Sandra Mathers

Sandra is part of the Families, Effective Learning and Literacy (FELL) research group. Her main research interests are the quality of early years education and care, and the relationships between quality and children’s development.

Sandra’s research is strongly policy-focused, and she has been Principal Investigator on a number of large-scale government evaluations of early childhood initiatives.

Research

Recent research studies have included:

  • Improving Quality in the Early Years (Nuffield Foundation): a joint research grant carried out with Daycare Trust and A+ Education Ltd, exploring the relationships between different quality measures used to assess early years provision in England. The study compared the grades awarded by Ofsted for over 1,000 nurseries with their scores on the research-validated ECERS and ITERS rating scales. The findings were used by Ofsted in the 2012 revision of the inspection framework.
  • The Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund (DfE): this government-funded evaluation was designed to assess the impact of a new specialised Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) on the quality of provision for children aged 5 and under. The findings of the research have been used to support the government’s continued focus on graduate leadership for early years settings.
  • Evaluation of the Early Education Pilot for Two Year Old Children (DfE): this evaluation assessed the impact of providing free early education places to disadvantaged two year olds, as part of a government pilot programme. The findings (i.e., that impact depends on the quality of provision offered) were used to inform the roll-out of the wider government initiative.

Current research grants include:

  • Quality and Inequality (Nuffield Foundation): a study funded by the Nuffield Foundation, exploring whether children in deprived areas experience lower quality early years education and care (ECEC) than children in more affluent areas.
  • Sound Foundations (Sutton Trust): a review of the research evidence on quality for children under the age of three years, and the implications of this research for policy.

Sandra’s research has had significant policy impact, and she is a regular adviser to government. She also provides advice and support to a number of national and international research teams, and is a National Education Trust ‘Leading Thinker’.

Outside her work at the University, Sandra is a co-Director of A+ Education Ltd, which supports local authorities and early years practitioners in improving quality using the Environment Rating Scales (ECERS, ITERS and others). A+ Education Ltd works with over 50 local authorities and many individual providers. Sandra also regularly presents and advises nationally on the Environment Rating Scales, and is co-convener of the local authority ‘ECERS’ Quality Improvement Network.

Sandra studied psychology at the University of Nottingham and holds a PGCE in Primary Education. She spent the early part of her career as a primary school teacher and has been part of the FELL research group at the Department of Educational Studies since 2002.

Research Projects

  • Sylva, K., Mathers, S. and Eisenstadt, N. What do we know about quality for under threes and what are the implications for policy. Sutton Trust, April – Dec 2013 (£30,869)
  • Mathers, S. and Sylva. K. Quality and Inequality. Nuffield Foundation, Oct 2012 – Oct 2013 (£24,869)
  • Mathers, S., Groucutt, K., Karemaker, J., Singler, R. and Levy., K., Identifying Quality in Early Years Provision: Daycare Trust, University of Oxford and A+ Education Ltd. Nuffield Foundation, Jan 2011 to Dec 2011 (£79,672.00)
  • Mathers, S. and Sylva, K., Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund (Impact Study): sub-grant to main grant held by the National Centre for Social Research. Department for Children’s Schools and Families, 2007 – 2011 (sub-grant £766,000; main grant £1,244,794 to all partners)
  • Sylva, K., Mathers, S. and Evangelou, M. Evaluation of the Early Education Pilot for Two Year Old Children: sub-grant to main grant held by the National Centre for Social Research. Department for Educational Skills, 2007-2008 (sub-grant £71,600; main grant £1,278,126 to all partners)
  • Sylva, K., Evangelou, M. and Mathers, S. in collaboration with the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford, IFS and NatCen. Children’s Centres Feasibility Study. Department for Education and Skills, Oct 2005- June 2006 (£90,000 to all partners)
  • Sylva, K., Mathers, S., Joshi, H., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P. & Taggart, B. Quality of Childcare Settings in the Millennium Cohort Study (QCSMCS). Department for Education & Skills, 2005-2006. (£232,645 to all partners)

