The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults

Policy Title: The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults

Author: Frank Field

Institution: Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances for HM Government

Full reference: Field, F. (2010) The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults. The report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances. London: Cabinet Office.


Frank Field was commissioned by the Prime Minister in June 2010 to provide an independent review on poverty and life chances. His report sets out a new approach towards abolishing child poverty. The report discusses evidence that increased income does not automatically protect poor children against the high risk that they will end up in poverty themselves as adults. It proposes a shift in the focus of the child poverty strategy so that it also addresses other factors that affect life chances, such as a healthy pregnancy, positive but authoritative parenting, high quality childcare, a positive approach to learning at home and parents’ qualifications.

The review finds that children’s development in the first five years of life has the strongest impact on their life chances and recommends that the Government gradually moves funding to the early years, and that this funding is weighted toward the most disadvantaged children. It proposes consolidating universal, coherent support from conception to age five as the Foundation Years – with a Cabinet Minister sited jointly in the Department for Education and Department of Health to take responsibility for this area. It makes proposals for Sure Start Childrens’ Centre services to be expanded to provide a first port of call for parent-centred Foundation Years services. This would be ‘the first pillar of a new tripartite education system’ made up of the Foundation Years, school years, and further and continuing education.

The report recommends that support should be evidence-based and that data should be collected and shared so as to enable monitoring and high quality evaluation of new approaches. To this end, it recommends the establishment of a new suite of measures, Life Chances Indicators, to run alongside existing financial poverty measures. Following a literature review to identify drivers and indicators of life chances used in existing research and assessment of child development the University of Bristol were commissioned to conduct a quantitative analysis, using the Millennium Cohort Study, to help inform the review’s selection of factors for inclusion in the Life Chances Indicators that would be predictive of future outcomes. The findings from the analysis are available on the Review website: Washbrook, E. (2010) Early environments and child outcomes. University of Bristol. Analysis commissioned by the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances.

Although the review focuses on the early years, it recognises that important changes take place later in children’s lives and that investment in the early years will not be fully effective unless followed up with high quality services for those who need them most later in childhood. It recommends that over time the Government should look at establishing Life Chances Indicators to measure progress in widening life chances for poorer children at the age of ten, and then again at the end of their secondary schooling. It proposes that, through Ofsted, schools should be held to account for reducing the attainment gap as well as raising overall standards. The report identifies parental engagement with their childrens’ education as a key factor and proposes that schools be encouraged to engage more fully with parents.

Read the report.