Why furthering understanding of pre-16 education is crucial to our mission

Blog posts

31 Jan 2019

Anneka DawsonAnneka Dawson, Principal Research Fellow

At IES, I lead our work on pre-16 education. Throughout my first 10 months in the role, I’ve regularly been asked why the Institute is interested in pre-16 education, being the Institute for Employment Studies and all.

Well, IES has actually got a long history of conducting research in both higher education (covering access and participation, student experience, the workings and future directions of higher education and, outcomes progression and early graduate careers) and further education (covering post-16 transitions, GCSE retakes, T-levels and careers guidance in colleges). These areas are intrinsically linked to employment, as they are the immediate precursor for most people before they start their working lives.

But what about the other end of the spectrum during children’s earliest years? This is the time during which language, literacy and numeracy skills first emerge, not to mention a great deal of social development and self-regulation.

Although this is the point of education that is furthest removed from people’s later employment, it is arguably of equal importance to determining employment outcomes. Research shows that the gap between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers is already evident at age five when children start school, and that gap only continues to grow throughout children’s time within the education system (see here and here for more on this). DfE is prioritising the importance of early years and school age education in their social mobility plan, Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling potential  and the first two ambitions are closing the word gap in the early years and closing the attainment gap in schools.

One of our current evaluation research projects for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is trying to tackle this disadvantage gap, by giving practitioners the tools to identify children’s skills in language, numeracy, self- regulation and social development in three year olds, and then adjust the support they provide to those children to suit their needs. In the Early Years Toolbox project, we’re evaluating a pilot intervention where early years practitioners are trained to use three apps, and then apply their knowledge of children’s abilities to adjust their practice in classrooms. The project is currently underway and will be reporting in winter 2019/20.

It is really important to look at how best to recruit, train and retain staff working in the education sector, as there has been a recruitment crisis over the last six years in secondary schools. We welcome the Department’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy this week and we have been contributing to this debate through projects considering how key stakeholders view the teacher pay framework and the route into ITT over the last couple of years, as well as diversity within the teaching profession. We look forward to seeing the implementation of the new recommendations that have been set out and how these will be robustly evaluated in the future.

Another of our current projects looks at how parental engagement in early education is also key. As the Early Years Toolkit (a summary of early years research projects) shows, parental engagement programmes can add an average of four months additional progress for children under five, which can be a huge boost especially for disadvantaged children. IES will be evaluating a project called ‘Tips by Text’ which will explore how texting parents about their children’s education and encouraging at-home activities could improve children’s outcomes as part of EEF’s Home Learning Environment round with the Department for Education and SHINE. For this project, we’ll be looking for schools to take part very soon, so do keep an eye on the EEF website if you are keen to take part.

Our mission, of bringing about sustainable improvements in employment policy and practice, requires a deep understanding of people’s life journey through early, primary and secondary education, to employment, and also how and when people move into retirement.

Early education lays the foundations for skills and capabilities that are used much later, so we’re striving to further understanding of how education leads to different life chances for different groups.

Want to chat about this work or current and future research priorities in this area? We’d love to hear from you, so email me or get in touch on Twitter.

 Subscribe to IES blog posts

Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.