Labour Party conference 2014

by Richard Newson September 24, 2014

The Labour Party conference revealed their emerging policies for children and young people – says Zoe Renton and Heather Ransom from the NCB policy team.

NCB policy staff have just returned from a busy Labour Party conference. At fringe events we attended, shadow education ministers, Tristram Hunt and Lucy Powell, set out their respective plans for schools and early years, and we learned that the NHS would be key to Labour’s manifesto.

Improving the capabilities of teachers and practitioners to work with children and young people would be a Labour government’s first priority.  In early years, the focus would be on implementing the Nutbrown Review recommendations – including supporting all staff to acquire a level 3 qualification. This is something NCB has been actively campaigning for as we know that well-qualified staff make a real difference to children’s outcomes.  In education, Tristram Hunt would ensure all teachers working in state-funded schools hold a teaching qualification, and teachers who have taken on senior leadership roles would be enabled to continue to work in the classroom. New Directors of School Standards would act as a conduit between schools and the Department for Education, working with parents, schools, local businesses and community leaders, on local education decisions.

Providing the tools to ensure children’s services work together more innovatively, through the pooling of resources and funds, was seen as a key principle. For instance, Lucy Powell would like to see an increase in the funding of the Early Years Pupil Premium to encourage providers to work together and develop new interventions that support children’s learning and development.   In addition, she envisages making greater use of children’s centres so that more two year olds can have a free early education place; few children’s centres now provide on-site childcare.  

It is clear that the NHS will be a central theme in Labour’s election manifesto – it featured as one of the six national goals set out by Ed Miliband in his leader’s speech on Tuesday. At a fringe event with the British Medical Association, Nuffield Trust and Royal College of Nursing, Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, gave us a preview of his vision for an integrated health and care service – a ten-year plan for whole person care.  However, it remains to be seen (or explained) how this vision will translate for children and young people, or result in improved services, experiences and outcomes for these often overlooked NHS users, particularly in the context of an ageing population.

As we found in our report with the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health, Why children die, an additional 2,000 children die in the UK each year, compared to the best performing nations in Europe. In fact, studies show that the UK has the second worst childhood mortality rate, linked to high rates of childhood poverty and social inequality. Many of these deaths could be prevented if health and care services better met children’s needs, with children dying from treatable conditions – such as asthma – and as a result of untreated mental health problems culminating in suicide or self-harm. Andy Burnham welcomed being reminded to ‘think child’ as these proposals are developed.  

Check back next week for a snapshot of the Conservative Party conference.

Zoe Renton and Heather Ransom, NCB’s policy and public affairs team.


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Young and sensible

by Richard Newson August 1, 2014

Research suggests young people have increasingly responsible attitudes to social vices like smoking, drinking and gambling. Richard Newson, Media Officer at NCB, considers the shift.

Forget stereotypes of feral hoodies congregating at the street corner, today’s young people are actually showing themselves as being more responsible than generations past.

This was confirmed by recent pieces of research into the attitudes and behaviours of young people across the country. In early July, an in-depth survey by Ipsos MORI and NCB indicated that ‘Generation Next’ – the 11-16 year olds born around the millennium – have a sober (and I use that word deliberately) attitude to unhealthy adult habits like drinking and smoking.

Of young people surveyed,around two in five think the legal age at which you can buy cigarettes should be raised. Perhaps even more surprisingly, this conservative behaviour trend crosses over to the legal age at which you can buy alcohol - with 21% of young people stating that the age restriction should increase, compared to just 14% who would like to see it lowered. Similarly, 37%, would like to see the age at which you can place a bet or gamble made higher, compared to just  9% who think it should be lowered.

These mature attitudes were confirmed later in the month when the Health and Social Care Information Centre published results of its school pupil survey. The HSCIC research showed that just 3% of pupils were regular smokers in 2013 compared to 9% ten years before in 2003. In 2013, 9% of pupils had drunk alcohol in the last week, which is less than half the level in 2003 when this was 25%.  Drug use has also declined considerably, in 2003 12% of school pupils had used illegal drugs in the last month, fast forward to 2013 and this figure has halved, dropping to 6% (the same recorded figure as 2011 and 2012).

