Success starts at home

Posted by Dan Breslin / Monday 25 July 2016 / Children's centres Inequality
baby with walker frame

How much time do children spend at home before they start school?

Probably a question you have never really thought about. Some might guess half their time, others might go for all of their time - after all where else would young children be going?

Well, in England, about 70% of the time before a child arrives at school will be spent with their parents, sibling, guardians and wider families. The other 30% will be in childcare learning, exploring and making friends.

But with over two thirds of their time spent at home it makes what happens here incredibly important to their development. Especially in a period as crucial as the early years.

The activities that children and their parents do together are commonly known as the home learning environment. Activities such as reading, playing, drawing and painting.[1]

In fact these activities are so important the home learning environment is the single most important behavioural factor influencing children’s outcomes at age five.[2]

But sadly there are big differences in the type of home learning environments between children from different backgrounds.

Fair by five logo

Children in low income families have worse home learning environments than their more affluent peers.[3] Children in these families receive on average, 40 minutes a day less parental engagement in developmental activities than children living in high income families.[4] This is a gap which is widening.[5]

This isn’t to say some parents do not love their children or are not spending time with their children on fun activities. We know many are.

Research has found that parent’s occupation, income and education can account for some of the difference.[6] We also know parent’s lack of time, English as a second language and parental confidence are big challenges to overcome.[7]

These differences can have far reaching consequences.


Children with better home learning environments are three times more likely to achieve five A-C GCSEs. A young person with five A-C GCSEs stands to earn on average £80,000 more over their lifetimes.

We know there is a problem. We know the challenges that need to be overcome. Now we need government to do something about it.

It is still early days, but there has already been an indication that the new Prime Minister wants to carry on the life chances agenda and improve prospects for the most disadvantage children.

With GCSE results a key measure of success, the Government's increased focus on social mobility is a perfect opportunity to make it a priority to improve support for parenting to make a difference in the home learning environment for disadvantaged children.

As part of our Fair by Five campaign we are calling on government to do this.

We also want to see more research to know what works and greater investment in new approaches. We are also pushing to make sure government addresses the wider influences that have a negative effect on parents, such as living in poverty.

And you can help by spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter by signing up to our Thunderclap. We need to shout loud enough so Government can hear our message that focusing on the most disadvantaged children in the first years of their lives can improve social mobility within our country. 

[1] Department for Education (2011) Families in the Foundation Years: Evidence Pack [pdf] London: Department for Education. Available at: [Accessed 7 March 2016].

[2] Field, F. (2010) The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults. London: HM Government

[3] Dearden, L., Sibieta, L., Sylva, K., (2010) The socio-economic gradient in early child outcomes: evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study. [pdf] London: Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at: [Accessed 10 June 2016].

[4] Social Mobility Commission, (2015) Socio-economic influences on children’s life chances. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2016].

[5] Social Mobility Commission, (2015) Socio-economic influences on children’s life chances. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2016].

[6] UCL Institute of Health Equity (2012) An Equal Start: Improving outcomes in Children’s Centres, The Evidence Review. London: UCL Institute of Health Equity.

[7] Department for Education (2011). Provider influence on the early home learning environment (EHLE). [pdf] London: Department for Education. Available at: [Accessed 7 March 2016].

Join the conversation.

Find out how you can become a campaigner, stay up to date with our latest tweets and join in the discussion on our blog.