The early years got an unlikely new champion last week in Shakira, who told the Financial Times that “early childhood development is a test of whether our society can rise above short-termism to do what’s best for all of us in the long run.”
Never has a truer word been spoken by a pop diva! We know that good early years provision can have lasting benefits on a child’s attainment, from primary school to GCSE and beyond, so of course we should do all we can to provide the best possible early years environments. There is evidence that quality early years education has a particularly large effect on disadvantaged children, so is also crucial to breaking the link between family income and educational attainment.
Research has shown that differences in a child’s development linked to background can be seen as early as 22 months. By the time a child from a low-income home starts primary school, they will already be a number of months behind their richer peers. Depressingly, this gap only widens as children progress through the education system.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that this gap is not inevitable. Children from low-income families are just as capable of progressing as well as their friends from better-off backgrounds.
Early Years Pupil Premium
By providing childcare settings with additional resources to meet the needs of their most disadvantaged pupils, the Early Years Pupil Premium is a welcome step towards addressing this problem. At the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), we think the best way to make the most of the Early Years Pupil Premium and narrow the attainment gap is to carefully test different approaches, build an evidence base of effective methods and encourage early years practitioners to apply the evidence in their own settings.
Over the next few years we will fund independent evaluations of different early years approaches to try and find the best ways to raise attainment for disadvantaged children before they turn five.
Last month we awarded funding to the National Day Nurseries Association to test their Maths Champions programme in 120 nurseries. Our independent evaluation will find out if training early years staff to build maths into their everyday interactions with children can help boost children’s development.
Early Years Toolkit
Alongside our efforts to create new evidence for early years practitioners by funding evaluations, we are making current research available in an accessible form through our Early Years Toolkit. This resource, which is free to use, is an accessible summary of research evidence that covers 12 topics, including parental engagement and digital technology. The Toolkit provides information on the likely impact of a particular approach on learning, as well as its cost and the strength of the research evidence conducted on the approach.
The Toolkit is a live resource, and will be extended and updated on a regular basis as findings from EEF-funded projects and other research becomes available. We always welcome suggestions for areas to be included in future updates and are looking for both those topics with strong supporting research and those that will be of most interest to early years professionals.
So how could you use our Toolkit?
Take for example the topic on communication and language approaches. According to evidence summarised by the Toolkit, learning methods that help develop a child’s speaking skills can help boost their learning by as much as six additional months over the course of the year. The evidence around it is pretty strong too.
Of course every years setting is different so you should think about the best ways to introduce language learning into your own. Perhaps you could think of ways to integrate new words into everyday activities or start regular sessions where you encourage your children to read aloud and discuss what they've read.
More than anything, we hope the Toolkit can be a starting point for evidence-informed decision-making in the early years. Whilst it’s not a guaranteed formula for success, it helps map out promising routes that early years practitioners can follow to spend their resources in ways that are likely to have the biggest impact on learning.
About the author
Peter is a Research Officer at the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). The EEF is an independent grant-making charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement, ensuring that children from all backgrounds can fulfil their potential and make the most of their talents. Peter joined the EEF in 2013 and his responsibilities include managing a portfolio of grants, developing the Teaching and Learning Toolkit and Early Years Toolkit, and developing the EEF’s campaigns.