Tackling inequality in education

Education – like energy – is one of life’s essentials. Without it, people can’t access the best jobs and communities can’t thrive. That’s why we’re committed to tackling educational inequality – one of our three areas of focus at OVO Foundation.


30 October 2019

There’s a direct link between a family’s income and their children’s educational achievement. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds (in terms of their family socioeconomic status) can’t access the same opportunities as their peers. And that inequality gap starts to take shape early when they’re learning to communicate. 

By the time they reach school, that gap gets even bigger. And as these children grow up, they’re far more likely to have fewer qualifications and opportunities.

We believe this should change. That’s why, thanks to an amazing response to our call for proposals, we’re boosting our support for projects that tackle educational inequality in the early years between the ages of 0 and 5.

Earlier this year, we turned to research to understand where to start. It found that working with children at this early stage is when we can make the biggest and most profound impact in solving these inequalities. 


So, we’re kicking things off by providing £240,000 of funding over the next two years to three promising projects:

  • Doorstep Library provide a weekly reading and book lending service directly to family homes in deprived areas of London. They’ll now expand their current work supporting families with children up to the age of 5, including helping them find other local services that they could benefit from.
  • Parental Engagement Network (PEN) build effective relationships with parents and carers in early years settings, to help improve children’s literacy and school readiness. They’ll now scale up their school transition and home learning projects in Liverpool and expand to Trafford while helping to improve practitioners’ skills and embed the projects into each setting.
  • Tales Toolkit provide online training and resources for educators to deliver play-based storytelling to children in early years settings in order to develop language, literacy and socioemotional skills. Supported by an expert team in parent engagement and learning from Goldsmiths, University of London, their project will train practitioners in Stockport, Rochdale and Newham (London) to engage and support families, so that they can use the resources with their children at home too. 


All three projects focus on communication and language, which is a crucial building block in children’s development and the key to both their wellbeing and learning. 

We also know that to close the attainment gap during the early years, we need to engage parents in creating a positive home learning environment (HLE). The projects will all work through early years practitioners and volunteers sharing resources to collectively support families across the country.

This is approach is backed up by a few key studies:

  1. The HLE has a greater impact on a child’s intellectual and social development than their parent’s income, education or occupation. (Sylva et al, 2004)
  2. Parents have the most significant influence on a child’s development (Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services, 2010)


Adding to that, the Social Mobility Commission’s recent report notes that efforts in the early years must ensure the hardest to reach parents and most vulnerable families benefit from investment in the HLE. 

Crucially, we’ll also work with the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), the Sutton Trust and Professor Kathy Sylva from the University of Oxford to advise the projects on their monitoring and evaluation, making sure they lead the way in making educational inequality a thing of the past.

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