In the light of two new reports on early years literacy, DYT’s new Director of Operations, Karen Wespieser, looks at the role of parents and how important it is to get research methodology right before making grand claims about schools.


Showing an impact on young people’s outcomes and life chances is the gold standard that we look for in education research. However, I would argue that this shouldn’t be to the detriment of the other major stakeholders in the education journey. The opinions of parents and school staff are a valuable part in the picture of education. Research or policy that misses these stakeholders risks falling foul of only presenting a partial view of the education system. There is nowhere this is truer than in early years education.

For this reason, DYT was pleased to welcome Damian Hinds’ focus on parents in his recent early years policy announcement. But, as our CEO Chris Rossiter made clear, it is not enough just to involve parents at this early stage of schooling. We know that parental involvement in education diminishes as young people progress through the education system, which is why Hinds’ inclusion of destination data based on young people aged 15 seemed, to me, to be odd in a speech primarily about five-year-olds. Having said that, the destination data is exciting. The Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset links for the first time datasets from DfE, DWP and the HMRC. The dataset is still evolving, but as analysts and researchers continue to work with it, the insights it will give us will be robust and significant. Everyone citing it, will need to ensure findings are shared accurately and in context.

Contrast this with a new report from Leeds Beckett University. This research into the phonics screening check (PSC) also sought to focus on parents. It made the bold claims in the research press release that the PSC is “pointless”. It cited parents, teacher and school leader’s views on the PCS as fact. Yet when you look at the methodology behind the research, you find that it is based on a self-selecting sample. While they have gathered data from a large number of people, these are only the views of those that felt they had something to say on the topic. A more representative sample might have provided a very different perspective and researchers should be aware of how different methodologies can introduce bias to their work. This is more akin to a trip advisor rating – where only those most irate take the time to feedback – than research which is both robust and significant, which furthers our understanding of this important debate.

Literacy in the early years is an emotive topic, and therefore difficult for policy makers and researchers alike. Yet it’s because, and not despite, of this that we need to ensure that the work we do is the most significant and robust. Anything else is simply doing young people, their parents and their schools a disservice.