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 has convened the partnership of education and early years charities, around local delivery partners. This will enable us to identify families where we can offer support, promote the project, deliver it and measure the results.

A full range of front-line practitioners working in early years will be trained in the evidence-based Peep Learning Together programme and, working together, will engage local families in meaningful interactions and support to help children become school ready by the time they reach age five.

The project will engage newborns, one-year-olds and two-year-olds in the first year of delivery. We will offer to help more than 800 children in Berinsfield and Littlemore over the seven-year lifetime of the project.

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 progress reports

“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

You can also give to Growing Minds and have your gift matched on The Good Exchange.


Suzy DonaldSuzy Donald, Education and Skills Project Manager

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