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Narrowing the Gap

About the programme

Narrowing the Gap is a two-year project which is funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), hosted by the LGA and supported by the Improvement and Development Agency for local government (IDeA).

Its overriding purpose is ambitious: to make a significant difference, on a national scale, to the performance of Children's Trusts in narrowing the gap in outcomes between vulnerable and excluded children and the rest, against a context of improving outcomes for all. The focus of the project is on 3–13s but with some consideration of the issues for under-3s and for 14–19s.

On completion, the project should provide:

  • identification of best practice about what works and how best to disseminate it
  • identification of models for growing and developing current and future leaders of children's services
  • identification of models of local authorities supporting/developing the work of other local authorities (strengthening the ‘family of local government') in delivering improved outcomes for children.

What is meant by ‘narrowing the gap’?

The term ‘gap', in this context, means the difference in outcomes for a specific group and outcomes for the whole range of children and young people of which the group forms a part. This project in particular is concerned with improving outcomes for vulnerable children and those who are most at risk, with a view to reducing the differences in outcomes between these groups and children and young people as a whole – whilst improving outcomes for all. The outcomes we mean are those identified in Every Child Matters: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and achieving economic well-being.

The groups of children we are focussing on:

We know from practice and research that some groups of children are more likely to fall behind than others: these are set out below and have helped form the framework for the project. Many children belong to more than one of the groups, of course, and, for most, the gap is in more than one outcome:

  • children from poorer socio-economic groups (including white ‘working class' boys)
  • children in care
  • children with disabilities
  • children with SEN
  • children excluded from school
  • children with poor records of attendance at school
  • children from different ethnic minority backgrounds
  • young offenders
  • young carers
  • children at risk from significant harm
  • children living with ‘vulnerable' adults
  • children not fluent in English
  • children who are asylum seekers/refugees.

The five themes on which the project is working

The project has five themes (or key lines of enquiry. These themes were chosen as convenient ways to look at the complex set of issues that arise in this area and were chosen for their clear policy and practice significance. We are looking at the first three in year one: July 2007-June 2008, the other other two in year two: July 2008 – June 2009.

They are:

  1. how to create and sustain the right links between Children's Centres, schools and other children's services
  2. how to engage and support parents and carers in helping their children to succeed
  3. how best to use the new systems and processes brought into being by ECM to orientate services more to prevention and early intervention
  4. how to strengthen and align local leadership and governance arrangements (both professional and political)
  5. how to strengthen systems for developing local leaders to deliver improved services based on an understanding of what works

The distinctive features of the Narrowing the Gap project approach

There are many excellent research projects and improvement programmes underway in children's
services at present, but Narrowing the Gap's approach is distinctive in three respects:

  • because it draws on the outcomes of rigorous evaluations of the research and the data, and on the expertise of key individuals and organisations to generate a series of hypotheses about ‘what works'. These hypotheses will then be ‘reality checked' by councils and their partners on the ground, who will also add their own insights. This way of combining the best from practice, policy and research is innovative and, we hope, will be hugely creative and productive.
  • because it focuses firmly on using the outputs of all the activities being undertaken to answer some simple but difficult questions about ‘how' to do things in localities to make a difference to narrowing the gap – scrutinising the detail of strategy and delivery at every level of the Every Child Matters ‘onion', and coming up, we hope, with a series of evidence-based mechanisms for narrowing the gap that councils and their partners can adapt to the circumstances of their areas and the needs of their populations.
  • because it adopts a truly collaborative way of working between central and local government, and between participating local authorities, in pursuit of shared goals, thus reflecting the spirit of last year's Local Government White Paper and offering a model for public service reform that is inclusive and cost effective and that, we hope, will be transformative in its impact on children and communities.