All this points towards a generation of young people aware of the dangers of ‘risky’ behaviours and disinclined to relax the legal ages of responsibility. This is a welcome reflection of the average young person. We hope research such as this will help re-balance the skewed portrayal of young people in the media where headlines about gangs and knives create an unwelcome bias. As we approach the third anniversary of the 2011 riots, we should be thankful that positive portrayals of young people are prevalent.

Read the full ‘Generation Next’ survey results at:



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Stop and search: a young person’s thoughts

by Richard Newson July 14, 2014

Are stop and search powers used disproportionately on young people from ethnic minorities? Niklas (15) from Young NCB consider the issues.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children published a report that showed that a large number of children and teenagers, even those under the age of 10, are stopped and searched by police. But what does this mean for young people like me and my friends?

When a young person sees a police officer walking down the street, their reactions can vary; many feel secure and comforted, whereas others feel that they are going to be targeted unnecessarily.

I live in Walthamstow, in East London. I feel safe and like where I live, and never have had the experience of being stopped and searched by the police. But doing a quick poll with my friends it is a different story.

Much like Walthamstow itself, my friendship circle is very diverse; a mix of black, white and Asian people. And when asking around my friends, I noticed a clear pattern. When asking Bilal, whose parents are of Pakistani origin, if he has been stopped and searched before, the answer was instant: he’d been stopped and searched twice, both times not being convicted of carrying anything illegal or committing a crime. Then take Luke, who is very similar to Bilal; funny, a people person and always fun, however the only difference is he is white, and has never been stopped by the police. The story is similar with my other friends: none of the white friends have been stopped and searched, whereas the majority of black and Asian people have. 

Stopping and searching obviously has its benefits and the searches do produce results. On average, 19% of the searches result in an arrest or seizure of an illegal substance/weapon. This means a lot to me personally, because it means that a weapon that could have taken a life is taken off the streets and someone is saved. Even though it has its controversies, the act of stopping and searching means that lives can be saved, which has to be the most important thing.

Find out more about Stop and Search at:


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Keeping children at the top of the health agenda is key to tackling health inequalities

by Richard Newson July 8, 2014

How can we maintain progress on child health? Keith Clements, Policy Officer at the National Children's Bureau considers how...

Gaps between the health outcomes of the richest and the poorest continue to increase, year on year, and as set out so clearly in the recent report, Why Children Die [],this even applies to children. In a blog back in May [], I explored some of the actions needed across Government and civil society to tackle childhood mortality and health inequality.

The recent annual report []of the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum reminds us again of the vital importance of health services being planned and coordinated with children at the centre>

Firstly there is a need to realise an increased role for schools in promoting children and young people’s health. Schools are a public service with tremendous reach and have always had a key role to play, particularly in supporting those from less privileged backgrounds. The Forum stresses the contribution that schools can make by building knowledge about health trough the curriculum, providing on-site health advice, identifying and referring children experiencing mental health conditions and creating a whole school ethos that promotes physical and mental wellbeing. We know [] that good schools can challenge the link between poverty and poor academic attainment and we need to explore how they can similarly promote healthy behaviours and resilience to challenge the link with poor health. 

We also need to make sure that those health services that can improve wellbeing and prevent sickness are adequately funded. A more stark challenge identified by the Forum is the emergence of evidence of disinvestment in community health services. There is concern that the way such services are funded, mainly through ‘block contracts’ rather than according to outcomes or the amount of support they are providing to people, makes them more vulnerable to budget cuts. This echoes reports from many respondents to a survey [] that NCB carried out with NHS Confederation last year, that preventive services, lower level mental health support and school nursing were suffering disinvestment. 

In order to make real progress it will be vital that we tackle child health inequalities from all angles. This requires local partners, including local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and schools, to have the will and awareness to play their part.


