The Sutton Trust has long recognised the importance of the early years in shaping an individual’s life chances. Since it was founded in 1997 it has supported many grassroots organisations working in this area..

The Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) is a £1million fund, launched in 2014, managed by the Sutton Trust and funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. There is strong evidence on the importance of the home learning environment in determining educational and social outcomes. However, much less is known about the efficacy of interventions to change parents’ behaviour.

The fund was set up to increase our knowledge of what works to engage parents, improve the home learning environment and support child development. Both the Sutton Trust and Esmée Fairbairn committed to this project for its potential to improve the capacity of the voluntary sector to design, deliver, and evaluate parenting interventions.

PEF supported five existing UK based parental engagement interventions. The five organisations were provided with funding for delivery and support from a team from the University of Oxford, Department of Education – Prof Kathy Sylva, Naomi Eisenstadt and Fiona Jelley – who have acted as a critical friend, expert advisor and arm’s length evaluator.

The fund has reached 1,330 new families and supported the organisations to collect quantitative data. Three of the organisations have run ‘feasibility’ trials (Making it REAL, the Reader, Peeple) and two have run small-scale Randomised Control Trials (EasyPeasy, PEN).

PEF was able to identify promising outcomes on parenting skills for three of the interventions (Easy Peasy, Making it Real and PEN) and on child outcomes for one of the organisations (EasyPeasy). However given the small-scale nature of the trials, absence of evidence does not necessarily mean absence of impact.

In order to identify elements of effective parental engagement – we used qualitative data to provide the how and the why behind the quantitative trials, focusing particularly on two of the interventions – Parental Engagement Network and Making it Real.

PEF has also supported the organisations to leverage future support – two have gone on to large-scale EEF trials and all of them have accessed new funding and delivery opportunities.

As well as supporting the individual organisations, PEF trialled a new model of support for organisations – connecting evaluation with delivery and developing ‘upstream’ evaluation – that would support them to develop delivery and demonstrate impact, with the help of a team from the University of Oxford. The positive outcomes as outlined above speak for the success of the model but it is important to recognise that it involved significant commitment from the selected organisations and a critical skill mix from the support team including; a deep understanding of the science of evaluation combined with a knowledge of and sympathy for the challenges of delivery at the front line.

The studies that comprise PEF might be called ‘upstream’ evaluations in that they are closer to the intervention source than more rigorous ‘downstream’ evaluations in which the evaluation team are distant from the intervention team so as not to be influenced.

If you have any questions please email Laura Barbour, Early Years Lead at the Trust.

The Parental Engagement Fund is kindly funded by: 

Trial-based research

Please note, there is no further funding available from the Parental Engagement Fund.

Supported Projects

Have you seen our early years research?

Early childhood is a crucial time for both cognitive and non-cognitive development. Our research has shown that good parenting and quality care in the pre-school years lead to fewer behavioural problems, better literacy, and higher attainment in school years. Read more.