Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education


Sylva, K, Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj, I., and Taggart, B.

A DCSF/DfE funded study in England, 1996-2016 and an associate Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) Project.

The Effective Provision of Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPE/ EPPSE) research programme is a major European longitudinal study which investigated the effectiveness of pre-school education and care in terms of children’s cognitive and social-emotional development across different phases of education (pre-school, primary and secondary education) in England.

It is an ‘educational effectiveness’ study of a national sample of randomly selected pre-schools (141) with over 3000 children aged 3-16 years conducted throughout England. The EPPE/EPPSE multi-disciplinary team involved psychologists, early years and child development specialists, educational effectiveness researchers and trained teachers/ early years educators.  The team collected a wide range of information on over 3,000 children who were recruited at age 3+ and were studied longitudinally until the end of Key Stage 4 age 16 years. Data were collected on children’s developmental profiles (at ages 3, 4/5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 16 years), background characteristics related to their parents, the child’s home learning environment, and the pre-school settings children attended. A sample of ‘home’ children, (who had no or minimal pre-school experience) were recruited to the study at entry to primary school for comparison with the pre-school group. The research involved observational measures of the quality of pre-school including the Early Childhood environment rating scale ECERS-R and a new instrument developed by the team to measure at additional aspects of curricular quality (ECERS-E). In addition to investigating the effects of pre-school provision, EPPE explored the characteristics of effective practice (and the pedagogy which underpins it) through twelve intensive case studies of settings where children had positive outcomes. The children have been followed up to adolescence and the end of compulsory education at age 16. Later phases of the research studied a broad range of outcomes including public examination results (GCSEs) social-behavioural and social emotional outcomes including mental well-being and engagement in ‘risky’ behaviours. An extension to the research up to age 18 was funded by the Sutton Trust (2014-2016) to study A-Level outcomes (2014-2016). This extension project (‘How disadvantage shapes students’ educational outcomes up to age 18 and beyond: the role of pre-school, primary and  secondary schools  in promoting social mobility for students in the EPPSE sample’) examined academic attainment, post school participation in education,  and students’ aspirations. The University of Oxford drew on the findings from the EPPSE Sutton Trust funded study in its response to the Government Green Paper Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’ Submitted on 2016-01-15 10:42:01.

A number of major related projects are part of the EPPE/EPPSE research programme including the Early  Years Transitions and Special Educational Needs study (EYTSEN), the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education Project Northern Ireland (EPPNI) and the Sutton Trust funded extension study on Equity,  Aspirations and A-level Outcomes.

Since 1997 the collaborative work of Professors Sylva, Melhuish and Sammons at Oxford has transformed early childhood services, along with government investment to support them, in the United Kingdom and many other countries. This team shares a mission to develop quantitative and qualitative research methods to enhance learning and well-being in all children, but especially those whose development is ‘at risk’.   The mission centres on educational research to guide the kind of reform that can lead to national prosperity as well as educational achievement for all children. 

The Effective Preschool, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPE/EPPSE) research has influenced policy on four continents, early years practice, and research methods used internationally.  Their research (208 publications) and policy influence has affected, and continues to affect, millions of children in the UK and internationally.  EPPE demonstrates how preschool education, especially of high quality, can be an effective intervention to enhance children’s development and later educational progress, playing a major role in promoting equity and supporting disadvantaged groups through fostering resilience.  The British Educational Research Association (BERA) recognised EPPE as a “landmark study” that has had ‘significant impact on educational policy, practice, research methodology and/or theory’ in the period 2004 to the present.  (https://www.bera.ac.uk/project/40at40 )

The EPPE/EPPSE programme of research studies has been innovative in design, methods and measurement.  Adopting an educational effectiveness and mixed methods design allowed the study of institutional effects for individual  pre-schools using multilevel modeling,  taking into account the clustering of samples (children are ‘nested’ first in  preschools and later in primary/secondary schools) when identifying institutional effects linked to pre-school attendance. The team devised new methods to identify  ways that family and preschool settings act in concert to shape early development.  EPPE/EPPSE findings are increasingly supported by neuroscience studies that focus on ’emerging’ literacy, numeracy, science and executive functioning.

