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‘If you do nothing else…’ Why EIF is creating the Early Years Transformation Academy


29 Aug 2018

Ben Lewing introduces the Early Years Transformation Academy, a new way of helping local places to 'follow the evidence' on early years and maternity support.

EIF has worked with many local areas on early intervention in the early years, helping them to use both research and practice evidence, and to manage the local system in a context of increasing demand and reducing resources. There’s one question we get asked all the time: “If we can do just one thing on early intervention, what is going to make the biggest difference?” Of course, there is no correct answer – it’s like asking which one food is going to keep you most healthy.

The closest answer from our perspective as a What Works centre is ‘follow the evidence’. But sometimes the evidence asks more questions than it answers, and it can be tricky to follow. Which is why EIF is about to launch a new academy to support local areas to follow the evidence when it comes to early intervention in maternity and the early years.

The premise is simple: use the best available evidence to design a coherent system covering a child’s life from conception until they start school, with advice from ‘expert guides’, to make more progress in improving outcomes for vulnerable families.

The Early Years Transformation Academy will provide an intensive and structured learning programme to a small cluster of local areas over a 12–18 month period, focusing on how the local leaders of maternity and early years services work together as a team. It will help these teams to explore and understand the evidence for identifying need and providing support to vulnerable families. It will use implementation science on system planning and implementation. And it will share the learning journey with a wider audience using a new online hub, a bit like our Reducing Parental Conflict Hub.

The academy will include masterclasses, onsite support, a peer network and evaluation. We are building our team to deliver this work: specialists in implementation and change management; academics and researchers who know what the evidence can and can’t tell us; and experts in learning systems and communication.

We will be testing our own work, and learning as we go. According to our own evidence standards, the academy would be rated as NL2, or ‘Not Level 2’, which describes many programmes and approaches when they’re at an earlier stage of their development: “NL2: Logic Model: Key elements of the logic model are being confirmed and verified in relation to practice and the underpinning science evidence. Testing of impact is underway but evidence of impact not yet achieved.”

We have an extensive body of evidence reviews to draw on, including Foundations for Life; an upcoming review of early childhood competencies; Teaching, pedagogy and practice in early years childcare; an evidence update on the Healthy Child ProgrammeLanguage as a child wellbeing indicator; work on interparental conflict, and much more. But weaving all of this together with wider evidence sources into a structured learning programme is new.

Is your area working on transforming the local system for maternity and early years support? We’ll need local partners to co-create the academy with us. This could be anything from advising on the design of the programme to ensure it is built around local needs; helping with the design and content of the learning materials; or, in due course, participating in the academy itself, either through the intensive learning programme or the online hub. Or maybe you are just interested in being kept in the loop as we test and learn. Let us know via

About the author

Ben Lewing

Ben is assistant director, policy & practice, at EIF.