest groups and policymakers to discuss in detail the policy implications of the available evidence. The evidence reviews highlighted the importance of focusing on the earliest years in life as a means of breaking inter-generational cycles of social exclusion, and the need for more co-ordinated and widely available services. These evidence reviews were influential in the decision to establish the Sure Start programme.

Impact

  • Social science underpinned by ESRC support played a central role in the establishment of Sure Start. Key to this impact was the deliberate and systematic manner in which the government sought to bring together relevant research findings and debate their implications for public policy.
  • Leading social scientists participated actively in discussions about the policy implications of research findings, and subsequently through the work of the National Evaluation of Sure Start and the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) programme.
  • Findings from the EPPE programme suggested that integrated approaches through children's centres have beneficial impacts on young children. These findings clearly influenced the Government's subsequent decision to integrate Sure Start programmes into a national network of children's centres.

Further information