STRUGGLING three to seven-year-olds in Sheffield schools are being left behind by higher achieving youngsters, according to a new council report.
The gap between the lowest achieving 20 per cent of children and the rest widened by two per cent in 2010 - and tackling the issue must be a top priority for schools, councillors have been warned.
The setback means that Sheffield is now one of the lowest ranked authorities in the country in terms of its efforts to narrow the gap - down to 150th out of 152.
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Report author Jane Golightly said: “Analysis is going on to attempt to discover the issues and reasons behind this worsening in attainment levels, and more needs to be done to improve the situation.”
Achievement levels by young children are continuing to rise in general but the pattern is inconsistent across the city.
While Sheffield is meeting its agreed targets overall in regard to tests of pupil development, the city is still behind the national average.
Standards in reading and writing last year were both on the up, writing climbing to its highest ever level - but maths results were down by almost two per cent.
A report to the children and young people’s scrutiny committee said support for needy and vulnerable youngsters at the start of their education was vital if they were to break the cycle of child poverty.
Children in the bottom 20 per cent are likely to have learning difficulties and disabilities, be summer-born children, speak English as a second language or be in care.
Pupils are currently assessed at the age of five and then again at seven.
There are checks on their personal, social and emotional development, and on their communication, language and literacy skills.
Sheffield children have overall made good progress over the last five years and are improving more rapidly than other large cities.
Support has come from a range of nationally-funded programmes which helped children and provided specialist training for teachers and other staff.
Improvement rates may have risen even faster but many schools have reported difficulty in recruiting and retaining the high quality staff they need, the report says.
Good rates of achievement before the age of seven are the main influence on high standards and good results for the rest of a child’s time in education, it adds.
Mrs Golightly said parental involvement was especially important, and said many nurseries and pre-schools now provided classes encouraging family learning, such as bingo sessions to improve maths skills.