Findings suggest that effective early education programmes:
- Offered intensive support to practitioners to achieve full and faithful programme implementation. This included one-to-one coaching and assessment from experts. Often support was designed to remediate the relatively poor pre-service training received by early years professionals.
- Provided a planned curriculum including suggested activities, lesson plans and schemes of work linked to specific learning and developmental objectives. Most also had assessment frameworks. Overall, teacher materials mirrored, both in level of detail and scope, support commonly available to teachers of older children.
- Emphasised teacher-led practice supported by structured, child-chosen activities. Strong practitioner input combined with purposeful and planned child-chosen sessions were key features of successful programmes.
- Linked programme design and practice to academic research. Most programmes underlined the precise links to academic research in their teaching materials. One programme under review was directly managed from a university and two others originated from Government-funded research grants.
- Emphasised academic outcomes such as sound, letter and word recognition to prepare children for reading and writing. However, practitioners used a variety of teaching methods to achieve this. Most used a combination of a blended whole language approach (i.e. using oral language, books and pictures to aid understanding and generate interest) with some distinct skill teaching (e.g. letter and phonemic awareness).