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Durham University

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Sure Start in County Durham

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


Sure Start was developed as part of the Government's drive to tackle child poverty and social exclusion. It aims to improve the health and well-being of families and children before and from birth, so children are ready to flourish when they go to school. Two strategies in achieving this are the creation of local Sure Start programmes to improve services for families with children under four; and spreading good practice learned from local programmes to everyone involved in providing services for young children. By 2004, there will be at least 500 Sure Start local programmes.


All Sure Start local programmes are required to carry out both local and national evaluations. In County Durham, local programmes have joined together to form the County Durham Sure Start Research Consortium, whereby the University of Durham will carry out all their local evaluations. Within the County Durham Sure Start Research Consortium there are currently eight Sure Start local programmes - they are: Brandon and Deerness; Chester-le-Street, Darlington 3, Darlington5, Ferryhill/Chilton, Peterlee, Seaham and Wear Valley. Our aim within the local evaluations is to enable each local programme to:

  • Understand how well their services are performing 
  • Keep track of progress in meeting the objectives and targets of Sure Start 
  • Make changes to their programme as a result of evaluation findings.


Each programme has taken a lead from the evaluators and has been involved in what is being evaluated and the methods used. In general three perspectives will guide the evaluation: what parents think, what children think and what staff groups think. Each perspective calls for a different range of methods of data collection such as forum discussion groups, surveys, formal and informal interviews, questionnaires, and observations. In estimating the cost effectiveness of the programmes at a local level, we will be using guidelines as set out by the National Evaluation of Sure Start.


Sure Start programmes. In assessing these first three areas, the approach we are taking is 'utilisation-focussed', working closely with the partnerships to develop a research design that responds to the needs of each individual programme. In this way we are focussing on areas of particular challenge and innovation in each programme, as well as drawing out themes that are common to more than one programme, in particular those that arise from the Sure Start priorities.


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