Research School Network: Blog: The updated Early Years Toolkit: A welcome addition for the early years sector Rob Newton explains the important role of early years professionals, and how the EEF’s updated toolkit can support them


Blog: The updated Early Years Toolkit: A welcome addition for the early years sector

Rob Newton explains the important role of early years professionals, and how the EEF’s updated toolkit can support them

Rob Newton is Associate Strategic Director at Huntington Research School and also works at City of York Council where he leads on a variety of improvement work across the diverse early years sectors.

Congratulations!’ beamed a dad of a child in my class.

Er, thanks…what for?’ I replied, bemused.

Your promotion’ he said with utmost sincerity, we’ve always thought you were a great teacher.’

This exchange took place a couple of years into my teaching career – it was one of many that would happen after the school announced which teachers were going to be where the following year.

There was no promotion. I was simply moving from Year 3 to Year 5.

Over the years, I’ve encountered this mindset time and time again. The idea that working with younger children is somehow less important’ than older children is particularly felt in the early years sector.

To this day I still regularly find myself having to call out and correct this misconception. Research from the Royal Foundation’s work shows us how widespread a societal issue this is.

However, the evidence helps us to know different. Outcomes in the early years are hugely important, and often highly predictive of future outcomes, with the outcome gap’ already apparent at 18 months of age. High quality early years professionals play a critical role in laying good foundations and setting children up for success.

Uptake of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is now almost universal and the overall quality of that provision is significantly higher than 20 years ago. However, the sector is currently under significant strain and maintaining standards in these circumstances can be challenging.

Education evidence is here to help

Today, the Education Endowment Foundation released their updated Early Years Toolkit. By summarising what research tells us about a variety of different learning and development approaches, it could be a helpful place to start for those thinking about how to maintain or improve quality in their setting or school.


Each strand’ of the updated Toolkit walks the reader through:

  • what the approach is;
  • key findings from the evidence about the approach;
  • the potential effectiveness of the approach;
  • more detail behind the averages;
  • implications for closing the disadvantage gap;
  • suggestions of how you could put the approach into practice; and
  • guidance about costing.

The Toolkit is not a one stop shop – it’s best considered as a starting point from which to explore the detail and the nuance of education research.Don’t be surprised when you don’t see anything brand new’. As evidence is generated in real life settings, the headline approaches are likely to be familiar, or things you already do. The Toolkit shines a spotlight on areas of promise, to help you consider what you can attend to even more.When scrutinising the evidence base that sits behind the headlines, it’s important to consider:

  • The Toolkit reviews the international evidence base, which means some of it will have been generated in other contexts, particularly the US.
  • The EEF have a remit for two years and older and lots of the evidence cited is from studies with four- and five-year-olds.
  • The EEF will always prioritise studies that translate into improved maths and English outcomes, particularly when commenting on the quality of evidence.

All of this makes us aware of the need to carefully consider context. The last paragraph of each strand of the Toolkit summarises this nicely: As with any evidence review, the Toolkit summarises the average impact of approaches when researched in academic studies. It is important to consider your context and apply your professional judgement when implementing an approach in your setting.’

The Early Years Toolkit focuses predominantly on the what’ of improving outcomes. Our experience tells us that whilst this is important, making meaningful and impactful change translate into improved outcomes requires significant and careful attention to the how’ as well…but that’s a blog for another day.

The update of the Early Years Toolkit is a welcome addition to the support available to early years settings and schools and its continued separation from the Teaching and Learning Toolkit (for ages five – sixteen) helps recognise the uniqueness and value of the early years phase in strong outcomes early in children’s lives.

For the completeness of the story, a few years after the incident described at the start of this blog, I moved into Key Stage 1. No one said a word.

More from the Research Schools Network

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more