Other relevant information

  • Regular adviser to government
  • Invited member of academic group providing advice to Department of Education on the Free Early Education Entitlement for Two Year Old Children (Feb 2012)
  • Member of Oxford Education Society (June 2011 onwards)
  • National Education Trust ‘Leading Thinker’ (March 2011 onwards)
  • Invited member of Early Years Co-production Group (Feb 2011 onwards) convened by government Department for Education, 4Children and others.
  • Co-convener of the UK ECERS Local Authority ECERS Network. The group has approximately 100 members, including representatives from over 50 local authorities, the Department for Education, Ofsted and other key sector organisations
  • Invited peer reviewer for CWDC (May 2010)
  • Key member of panel revising the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (extension), published by Trentham books (Sylva, Siraj-Blatchford and Taggart). 2009-2010

Book chapters

  • Mathers, SJ, Roberts, F, Sylva, K (2013) “Quality in Early Childhood Education”, In: G Pugh, B Duffy (eds.) Contemporary Issues in the Early Years. London: SAGE Publications Limited.

  • Roberts, F, Mathers, S, Joshi, H, Sylva, K, Jones, E, Jelley (nee Roberts), FC (2010) “Childcare in the pre-school years”, In: K Hansen, H Joshi, S Dex (eds.) Children of the 21st Century: the first five years. Bristol: The Policy Press. 131-151

Journal articles

  • Mathers, S, Linskey, F, Seddon, J, Sylva, K (2007) “Using quality rating scales for professional development: experiences from the UK”, International Journal of Early Years Education. 15(3) 261-274.
    DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09669760701516959

Reports

  • Mathers, SJ, Linskey, F, Woodcock, J, Williams, C (2012) Mapping the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale to the EYFS 2012. ECERS.

  • Mathers, SJ, Linskey, F, Woodcock, J, Williams, C (2012) Mapping the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale to the EYFS 2012. ECERS.

  • Mathers, SJ, Singler, R, Karemaker, A (2012) Improving Quality in the Early Years: a comparison of perspectives and measures. University of Oxford, Daycare Trust and A+ Education.

  • Mathers, SJ, Linskey, F, Woodcock, J, Williams, C (2012) Mapping the Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale to the EYFS 2012. ECERS.

  • Karemaker, A, Mathers, S, Hall, J, Sylva, K, Clemens, S (2011) Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund. Factors relating to quality: findings from the baseline study. Department for Education.

  • Mathers, SJ, Ranns, H, Karemaker, A, Moody, A, Sylva, K, Graham, J, Siraj-Blatchford, I (2011) National Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund: Impact Study Final Report. London: DfE.

  • Mathers, SJ, Ranns, H, Karemaker,, A, Moody, A, Sylva, K, Graham, J, Siraj-Blatchford, I (2011) National Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund: Technical Report. London: DfE.

  • Smith, R, Purdon, S, Mathers, S, Sylva, K, Schneider, V, La Valle, I, Wollny, I, Owen, R, Bryson, C, Lloyd, E (2009) Early Education Pilot for Two Year Old Children Evaluation. Nottingham: DCSF Publications.

  • Mathers, SJ, Linskey, F, Nelson, A (2009) ECERS-EYFS map.

  • Mathers, SJ, Linskey, F (2009) UK addendum to the ECERS-R.

  • Mathers, SJ, Sylva, K, Joshi, H (2007) Quality of Childcare Settings in the Millennium Cohort Study. London: DfES.

  • Mathers, SJ, Sylva, K (2007) National Evaluation of the Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative: The Relationship Between Quality and Children’s Behavioural Development. London: DfES.

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Category

  • Department staff

Position

  • Principal Investigator
  • Senior Researcher

Research groups

  • Families, Effective Learning and Literacy (FELL)

+44(0)1865274043

Publications, books and other work