early years and parenting research

The Learning Together Programme is based on research. This tells us that the most important things which make a difference to children’s outcomes are:

  • the quality of the Home Learning Environment (HLE)
  • the quality of relationships with their parents/ carers
  • attending a quality pre-school.

Research also tells us that becoming a parent is a ‘golden moment’ for engaging with learning as an adult.

Here are links to some of the research studies from across the early years and parenting sectors that influence the development and delivery of Peep programmes. If you are a Peep-trained practitioner you can log-in to find more research links relating to specific Peep Learning Together and Antenatal topics.

Significant impact of the EY Home Learning Environment (HLE) from age 3 - 18: EPPSE study of 3000 children

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The Effective Provision of Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPE) study investigated the effects of children's home life (known as the Home Learning Environment or HLE) and pre-school experiences on 3,000 children in England from the age of 3 through to 18. The children were from a range of family backgrounds, with a variety of pre-school/ Early Years setting experiences, including day nurseries, nursery classes, pre-schools/playgroups and no pre-school-setting experience.

When the study reported at the end of Key Stage 1, when the children were 7, it found that attending some kind of pre-school setting, particularly of a higher quality (though it didn't matter if full or part-time), had a positive effect on children's development. The study also found that: 

'What parents and carers do makes a real difference to young children’s development. The EPPE project developed an index to measure the quality of the home learning environment (HLE). There are a range of activities that parents undertake with pre-school children which have a positive effect on their development. For example, reading with the child, teaching songs and nursery rhymes, painting and drawing, playing with letters and numbers, visiting the library, teaching the alphabet and numbers, taking children on visits and creating regular opportunities for them to play with their friends at home, were all associated with higher intellectual and social/behavioural scores. [This became known as the EY-HLE index.] These activities could also be viewed as ‘protective’ factors in reducing the incidence of SEN because children whose parents engaged regularly in home learning activities were less likely to be at risk for special educational needs. The home learning environment was only moderately associated with parents’ educational or occupational level and was more strongly associated with children’s intellectual and social development than either parental education or occupation. In other words what parents do with their children is more important than who parents are. Poor mothers with few qualifications can improve their children’s progress and give them a better start at school by engaging in activities at home that engage and stretch the child’s mind.' (Sylva et al, 2004, p. v)  'For this reason pre-school and school settings that do not include parent support and education are missing an important element in raising achievement and enhancing social and behavioural development.' (ibid p57)

A parallel study took place with 850 3 - 8 year old children in Northern Ireland (Effective Pre-school Provision in Northern Ireland: EPPNI), and showed similar results.

By the end of Year 6 in Key Stage 2 (age 11) EPPE found that:

'The Early years home learning environment (HLE) is still one of the most important predictors of later attainment in English and Mathematics in Year 6 as well as ‘Self-regulation’. Experiencing a better early years HLE shows a significant positive long term impact after controlling for other influences such as parents’ qualification levels, family socio-economic status and income.' (p4, Sammons et al, 2008) 

The study found that when students were 16 years old, two of the main influences on their GCSE attainment were: having attended pre-school and their early years Home Learning Environment (Sylva et al, 2014).  Even when the students were 18 years old, 'the early years Home Learning Environment shows a continued effect on overall A-level attainment'.  (Sammons et al, 2015) 


Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2004) Technical Paper 12, The final Report: effective pre-school educationLondon, DfES Publications and Institute of Education

Sammons P, Sylva K, Melhuish E, Siraj-Blatchford I, Taggart B, Hunt S, Jelicic H (2008) Influences on children's cognitive and social development in year 6 , DCSF-RB048-049

Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2014) Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education Project (EPPSE 3–16), Influences on student’s development at age 16.  Ref: ISBN 978-1-78105-402-4, DFE-RR354

Sammons P, Katalin T, Sylva K, Melhuish E, Siraj I & Taggart B (2015)  Pre-school and home learning effects on A-level outcomes: Effective Pre-school, Primary & Secondary Education Project (EPPSE)  University of Oxford, DfE RR472A

Stop Start - Children's Centres in England in 2018

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We are proud that one of our Trustees, Teresa Smith, co-authored this research. Stop Start, survival, decline or closure - Children's Centres in England in 2018. Undertaken by the University of Oxford, it paints a picture of what has happened with Children's Centres in England. It shows decline, both in numbers and services, but also adaptation and a struggle to survive. Recommendations include:

  • The central purpose of Children's Centres to promote positive child and family development primarily for 0-5 age group should be stressed and;
  • Children's Centres should reconnect with their original purpose. They warn against open access being lost, or minimised, in favour of referral only services, highlighting that a good mix of children is important for children's social mobility and social development.

'Children's Centres: their impact on children and families' (ECCE)

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> Children's Centres: their impact on children and families (Dec 2015) - part of the DfE-funded Evaluation of Children's Centres in England (ECCE) study.

The study concluded that children's centres benefitted families in a range of ways, and that there were three particular characteristics of children's centres that promoted better child, mother and family outcomes:

  1. Offering more named programmes for families predicted better outcomes for certain child behaviours and family outcomes, including the early home learning environment. 
  2. Centres that were maintaining or increasing services (rather than cutting or re-structuring) had better outcomes for mothers and family.
  3. Multi-agency working seemed to be beneficial for some child and family outcomes.

'The best start at home' (EIF)

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'The best start at home' review (June 2015) - Dartington Social Research Unit, University of Warwick, University of Coventry for Early Intervention Foundation

What works to improve parent-child interactions from conception to age five? A rapid review of interventions.

Includes reference to Peep Learning Together Programme group delivery. 

The impact of parental involvement and aspirations on their children's attainment

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> 'Dispelling the myth of parents' 'poverty of aspiration' for their children'  Analysis of the 'Growing up in Scotland' birth cohort study of 3,500 children, indicates that all parents, including those living in poverty, want the best for their children, but that lower income parents are less likely to know how to support their child's education. It also found that: "Teachers too cite low aspirations on the part of parents for children’s poorer educational attainment. This has an effect on how teachers and school staff engage with children and parents living in poverty."  (2017, Treanor, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships)

> 'Educational Aspirations: how English schools can work with parents to keep them on track' (Menzies, 2013, Joseph Rowntree Foundation) - One of the report's key points: "Disadvantaged parents and their social networks can lack the experience and knowledge to help their children. Engaging parents to help them understand what their children’s aspirations involve and what will help achieve them is an effective way of raising attainment. Engagement is most effective when:

  • It is collaborative, builds strong relationships and focuses on learning.
  • Schools meet parents on their own terms by tapping into their needs and interests, creating environments that feel comfortable to them and involving other members of their community." 

> 'The impact of attitudes and aspirations on educational attainment and participation' (Gorard et al, 2012, JRF) - "Parental involvement in their child's learning is the only area showing robust evidence as a cause of attainment"