Professional development in the early years: building evidence to close the gap (Round 2) (closed)

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

Context and background

There is good evidence that the quality of early years education has an important impact on a range of developmental outcomes. The Study of Quality of Early Years Provision identifies a number of factors that affect quality, including training plans, qualifications and ratios. However, we know much less about which approaches to improving quality are most effective and the best ways of recruiting, training, supporting and retaining practitioners to improve learning outcomes in the early years.

The aim of this funding round is to provide support for initiatives focused on professional development in the early years. We are open to ideas that can demonstrate clear theory of how the approach will lead to improvements in practice, and ultimately learning outcomes, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We expect that many applications may require piloting and formative evaluation to test their feasibility, theory of change and evidence of promise, rather than large-scale impact evaluation. However, we are also open to considering impact evaluations for projects that are suitably developed. Independent evaluation teams will be appointed to support successful applicants with developing their approaches, and/or testing evidence for their programme’s impact. We encourage applicants to consult reviews of the wider evidence base in preparing their applications.


We are interested in proposals that will:

  • Support high quality professional development in the early years, including in Reception;
  • Through these changes, improve practice quality and children’s outcomes in early maths, language and literacy development, and/or self-regulation; and
  • Narrow the development gap between socio-economically disadvantaged pupils and their peers at (or before) age 5;

We are particularly keen to receive applications focused on early maths and approaches for supporting teaching in Reception, which were relatively under-represented in our previous funding round. However, we remain open to ideas beyond these areas, and will prioritise bids that have a strong theory of change or evidence that they are likely to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children, and that are ready to be evaluated.

We will consider both formative evaluations for earlier-stage initiatives, and impact evaluations of more developed ideas. We are also interested in approaches that have been successfully evaluated internationally and could be adapted for settings in England. The funding round is likely to be very competitive, we plan to support only a small number of projects, and approaches that are entirely new and have not previously been delivered are unlikely to be successful.

Proposals should:

  • Focus on improving the learning of disadvantaged children in England through supporting professional development.
  • Be informed and supported by a strong theory of change or evidence of impact on educational outcomes, particularly early maths, language and literacy, and/or self-regulation. We would like applicants to outline how their proposal applies the findings of rigorous research from wider literature and their previous record of delivery.
  • 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, or other early years providers. Therefore, we are only interested in developing and testing initiatives that are practical and cost-effective to deliver.
  • 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.

More detail on the application form is provided in the guidance notes.

How to apply

Please read this guidance note alongside the standard guidance for our funding round, and the Frequently Asked Questions section on our website. An application form for the Early Years funding round can be accessed here. We advise completing your application in Google Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer (Microsoft Edge is incompatible). Please note that once you have logged on to EEF’s online application system, there is a specific application form for the Early Years funding round.

The funding round is open from Wednesday 14th November 2018 until 5pm on Friday 15th February 2019.