Our expertise in the UK

Early Years: improving outcomes for disadvantaged children

We have worked with the early years sector for several years, reaching many young children across the UK through our programmes. The period from birth to the age of five offers a unique opportunity to ensure children develop the cognitive, social and emotional foundations for success in both school and later life – and high-quality early years provision can significantly benefit children’s later outcomes, especially among disadvantaged groups.

The importance of early years provision

We know that ensuring children are given the right development support from an early age can make a real difference. Development gaps and ‘word gaps’ can emerge early in a child’s life, and their effects can be felt throughout their school lives – and even into adulthood. For instance, an average of 40% of the development gap between disadvantaged 16-year-olds and their peers had already emerged by the time they were five years old [1]. By the age of just three, disadvantaged children are, on average, almost a year and a half behind their peers in their language development, and children who are behind in language development at the age of five are six times less likely to reach expected standards in English by the age of eleven, and are eleven times less likely to reach these standards in mathematics [2].

Early years education is an important area for us, not least because early years interventions for less advantaged children are hugely important to promoting their success later in their education, ultimately leading to a better life in a number of ways. We are therefore pleased to see this important topic moving up the agenda in governments across the UK. In England, for example, the Department for Education is seeking to halve the number of children finishing their Reception year without the early communication and reading skills they need to thrive by 2028.

Supporting early years settings

Evidence increasingly suggests that specialised training for early years staff is a more promising means of raising the quality of early years provision than either increasing the number of hours children attend or improving the physical environment. These practitioners have a critically important role in enabling the best possible outcomes for the children they work with, helping them to overcome the challenges and circumstances which may otherwise hold them back. We therefore support early years practitioners in our work with expert professional development to build and refine their skills.

Our Early Years Professional Development Programme (EYPDP) supports early years practitioners working with disadvantaged and vulnerable children in pre-reception settings, helping them to improve their practice and children’s outcomes in language, literacy and numeracy. In this two-year programme, we are working with 51 selected Local Authorities to recruit 1,500 pre-reception settings into continuous professional development (CPD) partnerships and identify skilled and experienced early years practitioners as CPD Champions.

Between 2013 and 2017, we worked with Lincolnshire County Council to improve learning opportunities in early years settings and children’s centres. In this programme, we worked with over 70 early years practitioners, helping them to provide and deliver over 35,000 high-quality and inclusive early childhood activities to children and families across the county. 92% of the parents and carers who participated in these sessions felt that the activities had made a positive difference to their child’s development.

In 2021, we launched 'Building on Success', a follow on of the Early Years PDP, aimed at improving practitioners' understanding and skills in supporting the development of the most disadvantaged children between the ages of 2 and 4. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the programme has been tailored to address the needs that have been heightened during this time.

[1], [2] Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential; Department for Education; 2017.