Teaching, pedagogy and practice in early years childcare: An evidence review

Publication Details

Publication date: 08 August 2018

Authors: Megan Sim, Julie Bélanger, Lucy Hocking, Sashka Dimova, Eleftheria Iakovidou, Barbara Janta (RAND Europe) and William Teager (EIF)

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. This report is intended to provide a clear and accessible overview of the literature on effective pedagogy and practice, focusing on studies with high-quality empirical evidence of impact. It fills an important gap in the current literature by offering a first attempt at using systematic methods to identify those interventions that have been robustly tested and to also identify areas in the literature where significant evidence gaps remain.

The report focuses on ‘process quality’, which refers to children’s daily experiences and the interactions between early education staff, children and parents, such as pedagogical quality, cognitive stimulation, emotional care and support. It is distinct from aspects of structural quality, which is concerned with more objectively measurable factors, such as teacher training, class sizes or child–teacher ratios.

  • The high-quality studies included in this review (systematic reviews, meta-analyses or counterfactual studies) provide robust evidence on the effectiveness of programmes or interventions in terms of improvements to children’s outcomes in early years childcare.
  • Overall, the studies reported favourable outcomes for children who were attending the examined programmes, across the domains of language and literacy, mathematics, cognitive, socio-emotional and physical outcomes.
  • However, the literature reviewed did not allow for a more fine-grained assessment of the specific pedagogical practices that work for improving outcomes. This is in part a result of the design of existing studies and in part a result of the lack of details about the programmes in the publications reviewed. In particular, many studies lacked detailed descriptions of the programmes they were examining, lacked controlled comparisons of the different components of the programmes, or lacked measures of fidelity of implementation of the programmes. This makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about whether there are particular aspects of programmes that are more effective for children and to assess whether programmes have adhered to these prescriptions or lack fidelity.

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The report sets out the evidence in five key outcome areas:

  • language and literacy (60 studies or reviews capturing 42 programmes)
  • numeracy and mathematics (23 studies or reviews capturing 17 programmes)
  • cognitive outcomes (20 studies capturing 13 programmes)
  • socio-emotional outcomes (39 studies or reviews capturing 25 programmes)
  • physical outcomes (eight studies or reviews capturing five programmes)

Given the limitations identified, the report also contains a set of recommendations for future research, including more research on programmes’ effectiveness in the UK, a greater focus on children in particular at-risk groups and on achieving sustained outcomes for children, and studies that seek to identify the impact of the individual ‘active ingredients’ of interventions.