The Early Years

The Early Years Toolkit is an accessible summary of educational research. It provides guidance for early years professionals on how to use their resources to improve the learning of disadvantaged children. The Toolkit currently covers 12 topics, each summarised in terms of the average impact on learning, the strength of the supporting evidence and the cost.

The Toolkit is a live resource that will be updated on a regular basis as new summaries are completed and as findings from EEF-funded projects and other high-quality research become available. We would welcome suggestions for new topics to be included in future updates. If you have a topic suggestion, or any other comments or questions about the Early Years Toolkit, please contact Danielle Mason at

Months' impact

Months' impact is estimated in terms of the additional months' progress you can expect children to make as a result of an approach being used in an early years setting, taking average progress over a year as a benchmark.

For example, research summarised in the Toolkit shows that parental engagement approaches that have been evaluated in the past have had an average impact of five months. This means that children in early years settings where these parental engagement strategies were introduced made, on average, five months more progress over the course of a year compared to similar children in a setting that did not introduce the strategy.

These impact estimates are based on ‘effect sizes’ reported in British and international data (see table below). Effect sizes are quantitative measures of the impact of different approaches on learning. The Toolkit prioritises effect sizes derived from systematic reviews of research and quantitative syntheses of data such as meta-analyses of experimental studies. In most cases the effect sizes included in the Early Years Toolkit are based on studies investigating early literacy, early numeracy or early communication (speaking and listening) outcomes, which are the strongest predictors of future academic outcomes in schools.

Most approaches included in the Toolkit tend to have similar average impacts on children with different characteristics. However, where the research summarised suggests that an approach has a different average impact on the learning of children from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to the learning of their peers, the Toolkit’s ‘headline’ average impact figure refers to the former.

Months' ProgressEffect Size from......toDescription
-0.010.01Very low or impact
10.020.09Low impact
20.100.18Low impact
30.190.26Moderate impact
40.270.35Moderate impact
50.360.44Moderate impact
60.450.52High impact
70.530.61High impact
80.620.69High impact
90.700.78Very high impact
100.790.87Very high impact
110.880.95Very high impact
120.96>1.0Very high impact


Cost estimates are based on the approximate cost of implementing an approach in a group of 26 children. Estimates commonly include the cost of additional resources, and training or professional development if required.

£Very low: up to about £2,000 per year for 26 children, or less than £80 per child per year
££Low: £2,001 to £5,000 per year for 26 children, or up to about £200 per child per year
£££Moderate: £5,001 to £18,000 per year for 26 children, or up to about £700 per child per year
££££High: £18,001 to £30,000 per year for 26 children, or up to £1,200 per child per year.
£££££Very high: over £30,000 per year for 26 children, or over £1,200 per child per year


The toolkit presents a rating of evidence security for each approach - a 'padlock' security rating. These evidence ratings are based on: the quantity of evidence available (i.e. the number of systematic reviews or meta-analyses and the number of primary studies which they synthesise); the methodological quality of the available evidence; and the consistency of estimated impact across the systematic reviews and meta-analyses that have been synthesised.

1 padlockVery limited: Quantitative evidence of impact from single studies, but with effect size data reported or calculable. No systematic reviews with quantitative data or meta-analyses located
2 padlocksLimited: At least one meta-analysis or systematic review with quantitative evidence of impact on attainment or cognitive or curriculum outcome measures.
3 padlocksModerate: Two or more rigorous meta-analyses of experimental studies of school age students with cognitive or curriculum outcome measures.
4 padlocksExtensive: Three or more meta-analyses from well-controlled experiments mainly undertaken in schools using pupil attainment data with some exploration of causes of any identified heterogeneity
5 padlocksVery Extensive: Consistent high quality evidence from at least five robust and recent meta-analyses where the majority of the included studies have good ecological validity and where the outcome measures include curriculum measures or standardised tests in school subject areas.

Who wrote the Toolkit?

The Early Years Toolkit has been produced by the Education Endowment Foundation in collaboration with a team of academics at Durham University, led by Professor Steve Higgins.

The Early Years Toolkit follows a similar methodology to the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which provides guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.