EPPE methods and findings have already transformed the nature of early years research as well as the architecture of early years services in diverse countries.

Having established a platform of rigorous research with high impact (see http://impact.ref.ac.uk/CaseStudies/CaseStudy.aspx?Id=14571), the EPPE/EPPSE team seeks to develop and expand their work to link with new research in the science of learning, thus increasing the applicability of their work worldwide.  We now know how early experiences shape both hard and soft skills that underpin success in schooling and later life.  Across the globe education ministers are now convinced that ‘serious’ education begins in the family at birth and continues through preschool up to school entry. EPPE not only demonstrates the need for early learning, it makes concrete recommendations for pedagogical approaches at home and school.  The EPPE/EPPSE research does not specify a simple formula for success; rather it provides powerful and transferable tools for different countries to contextualize and make their own.

For further details, please see also the EPPE/EPPSE website at the University College London Institute of Education. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/research/featured-research/effective-pre-school-primary-secondary-education-project

A full list of over 200 publications arising from the EPPE/EPPSE research programme is available to download here.

Selected Key Publications include:

Anders, Y., Sammons, P., Taggart, B.; Sylva, K., Melhuish, E. & Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2011). The influence of child, family home factors and pre-school education on the identification of special educational needs at age 10. British Educational Research Journal, 37, 421-441.

Baker, W. Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., & Taggart, B. (2014). Aspirations, education and inequality in England: Insights from the Effective Provision of Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education Project. Oxford Review of Education, DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2014.953921

 Hall, J., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. & Taggart, B. (2009), ‘The role of pre-school quality in promoting resilience in the cognitive development of young children’. Oxford Review of Education, 35, 331–352

Hall, J.E., Sammons,  P.,  Sylva,  K., Melhuish, E., Taggart,  B., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Smees, R. (2010). Measuring the combined risk to young children’s cognitive development: An alternative to cumulative indices. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 28, 219-238.

Hall, J., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2013). Can preschool protect young children’s cognitive and social development? Variation by center quality and duration of attendance. School Effectiveness and School Improvement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice24,(2) 155-176. 

Melhuish, E.C. (2006).  Policy & Research on preschool care and education in the UK.  In E. Melhuish & K. Petrogiannis (Eds.) Early Childhood Care and Education: International perspectives on policy and research.  London: Routledge.

Melhuish, E.C., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Taggart, B., & Phan, M.(2008a) Effects of the Home Learning Environment and preschool center experience upon literacy and numeracy development in early primary school. Journal of Social Issues, 64, 95-114.

Melhuish, E.C., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Taggart, B., Phan, M. & Malin, A. (2008b). Preschool influences on mathematics achievement. Science, 321, 1161-1162.

Melhuish E. C. (2011). Preschool matters. Science, 333, 299-300.

Melhuish, E. (2011). Early Years Experience and Longer-term child development: Research and implications for policymaking. Paris: OECD.

Melhuish, E., Quinn, L., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2013). Preschool affects longer term literacy and numeracy: results from a general population longitudinal study in Northern Ireland. School Effectiveness and School Improvement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice, 24, 234-250.

Melhuish, E. (2016).  Longitudinal research and early years policy development in the UK. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, 10:3, DOI: 10.1186/s40723-016-0019-1.

Sammons, P., Elliot, K., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E.C., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2004).  The impact of pre-school on young children’s cognitive attainments at entry to reception.  British Educational Research Journal, 30, 691-712.

Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Taggart, B. and Elliot, K. (2005), Investigating the Effects of Pre-school Provision: Using mixed methods in the EPPE research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8, 207-224.

Sammons, P., Anders, Y.,  Sylva, K.,  Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Taggart, B. and Barreau, S. (2008), Children’s Cognitive Attainment and Progress in English Primary Schools During Key Stage 2: Investigating the potential continuing influences of pre-school education.  Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaften, 10,  179-198

Sammons, P., Anders, Y.  &  Hall, J.  (2013): Educational effectiveness approaches in early childhood research across Europe, School Effectiveness and School Improvement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice, 24 (2) 131-137.

