Cheers for peers!

An early years peer review programme has been hailed in an independent evaluation.

Peer reviews have long been regarded by the LGA as a proven tool for improvement, so it’s particularly rewarding when this assertion is rubber stamped by an independent evaluation.

The Early Years Local Government Programme includes a peer review designed and led by the LGA and the Early Intervention Foundation, in partnership with the Department for Education.

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

It has proved to be a big hit with the 27 councils that, as of March 2020, have benefited from the peer review team’s knowledge and the programme’s ethos of sharing best practice.

“Peer reviewers were seen as critical friends who brought an understanding of the challenging context in which councils operate”

An external evaluation of the peer review programme by Ecorys, a research and consulting company, has found that it has been instrumental in helping councils shape priorities and improve services and prospects for children and families.

It 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 and 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. 

Councils 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 the achievements of the peer reviews. 

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

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, and increased senior leadership engagement.

This programme is a sure-fire way to help councils achieve their goal to ensure all children get an excellent early education. 

It is a textbook example of successful sector-led improvement, which we hope will continue to be funded by government – particularly at a time when councils are tackling the impact of the pandemic alongside a continuing rise in demand for services for vulnerable families.

The ‘Evaluation of the early years local government programme’ is available at: https://bit.ly/3p74F3f

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