Growing Minds Rich Picture

Growing Minds is an innovative and ground-breaking initiative to improve school readiness in disadvantaged communities. The project combines tested interventions to multiply impact.

Why school readiness matters

Oxfordshire’s educational excellence is world renowned. But a disadvantaged child in Oxfordshire is further behind at the start of primary school than an average English disadvantaged child.

At the start of school, children are assessed as to whether they have a Good Level of Development at the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). When children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Oxfordshire start school they are typically 5.5 months behind their classmates.

As they progress through school, this deficit affects the rate at which they learn, and so the gap grows. By the time they are 16 the gap is more than 21.5 months. Despite Oxfordshire’s reputation for academic excellence, this gap is even wider than in England as a whole (19 months).

Our Insights Library gives more detail from our own reports and updates from external sources.

The project

OCF created Growing Minds and brought together our expert delivery partners to deliver a unique and collaborative project. The initial investment in project management has been vital for getting the initiative up and running, and the support that Growing Minds has provided has helped many families over a period of great instability during the pandemic.

Our Common Good logoAs of April 2022, OCF has passed the coordination of the project into the capable hands of our project partners. Find out more

Growing Minds was made possible by Our Common Good and is supported by a consortium of donors.

Why Berinsfield and Littlemore?

These communities have an existing asset base, i.e. projects and services that are established, well received, with an interest in working in partnership. They also have a high percentage of children in income-deprived households. These are communities in which OCF and the partners have existing connections. Once the project has been piloted in these areas, we hope to replicate the model in other areas of Oxfordshire and beyond.

Our Theory of Change

Growing Minds is an innovative approach to changing the life outcomes of disadvantaged babies and toddlers, which is:

Preventative – conversations start at birth, building on a tangible resource, books

Collaborative – using local delivery agencies in a joined-up approach

Evidence-based – using tried and tested interventions developed by experts in their field, and providing training to local front-line staff

Place-based – focusing on key communities with needs, using the assets already within those communities.

Our partners

Imagination Library – An international scheme providing age appropriate monthly books from birth. Sign-up will trigger engagement with the wider service offer

Home-Start – Skilled volunteers and practitioners providing in-home support to families of young children through trusting relationships

Peep Learning Together Programme – An evidence-based parenting programme, developed by Peeple, promoting home learning and school readiness

Berin Centre – A well connected and proactive children and family centre in Berinsfield

John Henry Newman Academy – Proactive and well regarded, and based in Littlemore

Health Visiting Service – The NHS service for families with newborns, also engaging with two-year-olds for a developmental check

Register Office – The council service for registration of births in the county

Evaluation consultants – Independent partners and experts in evaluation methodologies, including the Oxford Universities

What is the offer to families?

Free monthly books – Offered on registration of a child’s birth as part of sign-up to the programme

Information about local support – A visit or contact from a practitioner, with all the details about provision for families in the area

In-home support – Home-Start general and targeted support to engaged families, for up to six months

The Peep Learning Together Group Programme – Directly targeting improved home learning

Growing Minds learning report

As OCF hands over the project to its expert delivery partners, we take a moment to take stock of what we’ve learned so far. Since its launch in January 2020, Growing Minds has engaged 277 families, providing 3,533 Imagination Library books for their personal libraries. In addition, Growing Minds has delivered one-to-one support sessions, Peep Learning Together Groups, and a huge range of other activities, in spite of and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full learning report


“There’s amazing evidence for the benefits of taking a preventative approach, and we love that OCF have been leading the way with a project that is collaborative and long-term.”

Katharine Barber, Chief Executive Home Start Oxford

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