Local government early years peer review programme hailed in independent evaluation

The Early Years Local Government Programme has been instrumental in helping councils shape priorities and improve services and prospects for children and families, an independent external evaluation has found.


Young children playing together in nursery

The Early Years Local Government Programme has been instrumental in helping councils shape priorities and improve services and prospects for children and families, an independent external evaluation has found.

The programme, which includes a peer review designed and led by the Local Government Association and the Early Intervention Foundation in partnership with the Department for Education, has been delivered to 27 local councils across England as of March 2020.

It aims to tackle development gaps in early language and literacy skills at the earliest opportunity, and improve the prospects of disadvantaged young children.

An external evaluation of the peer review programme by Ecorys found that nearly all (96 per cent) of participating councils had implemented some, most or all, of the recommendations received, while the range of expertise in the peer review teams was seen as a major strength of the programme, with the vast majority of councils ‘very’ or ‘somewhat satisfied’ with the expertise of the team leader (88 per cent) and of the team members (96 per cent).

Other key findings included:

  • 92 per cent of councils said the peer review had contributed ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ to raising the profile of the issue among senior leaders and to developing and implementing an integrated strategy in their council.
  • 88 per cent of respondents said the process had improved workforce skills and knowledge, and data collection and management ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’.
  • 83 per cent of councils felt that the peer review had contributed ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ to implementing a coordinated pathway for service delivery; bringing about systems change; generating better outcomes for children and families.

Peer reviewers were seen as critical friends who brought professional expertise, but also an understanding of the challenging context in which councils operate. Local authorities felt the recommended improvements were sustainable thanks to senior leadership buy-in and the systemic change that had taken place, but that additional funding would help build on what the peer reviews have achieved.

As well as the peer review, the Local Government Programme also includes the Early Outcomes Fund, which provided grants of between £500,000 and £1.5 million to eight local authorities/partnerships to help them improve early years language outcomes and develop legacy tools.

Councils said funding was crucial to successfully implementing the recommendations, where they involved additional costs, such as for expanded services or further planning work, while some said increased staff capacity was needed to facilitate some of the changes.

All the stakeholders interviewed reported being on track to achieve the milestones and making progress towards the outcomes they had originally set.

With grant funding for the programme due to end in March 2021, the LGA is calling on government to renew the funding to avoid winding this work down in January and to ensure the improvement work for early years can continue, particularly at a time when councils are tackling the impact of the pandemic alongside a continuing rise in demand for services for vulnerable families.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“This highly positive evaluation recognises and validates the strength of the Peer Review Programme’s ‘for the sector, by the sector’ ethos, which councils say has been a catalyst for better integration of services in early years speech, language and communication.

“Councils felt the peer review has delivered numerous benefits, including stronger partnerships among agencies and increased senior leadership engagement, to improve integration of early years strategies.

“We support the Government’s ambition to ensure all children get an excellent early education. This programme is a textbook example of successful sector-led improvement which we hope will continue to be funded by government amid a continuing rise in demand for services for our most vulnerable families.”

Notes to Editors

Evaluation of the Early Years Local Government Programme