Child Development and Learning (CDL) develops and drives cutting-edge research in children’s language, literacy and mathematics learning with a focus on both typical and atypical development; in the quality of provision and curriculum; parents’ engagement with their children and the professional development of staff.

Our focus is on ways in which learning environments and within-child factors shape cognitive, language, social, emotional and physical development from birth-to-twelve. We are interested in gathering descriptive, correlational and causal evidence. We apply state-of-the-art quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research. We disseminate best practice on methodology especially for longitudinal studies, case studies, and RCTs, and in designing, implementing and evaluating interventions.

CDL’s innovative and influential research is recognised worldwide as outstanding for its theoretical advances, methodological rigour and applications to early and primary education. Our research bridges the gap between theory and practice because it is focused on questions of wellbeing and achievement that matter to policymakers, teachers, families and children. Some of our work synthesises cross-linguistic and cross-cultural trends in the study of children’s learning and is redefining traditional conceptualisations about education and the developing child. Our research has had impact on educational policies in the UK and other high- and low-income countries.


Research conducted by this group on the ‘Reasoning First’ programmes have been taken up by more schools in the last year and continue to have an impact through the National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching (NCETM). The NCETM was a partner for one of the group’s previous EEF grants to assess the effectiveness of the programme Mathematical Reasoning in Year 2; 160 schools participated in this project and used the programme. The NCETM is now using it as a preparation for their Mastery Teaching in Mathematics. This approach is being tested in 50 schools.

Some of our research aims to understand how deaf children learn to read and write and learn mathematics in primary school. Some assessments and materials that have been developed to support children’s learning can be found here: www.education.ox.ac.uk/ndcs/

Members of our group work in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council to support Early Years staff in improving practice in their own centres along with practice in nearby settings. The programme centres on the use of observations to improve practice, including the use of the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-E (ECERS-E) and the Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Well-being Scale (SSTEW).

Selected Publications

Ereky-Stevens, K., Funder, A., Katschnig, T., Malmberg, L-E., & Datler, W. (2018). Relationship building between toddlers and new caregivers in out-of-home childcare: Attachment security and caregiver sensitivity. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 42, 270-279.
DOI: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2017.10.007

Hodgkiss, A., Gilligan, K. A., Tolmie, A. K., Thomas, M. S., & Farran, E. K. (2018). Spatial cognition and science achievement: The contribution of intrinsic and extrinsic spatial skills from 7 to 11 years. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 675-697.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12211

Jelley, F., Sylva K., & Ortiz Villalobos, V. (2019). Supporting children’s learning at home through smartphone apps for parents. In N. Kucirkova, J. Rowsell, & G. Falloon (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Learning with Technology in Early Childhood (pp. xx-xx). Oxford: Routledge.

Lervåg, A., Hulme, C., & Melby-Lervåg, M. (2018). Unpicking the Developmental Relationship Between Oral Language Skills and Reading Comprehension: It’s Simple, But Complex. Child development, 89, 1821-1838.
DOI: http://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12861

Lindorff, A. & Sammons, P. (2018) Going beyond structured observations: looking at classroom practice through a mixed method lens. ZDM – Mathematics Education.
DOI: http://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-018-0915-7

Mathers, S. J., & Tracz, R. (2018). Early education as an intervention for children looked after. International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, 5, 7-10.

Melhuish, E. & Barnes, J. (2018). Compensatory education. In S. Hupp & J. Jewell (Eds.) The Encyclopedia of Child and Adolescent Development.  London: Wiley/Blackwell.

Nag, S., Snowling, M. J., & Mirkovic, J. (2018). The role of language production mechanisms in children’s sentence repetition: Evidence from an inflectionally rich language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 39, 303-325.
DOI: http://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716417000200

Nunes, T. & Bryant, P. (2015). The development of quantitative reasoning, In: LS Liben, U Müller (eds.) Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science, Theory and Method. 7. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

O’Neill, M., Nurse, L. (2018). Biographical Research in the UK: profiles and perspectives In: H Lutz, M Schiebel, E Tuider (eds.) Handbuch Biographieforschung. 2. Germany: Springer VS.

Siraj, I., Melhuish, E., Howard, S., Neilsen-Hewett, C., Kingston, D., de Rosnay, M., Duursma, E., Feng, X. & Luu, B. (2018). Fostering Effective Early Learning (FEEL) Study: Final Report. New South Wales, Australia: NSW Department of Education.

Siraj, I., Taggart., B., Sammons, P., Melhuish, E., Sylva, K. & Shepherd, D-L. (2019). Teaching in Effective Primary Schools: Research into pedagogy and children’s learning. UCL-IOE Press. Forthcoming.

Smith, G., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Smith, T., Omonigho, A., (2018). Stop Start. Survival, decline or closure? Children’s centres in England, 2018. London: The Sutton Trust.

Study with Us

Taught courses associated with this research group include

Some examples of current DPhil projects  include

  • Dominik Bulla: Achievement emotions in Rwanda: an intensive longitudinal study of predictors and correlates of emotions amongst primary students in Rwanda
  • Lauren Burton: The spelling of a word does not always parallel with the way it sounds: the importance of teaching children morphological spelling rules
  • Yu Chan: Cross-linguistic transfer of phonological awareness in Chinese children receiving English instruction: an intervention study
  • Kyle Davison: Academic peer help-seeking and help-giving at Key Stage 2
  • Rachel Gardner: Efficacy of a whole class early oral language intervention; impact on language, literacy and educational outcomes
  • Haoran Liu: A comparative study of primary school teachers’ identities in state school and private schools in China
  • Tiarnach McDermott: An investigation of learning transfer and motivation to transfer from virtual environments in preschool children, and the effects of feedback on these learning characteristics
  • Tinya Yu: Bridging the gap for Hong Kong Chinese students of English: from learning to read to reading to learn
  • Zhen Zheng: The role of oral form, written form, and meaning in Chinese children’s learning of English vocabulary

Some examples of past DPhil projects  include

  • Hashemiah Al-Musawi: The role of phonology, morphology and dialect in reading Arabic among hearing and deaf children
  • Lydia Chan: The development of L2 emergent literacy in Hong Kong kindergarten children
  • Boby Ho-Hong Ching: The importance of additive reasoning in children’s mathematical achievement: a longitudinal study (awarded the prize for the best thesis by the Jean Piaget Society, USA)
  • Jeanne Erickson: The education experiences of eight American adolescents in cancer survivorship
  • Laura Gottardis: Deaf primary school children’s achievement in mathematics
  • Maria Kyriacou: The development of narrative writing in primary school children: designing and evaluating an experimental intervention
  • Megan Patrick: Box not bocks, socks not sox: how children learn morphological spellings
  • Evdokia Pittas: Predicting Greek Cypriot children’s reading and spelling from morphological and dialect awareness
  • Yuka K. Seljegard: The effect of long-term tracheostomy on language and social development of young children
  • Sarah Walter: One for you, one for me: quantitative sharing in young children