Improving the Home Learning Environment (closed)

This grant-funding round closed on 27 July 2018. Thank you to all those who put the time and effort into submitting your ideas for our consideration. We will be in touch with applicants in due course.

Improving the Home Learning Environment: building evidence to close the gap

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Department for Education (DfE) are looking to fund and evaluate early years education projects focussed on improving the home learning environment, in order to improve the learning and development of children from low-income families aged 0–5. 

This project is part of the DfE’s plan to close the ‘word gap’, set out in Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, and part of the DfE’s commitment in the Northern Powerhouse strategy [1]. This means that applicants would need to deliver programmes in the north of England (defined as one of the following three English regions: the North East, the North West, or Yorkshire and the Humber). 

Context and background

Parents play a crucial role in supporting their children’s learning in the home and the quality of the home learning environment (e.g. activity such as a parent reading to their child or helping them learn letters, numbers, songs or nursery rhymes) is consistently associated with children’s academic outcomes. However, whilst the association between the home learning environment and a child’s academic success is well-established, there is relatively little robust evidence on which approaches are most effective at improving it.

The aim of this funding round is to provide support for initiatives focused on improving the home learning environment in the early years, years, with a focus on supporting early language and literacy development. We are particularly interested in approaches that are likely to benefit children from more socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. 

These approaches could include, for example: home-visiting programmes; advice and materials to support shared reading; digital approaches to prompt play or positive interactions; or more intensive support for parents or children (see scope below). We are open to a wide range of ideas that can demonstrate feasibility and clear theory of how the approach will lead to improvements in how parents support their children’s early learning, and ultimately children’s learning outcomes themselves. 

We are most interested in applications that have some previous evidence of promise, and which are ready to be rigorously evaluated. However, we are also open to earlier stage ideas that would benefit from piloting and development (including ideas from other countries), if they are innovative, shown to be feasible are underpinned by strong theory. Independent evaluation teams will be appointed to work with each of the successful applicants. We encourage applicants to consult reviews of the wider evidence base in preparing their applications (see further reading, below).


We are interested in proposals that will:

  • Support improvements in the early home learning environment for children up to the age of 5, in the north of England;
  • Through changes to the home environment, improve children’s outcomes in one or more of the following areas: language; literacy; early numeracy; social and emotional development and/or self-regulation;
  • Narrow the development gap/’word gap’ between socio-economically disadvantaged pupils and their peers at (or before) age 5;

In addition, proposals should:

  • Be informed and supported by evidence of impacting on learning outcomes, particularly one or more of: language, literacy, early numeracy, social and emotional development and/or self-regulation. We would like applicants to outline how their proposal applies the findings of rigorous research from wider literature, and previous evaluation of their approach.
  • Be practical, cost-effective and scalable. Our aim is to identify approaches that, if shown to be successful, could be taken on by schools, nurseries, PVIs, children’s centres, local authorities, or other early years providers. Therefore we are only interested in developing and testing initiatives that are practical and cost-effective to deliver. We are particularly interested in approaches that make best use of digital delivery where it can be employed effectively.
  • Be willing and able to be independently evaluated. We will appoint an independent evaluator, and work with successful applicants to design an appropriate evaluation plan. Note that this does not need to be included in your project plan and budget.
  • Be clear how they will support children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Proposals should describe their expected beneficiaries and how they would ensure uptake among socio-economically disadvantaged families (defined as those eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium/two-year-old entitlement, or equivalent for their age). Applicants need to consider and justify how their project will be implemented and delivered with this in mind. Note: applicants do not need to have identified specific settings, families, or areas to work in; this would be agreed with an independent evaluator if the bid was successful. Applicants do not need to work exclusively with children from disadvantaged background, but this should be a strong focus.

More detail on the application form is provided in the notes at the end of this document.

How to apply

Please read this guidance note and details below alongside the standard “Frequently Asked Questions” section on our website. An application form for the Home Learning Environment funding round can be accessed here. Please note that once you have logged on to EEF’s online application system, there is a specific application form for the HLE funding round.

The funding round is open from Friday 1st June until 5pm on Friday 27th July 2018.

Supporting documents

The following links provide some background reading:

Application guidance notes

Closing date: 5pm Friday 27th July 2018

  • To submit an application, please register via our website and complete the online form.
  • Please ensure that you read these guidance notes and our Funding FAQs before submitting an application. You might also find it useful to have a look at the projects we have funded in the past for examples of the types of things we fund. We aim to fund a mix of different types of project, so if your idea is very similar to one we have already supported, do contact us before applying.
  • These notes deal with each question from the initial application form in turn. Each section relates to a section on the form.
  • At this stage of the application process we are looking for:
    • Well-defined programmes with clear explanation of how they will be implemented. Can you be clear about what will happen at every stage of your intervention?
    • Evidence that suggests your intervention is effective at raising the attainment and skills of disadvantaged children. This evidence needs to be as specific to your intervention as possible. It is a good idea to draw on the wider research literature but only if you can make a clear link back to your intervention.
    • Programmes that are scalable (can be replicated across England). A programme that relies on the ability of one particular early years practitioner or developer is not scalable. Scalable programmes can be delivered by other teachers and other organisations, and should be cost-effective.
  • Where the guidance refers to ‘schools’ this can be read as referring to a range of early years settings, for example, children’s centres and nurseries. Where the guidance refers to ‘teachers’ this can be read as referring to a range of early years practitioners. Where the guidance refers to ‘parents’ this can be read as including other carers.
  • Applications can be saved on the system while drafting. You may find it easier to draft first in another program, like Microsoft Word, paying attention to the word count for each question. If copying into the form, please format using the form’s tools.

