The Behavioural Insights Team’s Tips by Text programme delivers a 9‑month text curriculum to the parents of Reception children, sending 3 texts per week designed to improve 4 – 5 year olds’ literacy, language, numeracy and social and emotional skills. These texts are derived from the READY4K! programme developed and tested in California.
The first message of the week is designed to inform and motivate parents, the second offers a specific activity designed to fit into family routines, while the final message provides encouragement, reinforcement and a follow up tip. A typical activity message to help develop numeracy skills might take the following form:“As you put away the dishes, count the plates one-by-one with your child. Then try the bowls…”.
As part of the Home Learning Environment Round, the EEF partnered with the Department for Education and Leeds-based education charity SHINE to test projects that support parents to help improve their children’s cognitive skills at home before they start school. Tips by Text was funded through this round.
This project and its evaluation were affected by the 2020 and 2021 partial school closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the delivery was extended and outcome data collection delivered later than planned, and some outcome data collection was not possible. The trial experience significant attrition (approximately 70%), as far fewer post-tests could be completed due to Covid-19, and children experienced substantial disruption to their education and lives during this time.
With these caveats in mind, children whose parents received the Tips by Text programme showed no additional progress on a measure of literacy skills compared with children whose parents had not received the programme.
Among pupils eligible for Free School Meals, the estimated effect size for literacy skills was equivalent to one month’s additional progress. However, this was not statistically significant and should be interpreted with caution.
The EEF is discussing next steps for a potential further evaluation of Tips by Text.