Early years social mobility peer challenge programme

In December 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) launched Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential: a plan for improving social mobility through education. The plan sets an overarching ambition: no community left behind.


Ambition 1 is to close the word gap in the early years. Children with strong foundations will start school in a position to progress, but too many children still fall behind early, and it is hard to close the gaps that emerge. We need to tackle these development gaps at the earliest opportunity, particularly focusing on the early language and literacy skills, so that all children can begin school ready to thrive.

The drivers of outcomes at age five are broad, and supporting children to develop involves a range of local services including, but not limited to, early education and childcare: for example, early help, family support, public health, primary care and so on. Local authorities sit at the heart of what a locality offers disadvantaged families and have an important role to play in coordinating the efforts of different support partners such as public health. High quality integrated services are essential if we are going to make a positive impact for those children and families that need additional support.

The Government are committed to spreading best practice on improving early language outcomes, with the Early Years Social Mobility Peer Challenge Programme at its heart. The Department has partnered with the LGA to design and deliver the programme, building on existing peer challenge models such as the Corporate Peer Challenge Programme.

The programme was piloted summer 2018, with the full programme currently being rolled out. If you are interested in becoming a peer challenger, please read the Q&A which includes details of how to apply.

What is peer challenge?

A peer challenge is a robust and effective improvement tool managed and delivered by the sector, for the sector. It is not an inspection. Local government leaders and experts, together with key partners – as ‘peers’ – are at the heart of the process. Peer challenges help councils with their improvement and learning by providing a practitioner perspective and ‘critical friend’ challenge. The make-up of the peer team will reflect the requirements of the council receiving the peer challenge. Typically, there will be four peers plus an LGA peer challenge manager in a team with reviews taking place on-site for four days depending on the type and size of local authority.

What will we focus on?

The peer team will explore the effectiveness of local services in improving early outcomes for disadvantaged children at age five, including a particular focus on early language, and identifying opportunities for improvement. The programme will cover the areas that will be critical for improving outcomes, so might cover:

  • leadership
  • data and performance
  • partnership working
  • the quality of local early years services and provision
  • access to targeted support.

DfE have commissioned the Early Intervention Foundation to produce a self-assessment tool to measure progress in delivering a system-wide approach to improving outcomes for children in the early years, with a focus on speech, language and communication skills. Download the EIF Maturity Matrix.

The EIF are also offering an online survey for key stakeholders using the Maturity Matrix and a self-assessment workshop. This will help to identify the key lines of enquiry for the peer challenge, alongside discussions with the LGA. This will ensure that peer challenges remain focused on those areas of particular importance or potential for impact on outcomes for disadvantaged children in that local area.

What will invited councils gain from participating in the programme?

DfE is funding the peer challenge programme. The councils invited to participate will receive a peer challenge that provides robust and external analysis of how local services in their area are performing against the social mobility ambition, with recommendations that will enable them to drive improvement. The LGA will be hosting learning and evaluation events for councils participating in the programme and the regional childrens improvement advisors will also be able to provide ongoing support. A follow up mini review will be offered 12 months after the initial EY peer challenge to help assess how much progress has been made and identify further areas for consideration.

The EIF will be offering a limited number of action planning workshops after the reviews and supporting councils to develop case studies to share good practice and innovation more widely.

What does being a peer challenger involve?

Being part of a peer challenge team is intensive but rewarding. It is a valuable learning experience, enabling a two-way exchange of good practice and provides an opportunity to reflect on your locality’s performance. It highlights innovative ways of working that can support sustained improvement and offers the chance to work alongside people from across the country who have a passion for the early years and children’s services. It is also an opportunity to build long lasting professional networks. We expect peers to have an excellent understanding of services for disadvantaged children and families, and the drivers of outcomes at the age of five; to be inquisitive and open minded; and be able to challenge effectively. Peer challengers will work at a senior level within their organisations, i.e. assistant director, head of service or senior manager. Peer challengers will need to commit to a two day peer challenger training/assessment event and at least one peer challenge per year (minimum of two in total).

Further information

If you are interested in taking part in the early years social mobility peer challenge programme, as a peer challenger, please express your interest by emailing:

Liz Hodgman, LGA Programme Manager: elizabeth.hodgman@local.gov.uk

Richard Cooke, LGA Programme Manager (Children’s Services): richard.cooke@local.gov.uk