Child of the North 2024 Campaign – Report 4

A country that works for all children and young people

An evidence-based plan to build the foundations of a new “Sure Start” in and around education settings


The fourth report in a year-long series – produced jointly by Child of the North and the Centre for Young Lives – that seeks to deliver a country that works for all children and young people, sets out the case for a new updated model of Sure Start that puts schools and nurseries at its heart.

Analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown how the Sure Start programme made a significant difference to the educational outcomes of some of the most disadvantaged children, as well as improving health outcomes and boosting parental employment. However, between 2010 and 2022 funding for Sure Start decreased by over two-thirds and over 1,300 centres closed.

Since then, the current Government has introduced its own Family Hubs, but these are on a small scale and, on current trajectories, it would take over 30 years to reach all the areas of disadvantage that Sure Start was going to reach.

The report, An evidence-based plan to build the foundations of a new “Sure Start” in and around education settings, says that providing schools with the support and resources they need to deliver more than just lessons in a classroom should be a priority. However, it warns that teachers, school staff, and current school budgets cannot be expected to deliver this ambition all on their own.

It argues that schools are trusted anchor institutions accessed by most children and are often the first port of call when families need help. At the same time, schools have connections to organisations that can provide support.

The report calls for:

  • The main political parties to commit to developing a national strategy in government that puts schools at the heart of connected and co-delivered services for children and families. There are already innovative approaches being adopted which show how “outside school-gate services” such as dental care, mental health services, and youth work can be brought inside educational settings.
  • Ring-fencing funding for schools so they can access and provide the programmes, activities, and services that meet the needs of local children and families, such as breakfast clubs, before- and after-school provision and holiday clubs, amongst others.
  • Encouragement for holistic and collaborative working by co-producing connected services with children, young people, families, and the wider community.

The report shows how bringing schools together with services, the community, and other organisations (including voluntary groups, local service providers, local business, faith groups, and others) is already working in some parts of the country, but it is ad hoc and reliant on forward thinking multi-academy trusts, local authorities, or charities who already recognise the crucial role schools play in building strong communities.


Cover of the Child of the North report 'An evidence-based plan to build the foundations of a new "Sure Start" in and around education settings'

An evidence-based plan to build the foundations of a new “Sure Start” in and around education settings

Our analysis reveals that:

  • Funding for Sure Start decreased by over two-thirds and more than 1,300 centres closed between 2010 and 2022
  • There are around 60,000 missed opportunities to provide early help every year in England
  • Expenditure on late interventions like youth justice, safeguarding and child protection, and looked-after children, has risen by 47%

Click here to download the report


It provides examples of school staff, parents, and children working with other providers such as charities, health services, businesses, and local authorities to produce positive change in their communities.

New ways of linking services are emerging that are based on the understanding that children’s needs across different aspects of their lives and service domains are completely connected. The report calls on Integrated Care Boards and Integrated Care Services to take this opportunity to develop imaginative collaborations between health and other services.

Report Webinar

On Thursday 23rd May a number of the report’s authors came together to discuss the findings and policy recommendations. Webinar participants included:

  • Anne Longfield CBE – Centre for Young Lives
  • Mat Mathai – Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sean Harris – Tees Valley Education Trust

Watch a recording of the webinar here.


Anne Longfield, Executive Chair of the Centre for Young Lives, said:

“The dismantling and hollowing out of Sure Start since 2010, alongside the big cuts in early intervention funding, was a historic mistake and incredibly short-sighted. As the recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows, Sure Start was making a significant difference to the educational outcomes of some of the most disadvantaged children, as well as improving health outcomes. While many Family Hubs are doing good things, the network just does not begin to match the scale and scope of Sure Start.

“We cannot turn back time and, with little new money available to rebuild an infrastructure of this scale and impact from scratch, we need to look for new and creative ways to deliver more joined-up support for vulnerable families as their children grow up.

“This report shows how we can place schools at the heart of a fresh start for Sure Start around a core of breakfast clubs and after-school and holiday provision to provide childcare, local joined up services, and the sort of support that can transform neighbourhoods and life chances.

“This can be an exciting, ambitious moment of change for children and families. Whoever wins the next election, has an opportunity to deliver it.”

Professor Mark Mon Williams, Child of the North report series editor, said:

“University research shows early support for children improves their health and later life prospects. Our nurseries and schools can help connect health and education and other services. This is the once in a generation chance to reverse the poor health of our population and create a healthy workforce. The next government must seize this moment and create a reimagined Sure Start 2.0.”

Report author Liz Todd, Professor of Educational Inclusion at Newcastle University, said:

“The best Sure Starts had parents and children helping to develop services with professionals. Schools now have the opportunity, working with Citizens UK, to involve the community in shaping together the kind of interagency hub that is most needed.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – there are lots of school hub models to build on. But we need to avoid having a succession of short-term initiatives that come and go, leaving people with almost nothing, by having long-term developments that are properly funded and evaluated.”


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