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Research School Network: Putting the evidence into action in the early years Challenges, dilemmas and ways forward for a project with a group of over 100 early years settings

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Putting the evidence into action in the early years

Challenges, dilemmas and ways forward for a project with a group of over 100 early years settings

by East London Research School
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I like the work the EEF has done around putting evidence into action, for example the School’s Guide to Implementation. I find many of the reminders helpful, most notably the emphasis on the explore’ and prepare’ phases. In my free publication, Working with the Revised Early Years Foundation Stage: Principles into Practice, I have tried to bring together some of the evidence about effective professional development in the early years, with the approaches in the EEF’s guidance. This is shown in the illustration below, drawn by Juli Dosad and adapted from the EEF’s guidance.

Imp 1

Unfortunately, events are messier than diagrams. We aren’t the rational beings’ that the models want us to be, living our best professional lives.

In this blog, I’m going to think about a typical situation. The new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) becomes statutory in September. As we get closer to that deadline, the heat is rising. Schools and early years settings become aware that they need to prepare. Briefing and training is called for, often at short notice. In these contexts, we can get implementation wrong. If we are not careful, prepare’ and explore’ become a couple of briefing meetings The next thing we know, we are in full-on action-mode, making changes all over the place at speed.

What happens if we try to resist this? In this blog, I’m going to be exploring what happens if we hold onto the idea that there is another way. If only we could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

Edward bear copy

A group of Teaching Schools, together with East London Research School, has been working on a project with Pen Green Centre for Children and Families. We are aiming to support around 100 private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nursery settings as they prepare for the revised EYFS. The latest available statistics tell us that the majority of two and three-year olds access their early education entitlement in PVI settings. This sector is central to early education and care in England.

It’s tempting to set up a programme of professional development and deliver it to the settings. That’s generally what happens in the early years and also the school sector. In fact, as I write, dozens of consultants and private businesses are doing just that. In my experience, much of that work will be costly to their customers. Yet it will make little difference to the children’s experience of early education and care.

Instead, a different approach might proceed with three working assumptions.

We need to have a theory of change’. What is it we want to offer, and what changes do we expect this to make? 

We need to consider the best available evidence. What are the most important things for participants to learn and be able to do, as a result of our programme? We want our work to improve all children’s early learning, and especially those who are disadvantaged by our current system. 

We need to make sure our programme aligns with the changes to the EYFS. We must also be mindful of the organisational needs and challenges of the PVI settings.

We only have a month to work on this programme. So that means facing up to another important reality. Our work won’t, in itself, make a significant different. The evidence suggests (e.g. FEEL Study; PLEYE Review) that an effective programme of professional development will last at least 20 weeks. It will include:

some training days or half days, with independent learning and briefer sessions and regular recaps

a mixture of up-front teaching of skills and key concepts

time for practitioner reflection and discussion

ongoing support and mentoring to support with implementation.

In a month, we can help PVI settings with the explore’ phase, so they are ready to prepare for the changes to the EYFS. We can alert them to the importance of having realistic plans in place for the professional development their teams will need in the 2021 – 22 year.

Settings must adhere to the legal changes in the EYFS. But overall, it makes much more sense to see implementing the new framework as a year-long process, and not a single event’. It mustn’t be all-change’ on the first day of September. We’ve all bumped down the stairs like that too many times.

That’s why one of our first actions was to design a diagnostic questionnaire’ for the PVI settings engaged in our project. That will help us to understand their values, needs and strengths.

In the next blog in this series, I’m going to be exploring what we’ve learnt about the settings. What might this might mean for the early years in England as we begin to bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic?

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