The Effective Early Learning (EEL) Project, aims to improve the quality of children’s learning in early years settings. Pauline Cox explains the project’s aims.

Facts about the EEL Project

  • The Effective Early Learning (EEL) Project is a professional development programme of supported self-evaluation and improvement for all settings that provide early education and care for young children.
  • Since 1993 a team of researchers, led by Professor Christine Pascal and Dr Tony Bertram, based at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood at University College Worcester, has been working on the project.
  • It has been trialled and developed by practitioners in 60 local authorities across the United Kingdom, as well as the Netherlands and Portugal.
  • The basic training lasts for three days and is funded by local authorities.
  • Each setting is supported by an external adviser who will act as a source of expert knowledge; s/he may give information on resources, further training, support structures or organisational changes.
  • A two-day course is available for those who have completed their basic training, have participated in EEL improvement in a setting, and who then wish to become accredited EEL trainers [renewable after three years].

The Effective Early Learning Project aims:

  • to develop a cost-effective strategy to evaluate and improve the quality and effectiveness of early learning experiences available to young children in a wide range of education and care settings
  • to achieve this through a collaborative, systematic and rigorous process of self-evaluation, which is supported and validated externally
  • to build upon, and extend, the existing skills and expertise of those who work with young children in a range of early years settings.

It is focused around the use of a model of Quality Evaluation and Development.

Quality assurance

The quality of early childhood education has been high on the political and social agenda for some years and major national reports have argued that educational provision for young children should be expanded. These reports have stressed the importance of high quality in this expansion, the need for a national system of quality review and assurance, and a strategy of evaluation and development in early childhood settings. It was also strongly felt that there was a need for guidance for practitioners on the achievement of more consistent and coherent approaches to observing, assessing, recording and reporting children’s progress in early years; as well as improving what is offered to children in the early stages of their education.

Young children in the UK are learning in many different settings, each of these settings operating with different aims, funding, resources, staffing and quality control procedures. While there should be diversity of provision, there should not be a wide range of standards. It is essential that the quality and effectiveness of young children’s early learning experiences are of high quality to ensure a sound basis for later life. Therefore, it is argued that the diversity of provision requires ‘quality assurance’. Through the implementation of the EEL Project, Professor Christine Pascal proposes a programme for quality evaluation and improvement that takes early years settings up to, and beyond, minimum regulatory standards and supports them in a process of long-term development.

Professional development opportunities

The programme also offers professional, work-place focused training culminating in national academic qualifications for staff at different levels. It is also good preparation for Ofsted inspections.

EEL support workers, external advisers and participating practitioners with degrees can submit their work for the Accredited Certificate in Effective Early Learning. This is equal to three credits of the Oxford Modular Scheme, at a graduate level, within the Unified Continuing Professional Development Scheme (Faculty of Education and Psychology) validated at University College Worcester. A further three units can be accredited for an independent study and this would lead to the Diploma of Professional Studies in Education. Alternatively, you can work towards the degree of BA in Education.

Development and research

The project has two elements: development and research. The main impetus of the work is to develop and improve the quality and effectiveness of young children’s learning. However, this process provides an abundance of detailed qualitative and quantitative data from early years settings across the UK, which has allowed the team of researchers to make comparative evaluations of different kinds of provision in early years care and education.

Two methods of observation pioneered by Professor Ferre Laevers of Leuven University, Belgium are used:

1 The Child Involvement Scale
This is an observation method which aims to measure the level of a child’s involvement in an activity. It is child focused and attempts to measure the process of learning, rather than concentrating on outcomes. Young children regularly become absorbed in what they are doing and Professor Laevers believes that an involved child is gaining a deep, motivated, intense and long-term learning experience. He bases his theories on the understanding that the most productive learning occurs when we are so involved with something that we lose ourselves in it.

The Involvement Scale uses a list of signals that are recorded on a five-point scale. These signals range from Level One, ‘where a child may seem absent and display no energy, activity is simple, repetitive and passive’, to Level Five, ‘where a child is concentrated, energetic and persistent with intense activity revealing the greatest involvement’.

2 The Adult Engagement Scale
Interactions between the practitioner and the child are the important factor in the effectiveness of the learning experience. The observation measures three aspects of the adult’s behaviour which affect the child’s learning – sensitivity, stimulation and autonomy.

Pauline Cox is the foundation stage manager at Gawcott Infant School, Buckinghamshire.