We will be in touch with applicants in October 2018. Independent evaluators will be appointed to work with successful applicants after this point. If you have any questions, please contact the Programmes Team on 020 7802 1676

Eligibility criteria

Do you intend to implement this project in the north of England?

  • Please note that the EEF can only fund projects that will work for the benefit of children in England, and this funding round has a particular focus on delivery in the north of England. (In this context, the north of England means areas in one of the following three English regions: the North East, North West or Yorkshire and the Humber.) We are, however, very open to innovative ideas from overseas that are applicable in England.

Are you applying for the approach to be independently evaluated?

  • We are not a source of funding for ongoing delivery of existing programmes. If successful, you will be required to work with new settings and families that you have not previously worked with, and to collaborate with an independent evaluation team who will work with you to design a robust evaluation.

Are you applying to deliver your intervention in more than one setting?

  • We do not fund projects in one or very small numbers of settings. Our smallest projects have been in 10–20 settings, but are typically in more than 50, and often over 100 settings. Some applicants may propose working directly with families (ie, not via settings) – in most cases we would expect them to reach at least 200 children.

Section 1: About your organisation

1.1 Name of organisation

1.2 Where is your organisation based? If your organisation is national, please provide the location of your head office.

  • Please search for the relevant local authority.

1.3 Organisation type

  • Please select from:
  • Early Years Setting
  • Primary school
  • Secondary school
  • Further education college
  • University
  • Local education authority
  • Charity
  • For profit company
  • Multi-academy trust / Teaching School Alliance
  • Community Enterprise Company / Social Enterprise
  • Other

1.4 Please describe briefly the experience and expertise of the project team (max 100 words).

  • The project team is central to ensuring EEF funds are well spent and the project has the maximum impact. We would like to know about them and their track record in this area (e.g. recruiting settings or parents to projects, managing complex projects, working with partners).

1.5 Please give the name and a brief description of any partner organisations that will contribute to this project (max 100 words)

  • Please indicate what role the partner organisation(s) will play in the proposed project.
  • It is not necessary to list individual schools/settings you hope to work with, unless they are playing a role in developing or delivering the project.

1.6-1.9 – Applicant contact details

Section 2: About the project

2.1 Project title (max 15 word)

  • Please give your project a title. Simple, descriptive titles (e.g. “Supporting parents with shared reading” or “Home visiting programme in the North-East”) are welcome.

2.2 Please state the main research question that you expect the evaluation of your programme to answer. For example, ‘Does book gifting lead to improved language outcomes for 3 year olds?’

2.3 Which age group are you targeting?

  • Please give the age range of children that will be supported by your project, eg, 2–3 year olds.

2.4 Who will deliver the intervention to parents?

  • Please select from: Teachers/Early years practitioners/External staff/Volunteers/Other

2.5 Please outline your proposed project. Please focus on describing the intervention, including the specific activities that, e.g., early years practitioners, parents, and children will be expected to do. (maximum 400 words)

  • Please give a clear, simple description of what your project will do. What would it look like from the point of view of a participating school/setting/parent?
  • Please ensure that within your answer to this and other questions, you have answered the following:
    • Why? The rationale for the intervention. You can assume that we have some understanding of the broad issues facing disadvantaged pupils, but any details specific to your intervention – e.g. specific language deficits, or age groups – should be explained
    • Who will benefit from the project (the ultimate recipients – e.g. all children or targeted groups?
    • How will eligible children / families be identified, recruited and retained? If parents are required to attend courses or workshops, how will attendance be ensured?
    • What? What materials (e.g. structured activities for parents) and practices (e.g. pedagogies) will be introduced/altered in order to try to improve outcomes?
    • Who will deliver the materials and practices? Will it be early years practitioners/teachers/TAs or external experts supporting parents? How often will activities be delivered (e.g. weekly sessions) and for how long?
    • Who will provide training? How will this happen? When and for how long?
    • What ongoing support will there be? How will programme quality be monitored and maintained?

2.6 How much time and resources are required to implement your intervention? (maximum 200 words)

  • For example, how long does the initial training take? What preparation is required before this? How is the training delivered? What is the frequency of the intervention (e.g. weekly 30 minute sessions)? How long does the delivery of the intervention last (e.g. one term)? How much does the training cost?

