HELPING youngsters in the most deprived communities start school ‘ready to learn’ will be a council priority this year, according to a report.

Council bosses hope to ‘narrow the gap’, with the rate of children eligible for free-school meals hitting development targets considerably lower than that of their classmates.

Figures tabled to a council committee next Tuesday show the overall rate of children assessed as having a good level of development (GLD) at the end of their reception year has increased from 38 per cent in 2013 – when the assessments were introduced – to 69 per cent in 2018.

However, less than half (49 per cent) of children who are eligible for free school meals reach this standard, the report adds, which is below the national (53 per cent) and regional (56 per cent) average.

The report, provided by director of children’s services James Winterbottom, reads: “At early years foundation stage we need to narrow the gap between the wider population and those children in our most deprived communities ensuring all children get the best start in life.”

A disparity between different areas across the borough has also been highlighted, with overall figures ranging between 66 per cent and 74 per cent, and 44 per cent and 60 per cent for the free school meals cohort.

The council launched a Leading Early Years Excellence Partnership (LEYEP) earlier this year which officers say will develop a ‘self-improving system’ through co-operation between schools and childcare services.

And the introduction of the 30 hours childcare pilot in the borough ‘will play a key role in driving forward improvements in school readiness’, the report adds.

School readiness levels are assessed by teachers during the reception year at school, taking into account a child’s personal, social and emotional development in addition to communication and language skills.

The council launched Start Well reforms in 2016, setting up five children and family hubs across the borough, to ‘ensure more families get the support they need’.

The performance review report for the council’s children’s services will be discussed by a town hall scrutiny committee at its meeting on Tuesday, August 7.