My research interests are in understanding social and communicative development from birth to adulthood including environmental influences through the use of longitudinal studies. Other interests include:
Early childhood education and care (ECEC)
Child poverty and disadvantage
the linking of child development and social policy
My work has been concerned with using theoretically driven research to address applied issues and policy questions to produce improvements in development and well-being. This has included topics such as:
the development of pre-term babies
the children of psychiatrically disturbed parents
social, linguistic and cognitive development
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) and the evaluation of policy initiatives
Such work regularly involves collaboration with social, biological and medical scientists in studying child development and the influence of experience. Most of my research projects have been multi-disciplinary. I have previously collaborated in research projects in 12 countries on behalf of the European Commission, and I am currently involved in collaborative work with researchers in several European countries, USA and Australia.
Current work involves evaluating interventions such as early childhood education and care (ECEC), parental support, early intervention strategies etc., and derives from theoretical work on the importance of particular environmental input affecting children’s development, and the results are influencing policy. This work involves using randomised control trials (RCTs), quasi-experimental methods, and qualitative research.
I have been involved in longitudinal studies of family and pre-school factors affecting child development in England (EPPE) and Northern Ireland (EPPNI). I am currently involved in similar longitudinal research in several countries. Also I am the director of the Study of Early Education and Development that involves a longitudinal study of over 5000 children.
National Evaluation of Sure Start
I have been director of the National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS). Sure Start is an early intervention programme targeting disadvantaged young children and their families. The evaluation examines under what conditions Sure Start programmes are affecting children, families and communities.
This work involved an investigation of over 20,000 children and families and a longitudinal follow-up of 8,000 children in poor communities.
In addition I have worked with local, national and international governmental organisations to use developmental research to inform public policy to improve the lives of families and young children. I am a member of a Child Well-being working group of WHO, and the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group Early Childhood Interventions Group. I have undertaken research for the Medical Research Council, Economics and Social Research Council, Save the Children Fund, DCSF, DoH and several other government and voluntary sector agencies
My research in the 1980s influenced the 1989 Children Act, and later research has influenced the 2005 Children Act, 2006 Childcare Bill and policy on childcare, early education, child poverty and parental support in the UK and other countries. For example my projects have contributed to the formulation of social policy, such as the universal provision of a pre-school place for all 3 & 4 year-olds, the establishment of 3500 Children’s Centres, the government’s Every Child Matters and 10-Year Childcare strategies. From 2013 the UK government rolled out free part-time early education to all of the 40% most disadvantaged children in the country from age 2 upwards, and this decision was heavily influenced by my projects in collaboration with other researchers.