Panellists at the Think Equal celebration event
children early years

Teachers and parents mark success of early years programme helping 42,000 children across GM

  • Think Equal early years programme supports social and emotional development in early years education
  • Programme directly responds to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the social and emotional development of children under the age of five
  • 965 reception classes and 659 nurseries across all 10 local authorities have enrolled in the scheme
  • More than 42,000 children have benefitted from the Think Equal programme in Greater Manchester – a UK first in terms of its scale and part of the city-region’s ongoing investment in early years education
  • Teachers and early year practitioners praised at an in-person celebration event.

Teachers and parents have celebrated the success of a pioneering early years development programme supporting more than 42,000 children across Greater Manchester.

The event at the Deansgate Hilton Hotel on Tuesday (21 November), was held to the celebrate the achievements of the Think Equal programme in helping children recover emotionally and educationally post Covid-19 pandemic.

The scheme’s rollout is a UK first in terms of its scale, with 965 reception classes and 659 nurseries across all 10 local authorities delivering the scheme.

Think Equal, which has been delivered in schools and nurseries across Greater Manchester, has seen more than 42,000 children in their early years benefit from the curriculum-based programme, which supports the social and emotional development for children aged 3 to 5.

The programme is jointly funded by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority School Readiness programme, NHS Greater Manchester, and the Greater Manchester Violence Reduction Unit.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “The value of the early years to an individual’s life chances cannot be overstated. Since 2018, we’ve been working with partners across the system to address the school readiness gap for our 5-year-olds in Greater Manchester, ensuring that they have the best start in life. We know that when the pandemic hit in 2020 families, especially those with babies and young children, were significantly impacted.

“When published later this month, we expect the latest school readiness data to show early signs that our Covid recovery strategies in Greater Manchester are working, and this is down to the difference that our skilled early years workforce have made on the lives of young children and their wider families.

“The rollout of the Think Equal programme across the city-region is at the heart of our Covid recovery work and our school readiness strategy. It’s a programme that is vital in recognising the importance of emotional as well as academic development. I can’t thank our teachers and early education workforce in nurseries and schools enough for how successful Think Equal has been here in Greater Manchester, in addition to their day-to-day work in schools and nurseries. The early education workforce are a crucial part of the wider education system and we value and recognise the contribution they are making to improving school readiness outcomes for our youngest residents, ensuring they get the best start in life.”

The scheme is rooted in mental health and social justice and aims to build a strong foundation for individual and societal progress. Designed by global experts in the fields of education, human rights, neuroscience and psychology, the Think Equal programme is evidence-based, holistic, easy to use and impactful. It offers a narrative based approach and is delivered flexibly through a collection of picture books with accompanying teachers notes and lesson plans.

Think Equal helps children learn to:

  • Build their confidence and self-esteem
  • Have empathy and show consideration for others
  • Manage their own emotions and impulsive behaviours
  • Solve problems effectively and learn to resolve conflicts peacefully
  • Build critical thinking skills and make responsible decisions
  • Maintain healthy relationships and learn to collaborate

Councillor Mark Hunter, Leader of Stockport Council and Children and Young People lead for Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said: “We know that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on early childhood development and the core skills that children need when starting school. The Think Equal scheme is vital in responding to these challenges, to help support social and emotional wellbeing and learning for our youngest children.

“The large-scale delivery of the Think Equal programme across all 10 boroughs in the city-region is a huge success and demonstrates the innovative approach to doing things differently in Greater Manchester, ensuring every child has the best start in life and starts school ready to learn.”

The programme aligns with wider approaches that support social and emotional wellbeing and development including rights based and trauma informed schools.

Rachel O-Neil, headteacher at Hoyle Nursery School, Bury says: “After recognising a noticeable dip in the personal, social and emotional development of our children following the impact of Covid-19, we became a Trauma Informed School and began delivering programmes with a social and emotional focus, including Think Equal.

“As a Nursery school in the heart of a very deprived and vulnerable area, we have a lot of children and families who have experienced trauma in their lives either in our country or from their starting point in life and we are always looking at ways to support them. We have prided ourselves on introducing Think Equal and staff feel they now have a better understanding of emotional well-being and how we can provide our children with the best care. We are also able to provide support to our parents which is having such a positive, happy impact within our nursery community.”

The 30-week programme is fully aligned with the early years foundation stage (EYFS) curriculum and teaches 25 skills and competencies to help children through their early childhood education.

Think Equal was founded by the former filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, who acts as the group’s Executive Chair.

Leslee said: “I am very happy that Greater Manchester is taking a leadership position in the UK in grasping the importance of this programme to create a better society. 

“I’m in love with this incredible city-region and I’m so inspired by the teachers and early years workforce here, whose commitment to their youngest citizens is awe-inspiring and exemplary.

“This implementation of Think Equal in Greater Manchester is showing the same impact that we see elsewhere in the world. The results speak for themselves, with teachers able to cite countless examples of positive behaviour change. The cost of our programme also pays dividends in the long run, with the price of teaching these positive behaviours to 42,000 children the same as incarcerating one violent offender for a year. For me it’s simple: by investing in our children’s emotional and social wellbeing, we will reduce many of the harmful behaviours that wreak so much havoc in our society. This is the best social investment we can make.”

Not for the first time, Greater Manchester has proven that it’s willing to innovate to drive change. We’re calling on policymakers in Westminster and across the UK to follow its lead and fulfil their duty of care to our nation’s children, especially post-Covid, when their developmental and learning losses are so much in evidence.”

Teachers and members of the early years workforce came together on Tuesday 21 November at The Hilton to celebrate the success of the scheme and the role they’ve played in making it happen. They heard speeches from the founder and executive chair of Think Equal, Leslee Udwin; Chris McLoughlin, Executive Director People and Integration and Director of Children’s Services at Stockport Council; and other key figures from early education and mental health in Greater Manchester.



Article Published: 23/11/2023 14:26 PM