Early childhood is recognised as a key developmental phase with implications for social, academic, health and wellbeing outcomes in later childhood and indeed throughout the adult lifespan. Community level data on inequalities in early child development are therefore required to establish the impact of government early years’ policies and programmes on children’s strengths and vulnerabilities at local and national level. This would allow local leaders to target tailored interventions according to community needs to improve children’s readiness for the transition to school. The challenge is collecting valid data on sufficient samples of children entering school to derive robust inferences about each local birth cohort’s developmental status. This information needs to be presented in a way that allows community stakeholders to understand the results, expediting the improvement of preschool programming to improve future cohorts’ development in the early years. The aim of the study was to carry out a pilot to test the feasibility and ease of use in Scotland of the 104-item teacher-administered Early Development Instrument, an internationally validated measure of children’s global development at school entry developed in Canada.
Phase 1 was piloted in an education district with 14 Primary 1 teachers assessing a cohort of 154 children, following which the instrument was adapted for the Scottish context (Scottish Early Development Instrument: SEDI). Phase 2 was then carried out using the SEDI. Data were analysed from a larger sample of 1090 participants, comprising all Primary 1 children within this school district, evaluated by 68 teachers.
The SEDI displayed adequate psychometric and discriminatory properties and is appropriate for use across Scotland without any further modifications. Children in the lowest socioeconomic status quintiles were 2–3 times more likely than children in the most affluent quintile to score low in at least one developmental domain. Even in the most affluent quintile though, 17% of children were ‘developmentally vulnerable’, suggesting that those in need cannot be identified by socioeconomic status alone.
The SEDI offers a feasible means of providing communities with a holistic overview of school readiness for targeting early years’ interventions.