Sammons, P., Hall, J., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2013). Protecting the development of 5–11-year-olds from the impacts of early disadvantage: the role of primary school academic effectiveness. School Effectiveness and School Improvement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice, 24 (2) 251-268.

Sammons, P., Toth, K., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Siraj, I., & Taggart, B. L. (2015). The long-term role of the home learning environment in shaping students’ academic attainment in secondary school. Journal of Children’s Services, 10(3).  189-201.

Sammons, P. & Anders, Y. (2015) Researching Equity and Effectiveness in education: Examples from the UK and Germany, Chapter 7.5 pp 1289-1320, IN Smeyers, P., Bridges, D., Burbles, N. And Griffiths, M. (Eds.) International Handbook of Interpretation in Educational Research, Part 2, Springer International Handbooks of Education: Springer: Dordrecht.

Siraj-Blatchford, I. & Sylva, K. (2004). Researching Pedagogy in English Pre-Schools. British Educational Research Journal, 30, 713-730.

Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sammons, P., Taggart, B., Sylva, K. and Melhuish, E. (2006). Educational Research and Evidence-Based Policy: The Mixed-method Approach of the EPPE Project. Evaluation of Research in Education, 19, 63-82.

Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K., Taggart, B., Sammons, P., & Melhuish, E. (2008), Towards the transformation of Early Childhood Practice:  The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) project.  Cambridge Journal of Education, 38, 23-36

Siraj-Blatchford, I., Mayo, A., Melhuish, E., Taggart, B., Sammons P., & Sylva, K. (2013). The learning life course of at ‘risk’ children aged 3-16: Perceptions of students and parents about ‘succeeding against the odds’ Scottish Educational Review, 14 (2), 5-17.

Sylva, K., Siraj-Blatchford, I., a& Taggart, B. (2003) Assessing Quality in the Early years: Early childhood Environment Rating Scale Extension  (ECERS-E) : Four Curricular Subscales. Stoke on Trent, UK and Stirling USA: Trentham Books.

Sylva, K. & Pugh, G. (2005). Transforming the early years in England. Oxford Review of Education, 31, 11-27.

Sylva, K., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Taggart, B., Melhuish, E.C., & Sammons, P. (2006). Capturing quality in early childhood through environmental rating scales. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 21, 76-92.

Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B., (Eds) (2010). Early Childhood Matters: Evidence from the Effective Pre-school and Primary Education Project.  London: Routledge.

Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. & Taggart, B. (2011) Pre-school quality and educational outcomes at age 11: low quality has little benefit, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(2) 109-124.

Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Chan, L.L., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart. B. (2013). The effects of early experiences at home and pre-school on gains in English and mathematics in primary school: a multilevel study in England. Zeitschrift fűr Erziehungswissenschaft, 16, 277-301.

Sylva, K. (2014). The role of families and pre-school in educational disadvantage. Oxford Review of Education, 40, 680-695.

Taggart, B., Sammons, P., Smees, R., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Elliot, K. & Lunt I. (2006) Early Identification of Special Needs and the Definition of ‘At Risk’. The Early Years Transition and Special Educational Needs (EYTSEN) Project. British Journal of Special Education,  33, 40 – 46

Taggart, B., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., & Sammons, P. (2008).  Influencing Policy and practice through research on early childhood education.  International Journal of Early Childhood Education, 14, 7-21.

For further details, please see also the EPPE/EPPSE website at the University College London Institute of Education. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/research/featured-research/effective-pre-school-primary-secondary-education-project

Staff  Professor Kathy Sylva [link to profile], Professor Pam Sammons, [link to profile] Professor Edward Melhuish [link to profile], Professor Yvonne Anders (now at Freie University Berlin) Dr James Hall (former linked EPPE DPhil student now at University of  Exeter) , Dr William Baker (former linked EPPSE DPhil student now at University of Cardiff) Professor Iram Siraj, Brenda Taggart (UCL Institute of Education)

Page last modified: April 4, 2017