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Reports Part of series: Education & Covid-19: BERA Small Grants Fund research reports

Examining the impact of Covid-19 on children’s centres in Bristol

Lessons for policy, practice & promoting life chances in the early years

The Covid-19 crisis has had a highly damaging effect on many children, families and parents. However, despite an extensive body of evidence that shows how critical the early years are for supporting child development, promoting educational opportunities and reducing attainment gaps, relatively little attention has been paid to the pandemic’s impacts on the early years and key anchor institutions such as children’s centres.

This report:

  • investigates how Covid-19 has impacted on children’s centres as organisations, the services they offer, and the families that use them
  • considers the key challenges facing centres in supporting and offering services to families and children, particularly those associated with promoting school readiness and tackling educational inequality
  • asks how strategies, responses and decisions are developed and made in response to these challenges.

Its findings focus on staff, parents, food insecurity and the future role for children’s centres, and indicate the need for a comprehensive and high-profile official consultation on the future of children’s centres, and for renewed attention to be given to the importance of early years in what is likely to be the ‘Covid decade’.

Report summary

The goal of this project was to investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s centres in Bristol and how they responded to it. We wanted to understand how the pandemic had affected their ability to function as organisations, and the work they do to support parents, children and families. Originally known as Sure Start children’s centres, they work with families to reduce inequalities in child developmental outcomes, promote school readiness, and foster parental aspirations, skills and family health.

Starting in September 2020, we conducted an in-depth study across the city, involving 60 interviews with children’s centre leaders and staff, key service providers and local experts with knowledge of the city’s early years sector. Study participants were ideally placed to shed light on how their work has changed and on which services the centres have and have not been able to provide. The project offers a distinctive perspective on how the pandemic has negatively impacted families, children and local communities.


Profile picture of William Baker
William Baker, Dr

Senior Lecturer at University of Bristol

Will Baker is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Bristol. His research focuses on education, food insecurity and educational inequality – particularly how it connects to parenting. Will has recently conducted a project that has...

Profile picture of Ioanna Bakopoulou
Ioanna Bakopoulou, Dr

Lecturer at University of Bristol

Dr Ioanna Bakopoulou is a lecturer in psychology in education and an educational psychologist by background with 20 years applied educational psychology experience. Her research interests include language inequalities in the early years,...