The past few months have witnessed a sustained focus on early years education, with several government reports and initiatives aimed at raising standards in this area.
On November 21st, the government announced that integrated health and early years reviews are to be introduced next year for two to two-and-a-half-year-olds.
Combining these reviews, which are currently carried out separately, will ensure parents get a more complete picture of their child, drawing on the expertise of health visitors and early years practitioners.
Integrating these assessments will improve the process by avoiding duplication. They are to be carried out at age two because this is when problems such as speech delay and behavioural issues tend to emerge.
A report published by the Department for Education on a two-year pilot of integrated reviews from 2012 to 2013 found that parents preferred a joined-up approach.
Led by the National Children's Bureau, the report recommended that local areas decide the best approach to integrating the two reviews, based on local need or circumstances.
Childcare and education minister Sam Gyimah said: "The early years count and this new approach will reassure parents they have the information they need to support their children when they are growing up to give them the best possible start in life.
"This is a fantastic example of government departments working together to improve the services on offer to parents."
Supporting early years progress
In October, the government announced that more progress needs to be made on early years education after new data revealed there continues to be a gap between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and their better-off counterparts.
Although 60 per cent of children aged five are making good progress against the early years foundation stage profile, a 12 per cent gap remained between those from more disadvantaged areas and those from better-off backgrounds.
A gender divide was also identified, with 69 per cent of girls achieving a good level of development compared with 52 per cent of boys - particularly in writing.
High-quality early years education can have a significant impact on youngsters' future success. Research has found that children who attend pre-school are more likely to get better GCSEs and are projected to earn £27,000 more during their career than those who don't.
Mr Gyimah said more needs to be done to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As the government had strengthened the pupil premium, he called on those who support children to ensure they get a good start in life.
The early years pupil premium
The government has pledged extra financial support for disadvantaged three and four-year-olds with the introduction of the early years pupil premium.
Worth up to £300 per pupil, the investment is designed to ensure those from low-income backgrounds do not fall behind their peers. It is intended to build on the achievements of the pupil premium, which has helped to improve outcomes for disadvantaged youngsters.
The early years pupil premium is to be introduced in April 2015. Before then, the government announced that seven areas will share a £1 million pot to trial the new support ahead of its roll-out.
Nurseries are to be given the freedom to decide how to use the funding, which could go towards the recruitment of qualified staff or specialists in activities like speech and language to provide an extra focus on basic skills.
Mr Gyimah said: "We know the first few years of a child's life can be make or break in terms of how well they go on to do at school and beyond."
"We want to see this money being put to the best use to ensure that all children, whatever their background, are getting the best start in life."
Taken together, these initiatives and funding will enable those in teaching jobs to provide greater support for youngsters and have a significant impact on education standards further down the line.
Posted by Theo Foulds