Professor Edward Melhuish


My research interests are in understanding social and communicative development from birth to adulthood including environmental influences through the use of longitudinal studies. Other interests include:

  • Early childhood education and care (ECEC)
  • Parenting
  • Child poverty and disadvantage
  • the linking of child development and social policy

My work has been concerned with using theoretically driven research to address applied issues and policy questions to produce improvements in development and well-being. This has included topics such as:

  • the development of pre-term babies
  • the children of psychiatrically disturbed parents
  • social, linguistic and cognitive development
  • emergent literacy
  • Early childhood education and care (ECEC) and the evaluation of policy initiatives


Such work regularly involves collaboration with social, biological and medical scientists in studying child development and the influence of experience. Most of my research projects have been multi-disciplinary. I have previously collaborated in research projects in 12 countries on behalf of the European Commission, and I am currently involved in collaborative work with researchers in several European countries, USA and Australia.

Current research

Current work involves evaluating interventions such as early childhood education and care (ECEC), parental support, early intervention strategies etc., and derives from theoretical work on the importance of particular environmental input affecting children’s development, and the results are influencing policy. This work involves using randomised control trials (RCTs), quasi-experimental methods, and qualitative research.

I have been involved in longitudinal studies of family and pre-school factors affecting child development in England (EPPE) and Northern Ireland (EPPNI). I am currently involved in similar longitudinal research in several countries. Also I am the director of the Study of Early Education and Development that involves a longitudinal study of over 5000 children.

National Evaluation of Sure Start

I have been director of the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS). Sure Start is an early intervention programme targeting disadvantaged young children and their families. The evaluation examines under what conditions Sure Start programmes are affecting children, families and communities.

This work involved an investigation of over 20,000 children and families and a longitudinal follow-up of 8,000 children in poor communities.

Other projects

In addition I have worked with local, national and international governmental organisations to use developmental research to inform public policy to improve the lives of families and young children.   I am a member of a Child Well-being working group of WHO, and the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group Early Childhood Interventions Group. I have undertaken research for the Medical Research Council, Economics and Social Research Council, Save the Children Fund, DCSF, DoH and several other government and voluntary sector agencies

Policy Impact

My research in the 1980s influenced the 1989 Children Act, and later research has influenced the 2005 Children Act, 2006 Childcare Bill and policy on childcare, early education, child poverty and parental support in the UK and other countries.  For example my projects have contributed to the formulation of social policy, such as the universal provision of a pre-school place for all 3 & 4 year-olds, the establishment of 3500 Children’s Centres, the government’s Every Child Matters and 10-Year Childcare strategies. From 2013 the UK government rolled out free part-time early education to all of the 40% most disadvantaged children in the country from age 2 upwards, and this decision was heavily influenced by my projects in collaboration with other researchers.

Consultant and Advisor

I have acted as a consultant for design for children, children’s organizations (e.g. UNESCO), government departments, e.g., DfE, DWP, DoH, Treasury, Prime Minister’s Office, and film, television and radio companies. I am on the scientific advisory board of the Early Intervention Fund. I have served as an expert witness to several House of Commons Select Committees and as a consultant to the Stanford Research Institute, USA. I have been a scientific advisor to several research funding organisations including the Nordic Research Council, the Academy of Finland, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation),  Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) (Portuguese Research Council), Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and the Australian Research Council. With over 250 publications, I have contributed to discussions of social policy for children in Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Portugal, South Korea, Australia, Canada and Chile, as well as the European Commission, Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).


Over many years I have acted as an advisor and consultant on a pro-bono basis to many charities and voluntary organisations involved with child well-being, including NSPCC, Save the Children, Action for Children, 4Children, BIG Lottery Fund, Early Years Ireland, Atlantic Philanthropies, National Children’s Bureau, Children in Wales, Early Intervention Fund, and eurochild.  I am a trustee of the WAVE trust.


  • Department staff


  • Academic Research Leader

Research groups

  • Families, Effective Learning and Literacy (FELL)
  • Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education