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A new model for youth justice in Hampshire?

by Richard Newson June 25, 2014

Following the Carlile Inquiry into Youth Courts, new models are emerging to tackle youth re-offending.

The Hampshire Community Court is a three-year pilot run by PC Mark Walsh with Hampshire Constabulary’s Criminal Justice Department and funded and supported by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner as part of the Commissioner’s commitment to reduce reoffending.

Peer courts have been in existence in the USA for more than 20 years and proven to be highly effective in reducing reoffending rates of young first-time offenders. They are restorative justice platforms that empower young people to formulate sanctions for other young people who have committed minor offences. 91 per cent of sanctions are complied with, and reoffending rates lie between 6 and 12 per cent. This figure stands in stark contrast to UK stats: In 2012, around 73 per cent of children released from custody reoffended within 12 months.

The objective of the scheme is to improve outcomes for young, first-time offenders and increase their chance of rehabilitation instead of entering into a cycle of re-offending. It uses peer pressure, one of the main reasons for young people offending, to reverse their attitude to crime and anti-social behaviour.

The general role of the community court is not to decide on innocence or guilt, but to use community-driven mechanism to help decide on appropriate and fair sanctions for young people who have acknowledged their guilt. The Hampshire Community Court will be complementing current restorative justice provisions, not replace existing criminal courts for young people (Youth Courts).

16 young volunteers between the age of 16 and 25 from all backgrounds are currently receiving training to prepare them for their roles as judges, advocates, or jury members. They will commit to a minimum of 4 hours a week for hearings or other development opportunities. The first hearing is expected to take place in early summer. 

You can follow the progress of the pilot on Twitter @HantsCommCourt or on Facebook .


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Parents should prepare for death

by Richard Newson May 29, 2014

We’d all rather not think about death, but for parents it’s important to make plans just in case. Di Stubbs, from the Childhood Bereavement Network, considers the issues.

Earlier in May was Dying Matters Awareness Week: Dying Matters is a coalition of around 30,000 members, both individuals and organisations, led by the National Council for Palliative Care. It aims to change public knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards death, dying and bereavement. This year’s theme was ‘You only die once’ and involved many events up and down the country from national conferences and report launches, to the ‘Death Café’ that ran in Bristol at the weekend.

Research released during DMAW showed that the vast majority (83%) of the public believe that people in Britain are uncomfortable with discussing dying and death. Only 36% of adults have written a will, only 29% have let someone know their funeral wishes and just 6% have written down their preferences for treatment and care in the event they become unable to take such decisions for themselves.

The awareness week was given added poignancy by the death of Stephen Sutton who had done so much, not only to raise millions of pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust, but also to challenge people’s assumptions that only old people die and that death should not be talked about.

To link with Dying Matters Week (DMW), the Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) has launched our own survey as the first step in our campaign to encourage ALL parents to prepare for the eventuality that they die while their children are still young. We know that this can be quite a hard thing to think about, but we also believe for children who have been bereaved of a parent, having things planned and prepared in advance can make a real difference.

And we also know that by the age of 16, around one in twenty young people will have experienced the death of a parent: one in every school class. Some of those parents may have been expected to die and will have had the time to prepare but many of those parents will have died unexpectedly.

In the survey, we’re asking questions about what things, practical and personal, are most helpful for parents to sort out. And we’re also asking what kind of things hamper people’s intentions of preparing for the future. Maybe there’s a fear that thinking about it makes it happen? We’d welcome everyone’s views - and, yes, that does mean you! – the survey can be found at:

We’re going to develop this campaign in coming months and bring all the available resources (such as advice on wills, advance care plans, digital legacies etc) together onto one new microsite. And we’re going to have a really great launch event in the autumn – more details of which in a future blog.

So can I ask you right now: do those people who care about you know where your will is? Err… you do have a will, don’t you?

To complete the survey visit:


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Building early literacy

by Richard Newson May 16, 2014

What’s the best way of getting the youngest of children to take their first steps in literacy? Richard Newson, looks at some tried and tested solutions from an award-winning project.

