EEF partners with the Nuffield Foundation to build the evidence base around early years intervention

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is partnering with the Nuffield Foundation to build the evidence-base of ‘what works’ when it comes to improving outcomes for disadvantaged children in the early years.

Gaps in outcomes begin to emerge between children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds from the earliest stages of learning. At the start of school, children from the poorest backgrounds are estimated to be 19 months behind their most affluent peers of the same age in development of vocabulary.

While there is some high-quality evidence about ‘what works’ in the early years – for example, the EEF’s Early Years Toolkit highlights approaches underpinned by robust research – there is very little evidence available to indicate which specific interventions are most effective in improving children’s learning and development.

The EEF has so far committed funding for seven trials in the early years reaching around 9,000 nurseries and schools. Though this will add significantly to the existing evidence base, the EEF is keen to receive more high-quality applications in the early years, which have historically been of a lower quality than proposals for school-age pupils.

The two organisations aim to address this research gap so that early years leaders and practitioners can be better served by well-evidenced programmes.

The Nuffield Foundation will fund the development and early evaluation of early years interventions that seek to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children, but that currently have a limited evidence base. The aim is that they will develop the evidence to a sufficient level to make it a strong candidate for future EEF funding, likely through a larger scale randomised control trial (RCT).

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

There is extensive research demonstrating an attainment gap in the early years, the impact of this gap on later educational outcomes, and the value of high-quality early years provision for disadvantaged pupils. We also know a fair amount about the strategies which are most effective for young children, notably improving communications and language, parental engagement, and self-regulation.

However, there is less strong evidence to indicate which specific interventions are most effective in improving children’s learning and development. Our new partnership with the Nuffield Foundation aims to create just such a pipeline, to build the evidence base of ‘what works’ in the early years. It will enable organisations with innovative ideas to test and learn, giving them the support they need to put together strong applications for EEF trial funding.

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said: 

The Nuffield Foundation has a strong track record in funding the development and initial evaluation of promising early years interventions. Projects such as the Nuffield Early Language Intervention are able to qualify for large-scale evaluation by the EEF because of initial investment and continued engagement from the Nuffield Foundation.

This partnership with the EEF will enable us to capitalise on that success by creating a pipeline for early years interventions from development stage to large-scale trials. Ultimately, this will mean that more children benefit from approaches that have been proven to improve outcomes during this critical period of children’s development just before they enter primary education.

The deadline for funding applications for this call is Monday 4th September 2017.

To apply, please go to

  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £82.4 million to 133 projects working with over 850,000 pupils in over 8,300 schools across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.
  2. The Nuffield Foundation is a charitable trust established in 1943 by William Morris, Lord Nuffield, the founder of Morris Motors. Their aim is to improve social well-being by funding research and innovation in education and social policy, and building research capacity in science and social science.
  3. In 2015, the EEF launched the Early Years Toolkit, an accessible summary of educational research developed by the EEF and a team of academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The Toolkit currently covers 12 topics and summarises research from over 1,600 studies. The Toolkit is a live resource which is regularly updated as new findings are published.