2.7 What is the evidence for the principles behind the programme? (maximum 200 words)

  • What is the general evidence that the content of the programme is likely to improve the attainment and skills of disadvantaged children? Are the approaches and pedagogies backed up by robust educational theory and research?
  • For example, this could include evidence for a particular strategy (e.g. dialogic reading, or phonics), drawing on wider international research about its impact.
  • Evidence from the Early Years Toolkit could be a starting point, but we expect the strongest applications to have more detailed justifications.
  • You can provide links/references to any evaluation reports cited here in question 2.14.

2.8 What type of evaluation conducted to date has led to the strongest evidence that the proposed programme is likely to have an impact on attainment, or an outcome closely linked to attainment?

Please select from:

  1.  Not previously evaluated
  2. Randomised controlled trial
  3. Quasi-experimental design trial (e.g. matched control)
  4. Pre- and post-test data
  5. Case study data
  6. None apply

2.9 Please describe the evidence for your programme’s impact on attainment (maximum 300 words)

  • Please include information about the sample size, outcome measures and key findings of any evaluations completed. You can provide links/references to any evaluation reports cited elsewhere in the application.
  • Wherever possible, please show evidence that children who participate in the proposed project (or something similar) improve relative to a comparison group of similar children who do not participate.
  • References to the wider literature should only be used here to support the specific approaches that you’re suggesting, for example showing that a very similar intervention had a positive impact when tested using a robust methodology. This evidence could be drawn from international studies.
  • More information about what the EEF considers to be good evidence can be found on the evaluation section of our website.

2.10 If the proposed project has been implemented previously in England, please describe its reach and impact, and the cost so far. (Max. 200 words)

  • We are interested in how developed the project is and what its reach and impact has been prior to EEF involvement. How many English schools/settings/parents participated last year?
  • We are most interested in projects that have been delivered to some extent already, and therefore do not require extensive development before they can be tested in large numbers of settings.
  • Has the project been funded by directly the Department for Education at some stage?

2.11 If the proposed project were to be funded by the EEF and a positive impact were found, what do you think are possible ways that the proposed intervention could be taken to scale? (Max. 100 words)

  • We are interested in how your intervention might be scaled up so that it could be delivered in large numbers of settings / homes in England.
  • For example, does the lead organisation have the capacity and skills to grow the model? Or would it need to partner with a larger organisation/network?

2.12 References to quoted research (Max. 100 words)

  • Please provide either full references or URLs to key reports quoted in the previous answers here.

Section 3: Finances

3.1 What is the estimated cost per school/setting of your intervention? (Maximum 50 words)

  • If you already provide the intervention to early years settings/schools and children please indicate how much it costs per setting/child.
  • If you don’t currently offer the intervention please estimate how much you think it would cost per setting/child if you were to offer it at scale.
  • This estimate should not include the additional costs that result from participating in an evaluation (e.g. recruitment of settings, liaison with evaluator).

3.2 Approximately how many schools/settings/children do you intend to work with?

  • Please note that we ask that applicants are willing to be flexible on the exact scale and delivery model, in order to ensure that a robust evaluation can be undertaken. We work with successful applicants and an external evaluator to jointly design a project and evaluation plan. However, it is useful to have an indication of the number of settings/families that you are comfortable working with.

3.3 How much funding from the EEF are you seeking in total? (Max. 100 words)

  • If possible, please break the budget down into 5 broad types of costs:
    • Intervention development
    • Setting/parent recruitment
    • Intervention delivery (e.g. training, resources)
    • Project management and admin
    • Other (please specify)
  • A more detailed budget is not required at this stage; project budgets often change substantially once we begin working with successful applicants. For example, we may wish to change the number of settings involved in the project in order to get a more robust estimate of its impact. We will ask for a more detailed budget breakdown if your application progresses to later stages of the process. At this stage of applications we are only looking for an approximate cost of the intervention.
  • You do not need to include costs of running the evaluation – the EEF will commission an external research team who will be responsible for designing and delivering the evaluation, in partnership with you.
  • For a description of what EEF funding covers you should consult our Funding FAQs on our website, which can be found here.

3.4 Grant total requested

  • Please enter your total amount requested from the EEF (numbers only).

3.5 What funding are you intending to secure from other sources? (Max. 100 words)

  • To enable us to continue funding innovative, evidence-based ideas we normally expect all applicants to apply with a contribution within the range of 5% to 50% of the overall programme costs, or to be able to commit to fundraising for such a contribution. Please include in your application your plan for identifying this contribution. If there are particular reasons why you think you will be unable to do this, please let us know.
  • For-profit applicants are expected to substantially subsidise the project cost.
  • Schools, maintained early years settings or local authority applicants do not need to secure funding from other sources.
  • We typically expect schools/settings participating in trials to contribute to the implementation of the project where appropriate (for example, covering the costs of teachers’ time and paying a subsidised fee for the intervention).
  • If you have approached, or are considering approaching, any other organisations to seek funding for this project, please outline these organisations and the amounts sought here.

[1] The strategy includes the commitment to “work with northern city regions and other areas in the North of England facing the greatest challenges, to explore options for improving the delivery of early years outcomes”.