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NatCen to lead national evaluation of A Better Start

11 November 2021

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) will lead the evaluation of A Better Start, the National Lottery-funded programme focused on promoting good early childhood development.

NatCen and a consortium of partners from University of Sussex, Research in Practice (RiP), the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) and RSM were awarded the contract for the national evaluation of A Better Start by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme that aims to improve the life chances of babies and very young children by changing the way services are commissioned and delivered, involving parents as equal partners. The programme funds local partnerships in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend-on-Sea.

Led by NatCen, the consortium will investigate if and how A Better Start has contributed to improving children’s life chances, with a focus on diet and nutrition, social and emotional skills and language and communication skills. The evaluation will benefit from the experiences of A Better Start parents and practitioners who will be recruited to panels to provide advice and guidance to the evaluation team.

Researchers will also explore the experiences of families and parents from diverse backgrounds who participated in the programme and assess whether there is evidence that A Better Start has reduced costs to the public purse relating to primary school-aged children.

Martina Vojtkova, Director of NatCen’s Policy Research Centre, said: “We are delighted to lead the national evaluation of the innovative A Better Start programme. The consortium led by NatCen will bring together internationally recognised expertise in the field of early childhood development, supported by our strong track record of delivering complex and large-scale evaluations.”

Tina Haux, Director of NatCen’s Centre for Children and Families, said: “At a time when societal inequalities in the UK are disproportionately affecting children and families, early childhood support has never been more important. This evaluation will provide invaluable insights into the interventions that work best for supporting local families and their children’s development.”.

Sophy Proctor, Senior Head of Funding (Strategic Programmes) at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, we were able to set up A Better Start – a funding programme with one simple goal: to improve the life chances of babies and young children. This evaluation, undertaken by NatCen and partners, will allow us to share with our stakeholders evidence demonstrating the contribution A Better Start has made to improving early childhood development. The evaluation will include families’ experiences and insights, so that, together, we can improve early childhood services for the better.”

National evaluation findings will be shared in the ‘A Better Start - Shared Learning’ newsletter, produced by NCB on behalf of The National Lottery Community Fund. The newsletter is full of insights for services and practitioners focused on improving early years outcomes. You can sign up to the newsletter here.

ENDS

For more information please contact:

Oliver Paynel, Communications Manager, National Centre for Social Research
e: oliver.paynel@natcen.ac.uk t: 0207 549 9550 m: 07734 960 071

Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications, National Centre for Social Research
e: katie.crabb@natcen.ac.uk t: 0207 549 8504

Notes to editors

1. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).

2. The National Lottery Community Fund is the largest funder of community activity in the UK – we’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. National Lottery players raise £36 million each week for good causes throughout the UK. Since The National Lottery began in 1994 £43 billion has been raised for good causes. ** National Lottery funding has been used to support over 635,000 projects.** That’s 255 projects per postcode area.* We are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. At the heart of everything we do is the belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, our funding is open to everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, enabling people and communities to bring their ambitions to life.

* based on 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021.

** based on figures from November 1994 to 31 March 2021.

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3. A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. There are five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham, and Southend, supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language, and communication.