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Stronger Practice Hubs

Early Years Stronger Practice Hubs are being funded across every region in England to help children recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a major issue in the EYFS. Young children, especially those from low income backgrounds, continue to suffer disproportionally. This is shown in their drop in attainment. By the end of the Reception year in 2022, outcomes show that 65.2% of all children achieved a ‘good level of development’ (GLD). However, the outcomes for children from disadvantaged families were quite different. Only 49.1% of those eligible for free school meals achieved the GLD, compared to 68.8% of other children. So, we see a striking 19.6 percentage point difference.

As well as this, it is important to note that in 2019,  prior to the pandemic, 57% of children from low income households achieved the GLD (compared to 49.1% in 2022). Although the 2021 figures relate to the reformed EYFS framework and the 2019 figures relate to the 2012 framework, it is noticeable that there has been a 7.9 percentage point decline in children from low-income families. These statistics cannot go ignored.


Responding to this

In November 2022, The Department for Education selected thirteen settings in England to be early years Stronger Practice Hubs. They form part of the Early Years Covid-19 recovery support. Their purpose is to specifically tackle the impact on children from low income backgrounds. Funded for two years, the programme is supported by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the National Children’s bureau (NCB).

One of these Stronger Practice Hubs is A Brighter Start, led by Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in the London Borough of Newham. Sheringham is currently the only London-based Hub: a further one will be announced later in the year.

Lindsey Foster, deputy headteacher, shares her reaction to being chosen, “I think it is a huge achievement for all of us at Sheringham. It will contribute to and compliment the important work that is already happening through the research school. It also brings with it new and exciting prospects for staff in terms of CPD and leadership.” She adds, “As well as this, we have the additional prospect of developing and sharing practice with practitioners across the whole of London.'

Rehema Essop, interim SPH lead at Sheringham, comments, “A Stronger Practice Hub enables practitioners to have greater access to evidence-informed programs. This will support them with thinking about exactly what the children need to make more of a difference to their development. As a sector we are playing catch up to support them and their families.”

Rehema adds, “The children at Sheringham are fortunate to benefit from leaders and staff who are willing to question their own practice. This is key to being a Hub. Practitioners are focussed on finding out more about improving daily provision for children.”

This seems like an exciting prospect for Sheringham, but what does it mean in practice to have this designation?


What does it mean to be a Stronger Practice Hub?

Hubs are required to share good practice, offer advice and provide evidence-based professional development for early years practitioners. In short, they are a central resource for the advancement of practice across the EYFS.

The NCB outlines what this entails:

  • establishing local networks of early years educators to share knowledge and effective practice
  • proactively sharing information and advice on evidence-based approaches - for example, using newsletters, blogs and social media
  • acting as a point of contact for bespoke advice, including signposting to other funded support
  • working with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to select evidence-based programmes to deliver, and making these available without cost to nurseries and childminders

More information about the first round of stronger practice Hubs is available here


The centrality of evidence informed practice

Evidence informed practice is fundamental to the work of the Stronger Practice Hubs. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) focuses on breaking the link between family income and educational outcomes. They will be supporting the Hubs as ‘evidence guardians.’ Their role being to ensure that all professional development is based in validated evidence.

Before going any further, it is worth clarifying what constitutes evidence based practice. It is an aspect of early years education (as well as other sectors) that is often misunderstood. The following scenario, familiar to many, illustrates how this can happen.

A practitioner undertakes some action research, focusing on how a group of children respond to a new approach or intervention. The practitioner’s assessment information shows that the children have made good progress. This could be in any area of development: communication, physical, emotional. The practitioner concludes that the approach has worked in their setting. If they write their findings up for a publication or in a book, they can be seen as ‘evidence-based’.

Though this is an understandable and well-intended position to take, it does not stand up as evidence-based practice. The basic reason for this is that positive outcomes on a small scale are not enough. The intervention might be effective: or it might be that the particular group of children developed very well for other reasons. Or the practitioner worked with such enthusiasm on the project that it made a big difference. Neither of these conditions might hold true in a setting 20 miles up the road. A practice that seems to work and produce favourable outcomes is not the same as evidence. Until an intervention has been rigorously researched it ceases to be evidence-based. It might be that this project is promising enough to be evaluated on a larger scale and, in time, could become part of the evidence base.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) curates high-quality research from a range of robust studies, carried out in many different types of schools and settings. Nicola Cherry is their Early Years Content Specialist for the EEF. She clarifies the purpose of evidence-informed practice, “The use of educational evidence can be like a reliable navigation system, supporting us to create great learning opportunities for all children, particularly those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who we know stand to benefit most from high-quality early education.”

 Nicola goes on to talk about the EEF's new resource, launched in February 2022:

"The EEF has launched a brand new resource, The Early Years Evidence Store – developed as part of the EEF’s work supporting the Department for Education’s Stronger Practice Hubs. It is designed to support early years professionals in putting evidence-informed approaches into practice. The store zooms in on key themes of learning and development – such as language and communication – to explain and exemplify how they can be adopted, prompting educators to reflect on their own current practice.”

Nicola continues, “Each theme is broken down into specific approaches that can support that area of learning and development and provides information on the strength of the evidence underpinning each approach. These are supported by a list of practices and help explain how each approach could be implemented. The Early Years Evidence Store can support a community of early years practice; using a shared language and understanding of the evidence, and what it means for children.” (EEF blog)   

In a nutshell, the rule of thumb is that evidence-based practice comes out of findings that are documented and published. For more details of such robust research see the EEF’s Early Years Toolkit and Early Years Evidence store.


Getting a Stronger Practice Hub started

The first 6-months at Sheringham will focus primarily on its local area – the borough of Newham and neighbouring East London.

 Dr Julian Grenier, headteacher of Sheringham, outlines one of the main projects:

“We are delivering the evidence-informed Newham Communication Project in collaboration with the local authority. This is free for Newham early years settings and aims to help children develop their communication. It is a 6 month hybrid programme that includes face-to-face training, online twilight sessions and mentoring. We are offering it to managers and room leaders in early years settings, as well as nursery teachers and EYFS co-ordinators in schools”. 

As well as this Sheringham are pursuing the following:

  • Setting up a childminders group. Here childminders can meet each other; get the chance to build networks; have access to professional development at no cost.
  • Developing the Early Years Conversation Project, due to launch in September 2023. They are currently signing up the 100 settings they need from across East and North-East London.
  • Developing Maths through Picturebooks. This was trialled in North Yorkshire during  the summer term, 2022. They are now working on an across London roll-out. One of the first big SPH events is a free webinar about Maths through Picturebooks. This is on 29th March, with Dr Herbert Ginsburg, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University.
  • The Hub has a WhatsApp group. You can join it by sending the message ‘Join’ to 0759  616  5918.
  • Also, there is a Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/people/A-Brighter-Start-East-Londons-Early-Years-Stronger-Practice-Hub/100089998383323/


It is an indisputable fact that young children from disadvantaged backgrounds need substantial input to tackle their drop in attainment caused by the pandemic. It will not remedy itself. The introduction of Stronger Practice Hubs focussing on the use of evidence-based practice seems like a progressive move by the Department of Education. We wait to hear the announcement of five further Hubs in May.


Caroline Vollans
Having taught in primary schools for fifteen years, Caroline Vollans trained as a psychoanalyst. She now works as an author and freelance writer.

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