Like any parent of a child in their pre-school years, I’m anxious that I’m doing enough to help my little one learn before they go on to formal education. In particular, I’m keen that they grow up being able to share in the enjoyment I’ve got from reading and writing, but what is the best way to encourage these abilities in very young children?

The Making it REAL project has developed an innovative approach to get parents engaged in early literacy, and along the way  scooping a Children and Young People Now award for their work in Sheffield and Oldham. The project builds on the work of Cathy Nutbrown and Peter Hannon at the University of Sheffield, and aims to equip early years practitioners with knowledge about how literacy develops, so they can in turn hand this over to parents.


What the University of Sheffield team realised was that early literacy can be encouraged using what they described as the ORIM framework. ORIM stands for Opportunities, Recognition, Interaction and Model. Parents and carers can be supported to provide opportunities to develop literacy, for example by giving them books and writing materials. Parents should also know how literacy develops so they can recognise milestones in their child’s progress. When the parent and child do things together like writing a birthday card or reading a book together, they are interacting, and when a parent uses literacy skills around their child, such as reading a newspaper or writing a shopping list, they are modelling literacy skills.


Of course central to the approach of ORIM and Making it REAL is the importance of parents as a child’s first and most influential educator. What parents do at home has a lasting impact on their child’s social, intellectual and emotional development. So Making it REAL encourages practitioners to engage with parents through home visits and other events, so that parents can understand the ORIM framework for themselves and the stages of development that children go through as they learn to read and write.

Home visits have proved a particularly effective means of engaging parents in literacy work. Practitioners have commented that the visits have really helped build parents’ confidence and skills so that they engage more in literacy activity after the visit. Home visits have also enabled sensitive conversations about child development issues to take place and, as a consequence, practitioners have been able to refer parents to other services, such as speech and language support.   

Going forward, another interesting aspect of ORIM is that it doesn’t just apply to literacy. Making it REAL is currently designing materials to use this way of working to develop early mathematics.

To find out more about Making it REAL, including details of our next free training event on 3rd of July in Bristol, visit:


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Are children dying unnecessarily in the UK?

by Richard Newson May 9, 2014

There is growing evidence of a link between child mortality and poverty. Keith Clements, from the NCB policy team looks at what can be done.

The child mortality rate in the UK has been falling in recent years but when we compare ourselves with our Western European neighbours it does not make for comfortable reading. An analysis of WHO figures from 2012 puts the UK effectively joint bottom alongside Belgium, out of the 15 longest standing members of the EU. A paper in the Lancet just a few weeks ago reveals that we are even more clearly trailing this group when it comes to deaths in under 5s. This prompts the question, what can we do to raise our game and reduce child deaths? 

A recent report from NCB and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health investigated child mortality figures in the UK and the main causes of death amongst different age groups. Why Children Die found that many of these causes disproportionally affect the most disadvantaged in society and that many child deaths could be prevented through a combination of societal changes and targeted public health policies.

A large proportion of child deaths are in the first year of life, and many of those are in the first few weeks. This highlights the importance of tackling risk factors in pregnancy and infancy. The role of smoking cessation services and health visiting are key to this, as are high quality PSHE and sexual health services to support planned and healthy pregnancies.

There are also many deaths amongst young people that can be avoided. Tragically, suicide is one of the leading causes of death amongst 15-19 year olds. The time is long overdue for a fresh look at the nature and prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people. New evidence must be used to inform an action plan for improving support, from PSHE and pastoral care in schools, to the NHS investing adequately in services that meet the needs of those in difficulty.

Ensuring the nation’s children have the best chance of survival and a healthy life, and reducing the impact of inequality, requires a joined up and strategic approach. Action is needed across all areas of policy, from welfare to the NHS, from spatial planning to education. It should be obvious to all that ignoring the causes of death in children carries a huge and tragic price tag.

Why Children Die is available from:


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Has Ofsted got it right for early years?

by Richard Newson April 3, 2014

Dr Hilary Emery considers if Ofsted has got it right on early years childcare and education in its new report.

