Nicola Doherty, head of research at EasyPeasy, explains how the edtech startup is working to boost social mobility.
Enhancing evidence in early years
EasyPeasy is an edtech start-up with a mission to use the power of play to give every child a better chance to succeed at school and in life. Passionate about closing the gap in attainment for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, we have created a scalable, affordable digital intervention proven to improve early years skills.
Our aim is to quickly and demonstrably increase social mobility by improving early years skills across the UK. As a ‘social tech’ organisation that is both digital-first and impact oriented, we are always working to balance our commitment to being agile and iterative in our development with a commitment to testing for genuine impact. We’re an organisation with a social mission, and in our case that means working in the service of improving social mobility and widening opportunities for children of all backgrounds. Having ongoing access to rigorous evidence about our impact is crucial to ensuring we are on the right path to achieving that mission. To do this, we’re committed to measuring our impact on children’s outcomes.
Replication of findings: working with a diverse sample of families
This week the Sutton Trust has published the findings from a trial of EasyPeasy with 302 families from eight children’s centres in Newham, all in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
The evaluators, Professor Kathy Sylva and Doctor Fiona Jelley at the University of Oxford, found positive effects on both parent behaviours and children’s development. Specifically, parents’ consistency with discipline, boundaries, and control, and children’s concentration, grit, and resilience (‘cognitive self-regulation’) increased.
These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy carried out with a different community demographic in Bournemouth, which showed significant positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ setting of boundaries.
In the Bournemouth trial, these significant effects were observed after an intervention duration of 18 weeks. In the Newham study the same significant effects were observed after only a 10 week intervention period; these findings suggest that the impact of EasyPeasy is present after only three months.
The replication of significant research findings is not always a simple task. In 2015, a group of researchers purposefully attempted to replicate 100 research studies. They worked closely with the original researchers so that they could replicate each experiment as closely as possible to the original. Even when careful care and attention was given to replicate, 64 percent of the 100 experiments could not replicate the original results.
The sole purpose of the randomised control trial in Newham was not to replicate the Bournemouth study, but instead to conduct another robust ‘gold standard’ evaluation with a different sample of families. Families in these two trials were recruited from children’s centres in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and came from a range of different communities, including a White British community in Bournemouth, and an immigrant community in Newham, with a high percentage of EAL families. Given the difference between these two populations, the replication of these findings is great news for EasyPeasy because it gives greater validity and means that it is more likely that those results can be generalised to the larger population.
We continue to deliver EasyPeasy throughout the UK. The Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi saw EasyPeasy in action in Luton and recently praised EasyPeasy for using technology in a positive way to improve the home learning environment, whilst giving evidence to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee.
The Future for EasyPeasy
We are now well underway with a third, larger scale randomised control trial in partnership with Durham University, the Education Endowment Foundation and nine local authorities in the UK, to investigate EasyPeasy’s effect on language and communication skills in over 1,000 nursery aged children. It’s part of EEF’s and Sutton Trust’s broader strategy to learn about what really works to drive up parent engagement (widely recognised as one of the biggest influences on children’s attainment) and share that best practice with schools, government and the wider sector.
As Head of Research at EasyPeasy, I’m proud that we will continue to contribute evidence and ongoing evaluation. This is not only part of our social mission, but also because we want to contribute to the evidence base that the whole sector can use and learn from.
EasyPeasy will be sharing more about the new findings at the University College London’s Festival of Learning (26th & 27th of June) as a representative of the EDUCATE programme.
For more information about EasyPeasy you can….
Dr Nicola Doherty is a Research Psychologist with a background in family and developmental psychology. She has managed a range of large-scale research projects over the past decade and completed her PhD last year. Nicola leads on EasyPeasy’s research activities.