The starting point was a breakfast meeting between Michael O’Regan and Tim Brighouse who was Oxfordshire’s Chief Education Officer. Mike had developed a deep interest in the education of very young children; Tim was nationally renowned and about to become Professor of Education at Keele University.
Mike had one vital question: “Would an early years parent-focused project be a good idea?” Tim’s answer was emphatic and positive.
Mike started to develop a network of professional and academic supporters, and he became a governor of Peers School in Blackbird Leys, Oxford. He began to question the causes of underachievement and disaffection among some pupils. His trail of questioning led down the age groups from secondary to middle to primary and then to pre-school children. First School teachers expressed their difficulty when children arrived with few social skills and little predisposition to read and learn.
Mothers were interviewed, and they showed a desire to help with children’s early development. So, with backing and advice from experts in early literacy development, education and social policy, Peers Early Education Partnership (PEEP) was established in 1995. It had a particular mission to work with families in the catchment area of Peers School. The project was led by Dr Rosemary Roberts. She and music specialist, Dr Alison Street, developed sessions for families which became the basis of the Peep Learning Together programme.
Over the following twenty years Peep was grounded in its Oxford base. The vision was to transform a community by working with the students of the future by supporting their parents as first educators - and to do so from birth. The project quickly established itself and drew attention; it grew beyond Oxford into a programme of national potential. An accredited training programme was developed and, since 2000, over 10,000 practitioners have been trained to deliver Peep’s programme and approach. The replacement of ‘Peers’ with ‘Parents’ for the first initial of Peep reflected this change, while reinforcing the fundamental importance of ‘Partnership’.
Peep’s ideas were innovative, pre-dating and contributing to the Sure Start initiative and the now-accepted national focus on early intervention. By 2011 Department of Education policy was stating: “Mothers and fathers are their children’s first and most important educators.”
A number of university studies have evaluated the effectiveness of the Peep programme on parents and children, including those who are sometimes considered ‘hard to reach’.
With Mike O’Regan still involved and since 2012 under the leadership of Sally Smith and a distinguished board of trustees, Peep’s progress needed one further evolution of its name. To reflect its growing reach while remaining committed to its origins and humane principles, the organisation became known as Peeple in 2014. This was chosen to reflect that Peeple is a learning enterprise with an inclusive, human approach, focused on parents, carers and very young children.