By age five two-fifths of children have not developed the foundational skills they need to thrive in life and fully engage in learning.
Skills such as language and communication, and social & emotional development are the building blocks to give children the best start in life, and highly predict future outcomes. The Department for Education has also highlighted these areas, such as closing the ‘word gap’, as key elements for improving social mobility. Sadly, if you start from a position of deficit in these areas it is hard to close the gap.
This situation is even worse for children from disadvantaged backgrounds where more than half of all children do not have these core skills. If we are to address social mobility, EasyPeasy believe it must start early and focus on narrowing this iniquitous gap.
Parents are vital to any efforts to close the gap. The quality of the home learning environment in the early years is one of the greatest influences on children’s early development. In the UK, the groundbreaking EPPSE study established the primary influence of the home learning environment and attending pre-school education on children’s development.
A follow up EPPSE study published in 2015 found that the influence of early years home learning environment continued right through to A-level results, even after the effects of pre-school education have faded. The EPPSE studies have resulted in major policy change, ushering in universal funding of early education for 3&4 year olds, and for disadvantaged 2 year olds – but why has it not heralded in a similarly sweeping set of initiatives to support home learning and parental engagement?
The mission at EasyPeasy is to tackle this inequality by improving school readiness across the UK. Of all the influences on children’s development in the early years, parenting style is the greatest. Parent-child relationships characterised by warmth and consistency develop character capabilities like resilience and persistence.
Vibrant home learning environments where talking and reading are the norm develop language and vocabulary, and love of learning. Unsurprisingly, parents are all doing the best they can for their children, but most are time poor, tired, and don’t necessarily understand the important role they play in their child’s learning.
EasyPeasy simply uses the mobile phone as a channel through which to reach parents where they are, and arm them with inspiration and ideas for games and activities to play with their children. They use video to create engaging content, and all of the games align to the Early Years Foundation Stage, the same curriculum that teachers and nursery practitioners are using within setting environments. EasyPeasy also provides teachers and practitioners with data on the learning activity occurring through EasyPeasy, helping to bridge the home-school gap.
And they know it works. In an efficacy trial conducted by Professor Kathy Sylva in disadvantaged communities in East London and the south coast, EasyPeasy was found to have a statistically significant positive impact on children’s cognitive self-regulation, concentration, and self-control, and parent’s consistency with rules and boundaries. These changes occurred after just 18 weeks of parents and children playing together with EasyPeasy.
Whilst there are other family interventions that have great and rigorous impact, through using technology EasyPeasy are able to deliver their service at a fraction of the cost of face to face programmes.
40,000 families supported through EasyPeasy
Work in action
At EasyPeasy, their mission is to close the developmental gap that is already apparent at age 5, and that goes on to predict significant inequalities in children’s outcomes, holding back social mobility.
We’ve supported over 40,000 families with EasyPeasy, delivered through over 400 early years settings and trained over 800 early years practitioners.
EasyPeasy believe technology and innovation provide a mechanism and toolkit to overcome the barriers to an effective, systems wide parent engagement and home learning strategy that could drive a major transformation in the early years sector. Good user centred design can help overcome barriers to parent engagement by better understanding parent’s lived experiences and designing solutions that support and encourage them, rather than undermine or stigmatise.
Digital technology offers routes to scale that are far more affordable than traditional delivery models.
EasyPeasy have four core objectives to achieve our mission:
1. Design a service that really works to engage parents and improve the home learning environment, particularly for the disadvantaged
2. Prove that it is effective in building children’s foundational skills
3. Ensure the approach is affordable and scalable, through the application of digital technology
4. Take the approach to scale, to narrow the development gap on a population level
The big changer
Jen Lexmond, Founder and CEO
Jen began her career working at the think tank Demos where she led a research programme on social mobility and the predictive power of early child development in shaping children’s life chances. This research has been cited widely in government white papers and best practice directives. Jen went on to work as Head of Learning in the Public Services Lab at the foundation, Nesta, where she was responsible for creating and implementing strategies to measure the social impact of multi-million pound funding initiatives. She subsequently moved to Government Digital Services, where she led large scale service redesign projects at the Department of Health, Ministry of Justice, and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Jen is an Education Associate at the Royal Society of the Arts.
It was during her time in policy and government where that Jen felt compelled to contribute more to the early years cause. The existing system was not addressing what was being made increasingly clear from the evidence base – that investing in the first few years of life generates the greatest returns and is the strongest strategy to increasing equality of opportunity in society. She won a ‘challenge prize’ organised by Guys & St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Design Council which invited the public to apply with ideas to support the health and wellbeing of children under 5. With her £1,000 prize she explored her concept for learning through play: EasyPeasy was born.
Jen is based in Hackney, East London where she cycles back and forth between her office, her home, and the yoga studio.
EasyPeasy has a strong evidence base including two published efficacy trials from the Sutton Trust, as well as an ongoing national trial funded by The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM).
Bournemouth trial with The Sutton Trust and the University of Oxford (2016):
An RCT was carried out in 8 children’s centres involving 150 parents in Bournemouth with the aim of assessing the effects of the EasyPeasy’s digital parenting intervention on parents and children. There was a significant effect of the intervention on: parents’ self-efficacy regarding discipline and boundaries, and parent-reported child cognitive self-regulation.
Newham trial with The Sutton Trust and the University of Oxford (2018):
Similar to the above RCT, 302 families from different children’s centres in Newham received weekly SMS messages and game ideas. Positive effect findings on parents’ self-efficacy and children’s cognitive self-regulations were replicated.
England-wide trial with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Centre for Monitoring and Evaluation (CEM) at the University of Durham:
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) are currently conducting a large-scale, two-arm Randomized Control Trial (RCT) across 102 early years settings to examine the impact of EasyPeasy’s digital intervention on children’s language & communication outcomes, and impact on the percentage of children achieving a ‘Good Level of Development’ at the end of reception. Watch this space for the results!