Developing A Fairer Start in Wales: Our Discovery work

The last 18 months have been demanding for those working in the early years in Wales. They have shifted services online, reassessed who might be vulnerable, and delivered practical, material, social and emotional support to children and families. They have redesigned childcare settings to be COVID-safe, and continued to deliver at the height of the pandemic. Now, those involved in the early years are looking hard at what we should keep as we look ahead.

This is the backdrop to the Discovery phase of our A Fairer Start mission in Wales. We want to understand the contributions that Nesta could make to support early years outcomes in Wales and meet our Fairer Start mission goal: that by 2030, the UK will have eliminated the school readiness gap between those born into deprivation and their peers, with similar gains at age 16 among students receiving free school meals.

There’s plenty of research about why the early years are so important, and we have a pretty good understanding of what drives outcomes. But the gap persists. With recent figures from the Bevan Foundation telling us that in every local authority in Wales, more than one in five children now live in poverty, those of us working in this field know we have a huge task ahead.

At Nesta, we want to understand more about the persistent problems, what has worked, and where the sticking points might be. We want to identify the assumptions that we need to challenge when it comes to the early years - including our own - and to identify partners who are interested in working together to develop and test potential new solutions, understand what already works and look at how we implement the best of these ideas.

In particular, we’re interested in how our innovation practices can help to develop new responses, from data analytics, design thinking, experimentation and behavioural insights, to the role we might be able to play as an innovation partner, system shaper and venture builder, investing in new technological solutions to support outcomes.

Child stacks colourful blocks on top of one another

Many childcare settings have been redesigned to be COVID-safe over the last 18 months. Image: Markus Spiske

Over the past few months, we’ve been testing some new ways of working with local authority innovation partners in England. This fast-paced work has led to: collating and presenting local data to provide real-time information to practitioners, and supportively challenging assumptions about needs; assessing the impact of changing health visitor checks from opt-in to opt-out; running experiments to identify what messaging works best to engage different parents.

We’re structuring our Discovery work around four areas linked to our theory of change: poverty, mental health and wellbeing, the home learning environment and childcare. We know that these areas often overlap and that there may be other factors to address, so it's important for us to keep testing and reviewing our theory of change in relation to the situation in Wales.

We’re structuring our Discovery work around four areas linked to our theory of change: poverty, mental health and wellbeing, the home learning environment and childcare.

We’re exploring new questions every week through our Discovery work, identifying where Nesta can potentially make a real impact.

  • Have months of homeschooling changed views of the ‘home learning environment’ for parents, carers, practitioners and children?
  • How can we make sure that education reform and innovation in Wales really does narrow inequalities?
  • How can we better use data to identify needs and design services in Wales?
  • Does a childcare offer for working parents support the children most at risk of falling behind?

If you’d like to be part of this Discovery work, we’d love to hear from you. Whether you have an idea about how we might collaborate, want to share your work with us, or want to respond to some of the issues raised in this blog, we’re interested in a conversation.

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Helen Wales

Helen Wales

Helen Wales

Mission Manager, A Fairer Start mission

Helen joined Nesta in May 2021 as Mission Manager for A Fairer Start and part of the Nesta Cymru team.

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