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Introducing the fantastic five: with our local partners in place, the EYTA is ready to launch


4 Apr 2019

EIF assistant director Ben Lewing charts the rapid evolution of the Early Years Transformation Academy, including the selection of the five local areas that will partner in the EYTA in the coming year.

The last time I blogged about the Early Years Transformation Academy, I talked about the modern-day village to raise our children. At that point, we were busy recruiting local Academy partners, with a focus on making sure they were going to have a senior mandate to make things happen, and the time and space to use their skills and knowledge, as well as access to research and practice evidence.

This week we have officially announced the five areas that will make up the 2019/20 Academy cohort: Barking & Dagenham, Dudley, Norfolk, Sandwell, and Westminster / Kensington & Chelsea. These five areas represent a diversity of populations, approaches and outcomes, but they all share features which I’m confident will make them effective Academy local partners. They are passionate about the early years and taking a whole-system approach from conception onwards. They are ready for change, and realistic about the challenges and the opportunities that taking part in the Academy will bring. And they are committed to using and generating evidence, learning alongside EIF as we develop the Academy approach.

Things have moved quickly over the past three months. The light-touch process we ran for recruiting areas to partner with us went from expression of interest to full application to selection in just nine weeks. We know that this meant that some areas weren’t ready to bid, despite having a strong interest in taking part, and we will continue to engage with them through our online EYTA Hub

When we set out, we were hoping to select participating areas from a single region, so that we could build on existing networks and support neighbourly engagement. In the end, however, we have adapted our approach to match the strongest local areas, which give us the best chance of successfully delivering the Academy. These areas are ready to go, with strong local drivers to transform their maternity and early years work, and they are clear and ambitious about what they want to achieve. For our part, we will benefit from working with a more diverse spread of areas than the original approach would have brought.

And so now, we turn our attention to the journey ahead. The five Academy teams, including their senior sponsors, will come together at the end of April for a launch event, which will prepare them for what is to come. The 12-month programme will be built are a set of focused online learning materials, to introduce key concepts and ideas; a series of interactive design workshops, which invest in the ‘servant leaders’ who are tasked with making things happen locally; and local delivery, applying the Academy ideas and evidence to engage stakeholders and create local maternity and early years transformation plans.

There are some key themes in our approach, which we have developed with our delivery partners: The Staff College, Better Start Bradford and Born in Bradford.  The Academy scope spans maternity and early years because connection between the two is an essential part of the journey for families: fragmentation means missed opportunities. The relationships that parents seek and accept with public services are shaped from the first conversation about having a baby onwards, and each interaction affects what follows. Our new Academy local partners all buy in to that whole-system approach, and come to the table with an incredible range of knowledge and experience. This will all enable co-production of the Academy content and approach – it will be a fertile environment in which to share ideas, explore evidence and find practical solutions.

We are also clear that the Academy is a test and learn approach, in terms of how best to support use of evidence by local areas. This is a new approach for EIF. Sometimes it might be a little clunky, as we work things through, but I’m sure it will bring rich learning about the things which don’t work, as well as the successes. The richness of this learning is critical for EIF’s understanding of how we can have an impact on policy and practice. The EYTA is an ambitious attempt to drive the use of evidence locally by building intensive relationships with local areas to create change. In this, it sits alongside our focus on testing the impact of whole-system approaches to early intervention, as we set out in Realising the potential of early intervention, and the place-based approaches that will form a key part of the new Youth Endowment Fund. At the same time, we recognise that there is a wider audience for learning about what works when it comes to maternity and early years system transformation, and we will continue to seek opportunities to share the evidence, tools and ideas that are generated through our intensive work with the five EYTA local partners.

We are at an exciting moment. We have big ambitions, strong relationships in place, and a clear path to follow – and we are ready to go.

About the author

Ben Lewing

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