Education Endowment Foundation:Early Years Toolbox

Early Years Toolbox

Action for Children
Project info

Independent Evaluator

NIESR logo
The Institute for Employment Studies logo
The Institute for Employment Studies
Piloting a suite of app-based assessments designed to improve early years practice.
Pupils: 737 Schools: 27 Grant: £171,920
Key Stage: EY Duration: 1 year(s) 6 month(s) Type of Trial: Pilot Study
Completed May 2020

The Early Years Toolbox (EYT) is a suite of iPad-based assessments suitable for use with young children by early years settings. It includes eight short, engaging and game-like assessment apps that aim to measure abilities that research has shown to be the most predictive of later academic, social, emotional, cognitive and life outcomes. This project also included professional development to train early years staff to use three of the EYT apps: Expressive Vocabulary, Early Numeracy and the Child Self-Regulation & Behaviour Questionnaire. The professional development involved an initial off-site training day, a two-hour follow-up training session held at each nursery, three tailored support visits, a consolidation day towards the end of the pilot and additional resources such as an online forum and evidence-informed literature. This pilot trial was co-funded by the Department for Education as part of our Early Years Professional Development Funding round.

There is evidence that accurate knowledge of children’s skills enables more effective instruction related to children’s individual needs. However, much less is known about how formative assessment within early years settings, and knowledge of child development and skills, influences practice and outcomes. The EYT apps have undergone extensive development and their validity has been tested on 1,764 children in Australia. However, this intervention, which seeks to integrate the apps into routine early years practice, has less evidence and this project was a pilot of the approach.

This evaluation explored whether using the EYT apps as part of a package of professional development can influence the knowledge and practice of early years staff, what information and level of support may be needed to act on the app-based assessments and whether this intervention is ready to be implemented at scale, and therefore its impact on child outcomes tested

The independent evaluation found some evidence that the intervention had the potential to positively change practitioners’ practices. Those that reported no or limited change to their practice were settings that were satisfied with their existing methods of assessment, typically school-based nurseries. There was limited evidence on whether the intervention enhanced practitioners understanding of children’s development of skills and children’s current competencies. However, those that did report improved understanding of competencies found the numeracy app most useful

The approach of the intervention was found to be feasible, but the evaluation highlighted several areas of development needed to ensure a future trial has the best chances of showing impact, such as consistency in the cascading of training and delivery of support visits, improved practitioner advice for how to act on the results of the assessments, and improvements to the output of the assessments so they are in a form that is more user-friendly for early years staff.


Is there evidence to support the theory of change?


There is some evidence that the intervention improved practice and changed practitioners’ behaviour, but only limited evidence on whether the intervention enhanced practitioner understanding of child development, ability to target support, and whether it could improve child outcomes. However, this evidence is based upon staff report that may under or overestimate change.

Was the approach feasible?


The approach is feasible and could be improved by automating the presentation of assessment data and making other improvements to gameplay to help increase take up.

Is the approach ready to be evaluated in a trial?


EYT is now more replicable and scalable but consistency in the cascading of training and consultant delivery is needed to ensure a future trial has the best chance of showing impact. More support is required so that practitioners know how to respond after gaps in children’s competencies are identified.