There was much anticipation in the early years sector this week ahead of the launch of Ofsted’s Early Years Annual Report. The word had gone around that for the first time Ofsted was to report separately on the early years sector, adding to speculation that something substantial was going to be announced by Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.

When the announcement came, from the outset Ofsted signalled its commitment to improve the quality of early education and childcare, and to narrow the gap in outcomes for disadvantaged children. So far so good.

Sir Michael Wilshaw went on talk about the confusing and diverse range of language used to describe early years provision and settings and how hard it is for parents to understand the differences and make decisions because of the different inspection regimes.

But where the report became more controversial was its focus on increasing the capacity of school-based early years provision, especially in those local areas where children are doing least well. This seemed to downplay the excellent work being undertaken by the majority of nurseries and other providers in delivering the Early Years Foundation Stage. Surely, where early years education and childcare takes place is less important than the quality of the provision, its appropriateness to the developmental stage of the children and the qualifications of the workforce delivering it?

It was good to hear his commitment to parents as the most important influence on children’s early years. Many Children’s Centres effectively offer that support for parents as first educators in many of those most needy areas which is vital in making a difference to children’s outcomes and we need to acknowledge this contribution.  The importance of parents and carers has been shown time and again, both in research evidence and in our own Making it REAL programme, which seeks to raise early achievement in literacy through supporting the home learning environment.

Ofsted’s report recognised the importance of providing high quality places for two-year olds and in particular the contribution of well qualified staff. While research shows the value of graduate professionals, it is imperative that all early years practitioners have a strong grasp of child development and can meet the individual and personal needs of two-year olds, which can differ quite significantly from those of older pre-school children.

The focus on increased accountability for local authorities was also welcome. However, to be able to effectively carry out these duties sufficient funding and resources must be provided by central government. In addition, we would like to see better joint working between agencies in early years, particularly health, to improve outcomes for children.

Overall the focus on early years signaled by Ofsted’s new report is a positive step for the sector and we hope it will drive forward improvements in quality – but schools alone aren’t the only answer to better childcare and early education. We should look to support schools AND the wider early years sector working together to support a system that can improve and narrow that gap.    


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‘First in the family’ university students build life skills

by Richard Newson March 28, 2014

Harnessing the enthusiasm of students who are the first in their family to attend university, is key to the ‘Life Skills Programme’, says NCB’s Programme Manager for Participation and Skills, Sophie Wood.

On a chilly evening in February, a group of students from Queen Mary, University of London made their way to the imposing glass and steel offices of J.P. Morgan in the heart of Canary Wharf. If the young people, all in their early twenties, were a little nervous it was only to be expected. They were on their way to face a ‘Dragon’s Den’ of J.P. Morgan staff who would give feedback on the Life Skills community projects they had been leading with young people living in Tower Hamlets.

The idea of Life Skills, which is supported by J.P. Morgan and co-ordinated by NCB, Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Roehampton, is to tap into the energy of students who are the first from their family to enter into university education. It brings them together with local young people to devise projects that benefit the community. While the students get a chance to lead volunteer projects they also pass on valuable employability skills and raise the confidence and aspirations of the young people they work with.

Luckily, unlike their television counterparts, the ‘dragons’ in this case were a friendly bunch. They listened intently as they heard about volunteering projects including a family fun day in Bow, a DIY project in Whitechapel Youth Centre and celebration of international culture on the Isle of Dogs. They offered constructive advice on how the students could improve their presentation skills and increase the impact of their projects – and gave valuable insights into the world of work.

For the young people involved, Life Skills delivers a win-win situation. Many of the young people that this project engages with may not, for one reason or another, be considering further education and training. This project brings them together with university students, who can show them what education has to offer and give them the confidence to reach higher. And that includes dealing with a few dragons along the way!

Life Skills is an innovative model of how volunteering while at university can have a positive effect on the lives of local children and young people. We hope that other universities will follow the example, and work with NCB to develop programmes elsewhere.

For more information contact Sophie Wood at NCB:


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