Parents as Teachers in Switzerland

A randomised controlled trial published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly examines the effectiveness of the Parents as Teachers (PAT) programme in Zurich, Switzerland.

PAT is a parent teaching programme that begins during pregnancy, or shortly after birth, and continues until the child’s third birthday. Among its goals, PAT aims to increase parental knowledge of early childhood development and improve parental practice and, in the long term, increase the child’s school readiness and success.

A total of 261 children from 248 families took part in the trial. Families in the intervention group (n=132) were supported with regular home visits from qualified parent educators with a degree in early education, and attended group meetings. The 116 families in the control group had access to the normal community services but were not supported by PAT.

After three years of the PAT programme, children showed more age-appropriate adaptive behaviour, with small effect sizes in both self-help skills (ES = +0.26) and developmental milestones (ES = +0.26). There were also positive effects on children’s language skills – particularly expressive language skills (ES = +0.39). PAT was also found to positively affect children’s problem behaviour (ES = +0.30).

By contrast, however, no meaningful increases were observed in children’s health, cognitive development, or motor development.

Source: Effects of home-based early intervention on child outcomes: A randomized controlled trial of Parents as Teachers in Switzerland (May 2019), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 48

Does quality of teaching improve outcomes in early childhood education?

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of a programme that trains early years teachers to improve children’s language outcomes. The Using Research Tools to Improve Language in the Early Years (URLEY) intervention is an evidence-based professional development programme for early years teachers. It is designed to improve teacher’s knowledge of how children learn and develop oral language skills, and how to support that learning through evidence-based practice.

Teachers take part in five day-long professional development workshops in which they are introduced to evidence-based learning principles and research tools to evaluate and refine pedagogy and practice. In particular, teachers are taught to use Environment Rating Scales (ERS) – research-validated observational rating scales known to predict aspects of children’s development, with higher scores linked to improved maths and English achievement. Teachers watched videos of effective practice and were supported to use the language principles and ERS to “tune in” to language-supporting practice.

Nearly 2,000 children from 120 schools from the West Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester participated in the study from October 2016 to July 2018. The programme was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial, testing the impact of the URLEY programme on children’s language development over two years, compared to business as usual in control schools.

The results of the trial found that children in schools receiving URLEY did not make additional progress in language development compared to children in control schools, as measured by a composite language score (effect size = -0.08). However, the programme did show a positive impact on the quality of teaching (as measured by ERS), with effect sizes in the range of +0.5 to +0.7.

Source: URLEY: evaluation report (February 2020), Education Endowment Foundation

Review of professional learning and development in early childhood education

Approaches to professional development that combine coaching or mentoring with new knowledge and opportunities for reflection on practice may be the most effective in improving outcomes in early childhood settings, according to a study published in Review of Education.

Sue Rogers and colleagues conducted the systematic review, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, in order to examine the impact of professional learning and development. The studies included in the review identify approaches to professional learning that demonstrate impact on early childhood education on one or more outcomes across three main areas: literacy knowledge and skills, maths and science knowledge, and social-emotional and behavioural development. 

The findings from the review suggest that coaching models, and approaches that help develop pedagogical knowledge, may be the most effective in improving outcomes in early childhood settings. The evidence on duration, frequency and intensity of the professional learning, although likely to be important factors, was inconclusive.

Source: A systematic review of the evidence base for professional learning in early years education (The PLEYE Review) (February 2020), Review of Education, Vol 8, No 1

Let’s Talk about language development

The findings from a randomised controlled trial of Let’s Talk – an interactive intervention to support young children’s language development – suggest that the intervention has a positive effect on narrative and vocabulary development.

The trial, conducted by Gillian Lake and Maria Evangelou, and published in European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, involved 94 three- to four-year-old children in early education settings in Oxfordshire. The children were randomly assigned to control or intervention groups and tested pre- and post-intervention on standardised vocabulary and narrative assessments. Children in the intervention group attended twice-weekly sessions over ten weeks, in groups of three to five children. The first session of the week was a group shared storybook reading session with a puppet, while the second weekly session consisted of a planned pretend play session based on the storybook read in the first session that week. Children in the control group completed age-appropriate early numeracy activities and games – also in groups of three to five children.

The results suggest that the intervention had a positive effect on the vocabulary of the children in the intervention group, with medium to large effect sizes, and also on their narrative ability.

Source: Let’s Talk! An interactive intervention to support children’s language development (February 2019). European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 27:2

Do higher teacher qualifications mean better early childhood education and care?

This Campbell systematic review examines the evidence on the correlation between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood learning environments, as measured by the Environment Rating Scale (ERS). The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. The studies had to be comparative or correlational and report either an overall quality scale or an environment rating scale.

Overall, the review suggests that higher teacher qualifications are positively associated with classroom quality in early childhood education and care (effect size = +0.20). The review also suggests a positive correlation between teacher qualifications and classroom quality on a number of subscales, including:

  • Programme structure – focusing on the schedule, time for free play, group time and provisions for children with disabilities (ES = +0.22).
  • Activities – this relates to fine motor, art, music/movement, blocks, sand/water, dramatic play, nature/science, maths/number, use of digital technologies, and promoting acceptance of diversity (ES = +0.20).
  • Language and reasoning – encouraging children to communicate, use language to develop reasoning skills, and the informal use of language (ES = +0.20).

The researchers conclude that while there is evidence for the relationship between teacher qualification and classroom quality as measured by the ERS, further research is also needed into the specific knowledge and skills that are learned by teachers with higher qualifications that enable them to complete their roles effectively. It is important to note also, that while higher quality in early childhood education and care may lead to improved outcomes for children, we cannot assume that this is the case.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood education and care environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews, Volume 13, Issue 1.

Does school entry age matter?

In the UK, children usually start primary school in the academic year in which they turn five. However, because entry rules vary across local authorities, some schools may defer entry for children born later in the year until the second or third term.

A new study at University College London looks at what impact an earlier versus later entry into Reception has on pupils’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills up until age 11 (their final year of primary school).

Christian Dustmann and Thomas Cornelissen analysed information on more than 400,000 children born in 2000-01 who attended state schools in England and whose records are included in the National Pupil Database. This was combined with information on more than 7,000 children born in 2000-01 who took part in the Millennium Cohort study.

The researchers found that receiving an extra month of schooling before age five increases test scores in language and numeracy at ages five and seven by about 6–11%. But by age 11, the effects on test scores have largely disappeared. For boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the benefits of an earlier school entry are even greater. An additional term of schooling before age five reduces the achievement gap between boys from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds at age seven by 60-80%.

Source: Early school exposure, test scores, and noncognitive outcomes (March 2019), CReAM Discussion Paper Series CDP 03/19, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration