IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Research on early years education provision receives BERA Public Engagement and Impact Award

24 November 2023

A research team at the University of Oxford and IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, has won the British Educational Research Association (BERA) 2023 Public Engagement and Impact Award.

A girl and a boy sit at a blue table with near-empty plates holding carrots and peas in a nursery classroom. Credit: Drazen / Adobe

The project, on “Effective Provision of Preschool, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) - Transforming Early Education Policy and Practice”, has formed a major influential longitudinal study which followed children’s progress between the ages of 3 to 18. 

EPPSE data has been used by the Institute for Fiscal Studies to predict the future economic returns to society of investing in early years education, and has been cited in UNICEF and UNESCO reports. The research has changed thinking and practice in UK pre-school entitlement, pedagogy, curriculum and teacher education in the UK. The findings also led to free provision of high-quality pre-schooling for all three and four-year-olds in the UK. 

The research, which took place from 1997 to 2003, won the award for providing the foundations for policy change, recognising the projects’ long-term impact. It focussed on finding out what constituted effectiveness and quality in pre-school practice with extensions covering primary (EPPE 2003 - 2008) and secondary (EPPSE 2008- 2014) education.   

EPPSE showed that early learning shapes children’s development; it benefits all children but matters more for children from disadvantaged families. It investigated both academic and social/behavioural development alongside the influence of the family on long term outcomes. 

The research drew particular attention to the importance of the early years home learning environment. It developed new ways to measure preschool quality and demonstrated the importance of high-quality early educational experiences for long term benefits, especially for children from more vulnerable backgrounds. EPPSE also showed how mixed-method, longitudinal studies can contribute to understanding of the - what, why and how of high-quality early learning experiences. 

Professor Iram Siraj (University of Oxford), who was based at IOE during the earlier stages of the project, said: “We are pleased to be recognised by BERA because we planned our research from the very beginning to be useful to researchers, early years staff as well as policy-makers... Our combination of a mixed methods and ‘effectiveness’ design led us to rich, rigorous findings relevant to policy and practice across different phases of education.” 

Brenda Taggart, one of the project's Principal Investigators, its Research Coordinator, and now Honorary Senior Research Associate at IOE, added: “We are delighted to receive this prestigious award. The EPPSE study demonstrates the importance of longitudinal research.  

“The rigour of the methodology and analyses coupled with the team's ability to make research findings accessible has made it a seminal study in the field of early years education and care.”

Professor Iam Siraj adds: “The impact has been wide-ranging in the UK and abroad. During the nearly twenty years of the EPPSE research, early childhood education and care has undergone a global expansion and the EPPSE findings have provided crucial research evidence to inform policy and practice. We contributed sharply to the debate which promoted children’s right to quality early years care and education when priority was largely on 'access to childcare provision'. We shifted the focus to the 'quality' of both care and early learning at home and pre-school. The findings have influenced increased spending on research, expansion of the sector and shone a light on improving training and qualifications for staff with a focus on child development and effective pedagogy.”

At the end of the project, the full EPPSE database was uploaded to the Essex Archive making it a heritage resource for students and researchers of the future. Members of the team continue to build on the research legacy of the study by working with and inspiring other research teams across the world such as in Australia, China, Germany, Norway and Singapore. In addition, the team has developed evidence-based resources such as quality rating scales and professional development studies and their evaluations, which are taking place in the UK and abroad, support practitioners and policy makers to advance systems which prioritise quality uplift.

The project joins a number of award winners linked to research at IOE. In 2020 the Centre for Holocaust Education received the team award for its work tackling widespread Holocaust myths and misconceptions through teacher training and sustained support for schools, and the previous year saw the Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants (MITA) project also awarded



Credit: Drazen / Adobe.