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

How do young children develop agency, literacy, and numeracy

A new resource from Deans for Impact summarises current cognitive-science research related to how young children – from birth to age eight – develop skills across three domains: agency, literacy and numeracy.

It aims to give guidance to anyone working in education who is interested in understanding the science of how young children develop control of their own behaviour and intentions, how they learn to read and write, and how they develop the ability to think mathematically.

For each domain, the report identifies key questions about learning and provides a short list of the principles from learning science that inform the answers to these questions. The resource then connects these principles to a set of practical implications for specific teaching strategies. The original research is clearly referenced for anyone wishing to find out more.

Source: The science of early learning: How do young children develop agency, literacy, and numeracy? (2019), Deans for Impact.

The impact of professional development in early childhood education

Franziska Egert and colleagues in Germany and Amsterdam have conducted a review of the effects of professional development (PD) for early childhood educators on programme quality and children’s educational outcomes.

Studies were only included if they addressed quality of child care or child development, included early childhood teachers (including preschool, kindergarten and centre-based care), were quantitative, were experimental or quasi-experimental, reported effect sizes or data and addressed children 0–7 years old. This yielded 36 studies of 42 programmes evaluating quality ratings, and nine studies of 10 programmes evaluating both quality ratings and pupil outcomes.

Results showed that professional development improved the external quality ratings (as evaluated using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation, Environmental Rating Scales and Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System) of early childhood education (effect size=+0.68), with programmes providing 45–60 PD hours having the greatest impact on classroom practice as compared to programmes offering fewer or more hours. This was true regardless of whether teachers held a university degree or not. Further, programmes that solely used coaching were almost three times as effective as other programmes. A second meta-analysis of a subset of studies (n=486 teachers, 4,504 children) showed that improvement in the quality of early childhood education programmes was correlated with improvements in child development (effect size=+0.14) as determined by language and literacy scores, maths scores, social-behavioural ratings, and assessment of cognition, knowledge and school readiness.

Source: Impact of in-service professional development programs for early childhood teachers on quality ratings and child outcomes: a meta-analysis (January 2018), Review of Educational Research, Vol 88, Issue 3

New guidance on preparing for literacy

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published its latest guidance report, Preparing for Literacy, which reviews the best available research to offer early years professionals practical “do’s and don’ts” to make sure all children start school with the foundations they need to read and write well.

The report considers how a wide range of different activities – like singing, storytelling and nursery rhymes – can help to develop children’s early reading. It offers seven recommendations designed to support early years professionals to improve the communication, language and early literacy skills of all their pupils – particularly those from disadvantaged homes. Previous analysis by the EEF found there was already a 4.3 month gap between poorer pupils and their classmates before school starts.

One of the recommendations focuses on parental engagement and the importance of supporting parents to understand how they can help in their child’s learning. It suggests that shared reading should be a central component for helping children to learn new words. The report also highlights the importance of high-quality interactions between adults and children to develop their communication and language skills. For example, early years professionals should make sure they talk with children – not just to them.

Source: Preparing for literacy: improving communication, language and literacy in the early years (June 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust