Thrive at Five – comparative child development at school entry age in Scotland

Date: 2nd November 2012
Category: Basic Health and Welfare, Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities, General measures of implementation
Author: Save the Children

Children who grow up in poverty start primary school with development levels far behind those of their more affluent peers. That's the key finding of new research commissioned by Save the Children.

Ultimately, the consequences of this developmental gap are found in the lack of future opportunities of children living in poverty. 'Thrive at 5' strongly argues the need to provide additional support in the early years for children living in poverty.


The purpose of the research was to:

1. Develop a better understanding of a child's preparedness for entering school.
2. Examine whether and what the difference is between the developmental health/ capacity of children living in poverty in Scotland and their peers when they start school,
3. Provide an example of an evidence base to help us examine whether work being carried out in the early years is leading to positive outcomes for children living in poverty.

The research was carried out by Scotcen Social Research using data from the Growing Up in Scotland study.


Key findings

Children living in poverty in Scotland are twice as likely to start school with developmental difficulties as other children.

The study found that children living in poverty are behind in every developmental area

  • Twice as likely as other children to have difficulties with their physical development
  • Twice as likely to face emotional difficulties when starting school
  • 50% more likely to face difficulties with social knowledge and competence i.e. mixing with other children
  • 40% more likely to be behind in their cognitive development i.e. a child's ability to gain knowledge and learn
  • Twice as likely to have problems with communication and expressing themselves or making themselves understood



Save the Children is calling for the Scottish Government to:

1. Further support children living in poverty in the early years, for example by extending pre-school entitlement to all 2 year olds in poverty and creating an entitlement for poorer families to have access to parenting and family support programmes.

2. Tackle child poverty by ensuring family incomes are protected and maximised and delivering on the Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland.