Teaching, pedagogy and practice in early years childcare

Female teacher with a multiracial group of preschool children, sitting around a table and playing a game

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Because disadvantaged children in England are more likely to fall behind academically, the Early Intervention Foundation commissioned research on what is known concerning effective early years practice, and where there are knowledge gaps.

What data the researchers found came primarily from the United States, however, indicating that more research is needed in the UK.


The early years of a child’s life is a period of rapid and profound change. The potential of early childhood education and care to support child development, in particular that of children from a disadvantaged background, has long been recognised. The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is conducting a new programme of work exploring the impact of early years childcare and education on children’s outcomes. The project focuses particularly on children at risk of falling behind their peers, in terms of key developmental milestones, at an early age.


The EIF partnered with RAND Europe to produce a review of teaching and practice in childcare settings to identify those areas of practice that are well evidenced and where the main evidence gaps are, providing an accessible overview of the research in the field for policy-makers and practitioners.


RAND Europe conducted a rapid evidence assessment of the evidence on effective early years practice that improves early education outcomes. The review focused on studies that used high-quality experimental and quasi-experimental designs that directly examined the effectiveness of practices or programmes on a range of child outcomes. The review also identified and included relevant systematic reviews and meta-analyses.


  • Overall the studies reported favourable outcomes for children in early years childcare who attended the examined programmes.
  • However the literature reviewed did not allow for a more fine-grained assessment of the specific teaching practices that work for improving outcomes.
  • The most frequently tested outcome domain was language and literacy.
  • There was limited evidence reported on programmes targeting children aged under three, programmes that had longer-term impacts, and programmes that might benefit at-risk groups of children more.


  • More rigorous research into the effectiveness of programmes in England is needed. The majority of the studies reviewed were conducted in the US which limits the ability to relate the existing findings to a different context.
  • Future research should provide more detailed descriptions of the programmes and how they were implemented.
  • More research is needed for children below the age of three, and children at risk.
  • Future studies should prioritise conducting more follow-up measurements with children over a longer period of time to assess the possible sustained impacts of programmes.
  • There is an opportunity to develop research focusing on key areas of early years teaching and practice. Few studies considered the impact of teaching practices and principles in isolation.
  • The studies identified through the review provide few examples where individual elements of programmes have been tested for effectiveness in isolation. Work should therefore be done to determine the common elements across the most effective interventions.