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Tips by Text – a promising trial upended by the pandemic

  • Blog
  • 10th May 2022

Last week, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published results for one of our long-running projects in the Early Years Education space: Tips by Text – a text message programme for parents of Reception pupils (age 4-5). 

Parents received three text messages a week with easy, actionable information on what they could do to help their child develop language, literacy, numeracy and socioemotional skills at home. Pre-pandemic, about one in four children were not reaching the required level in language and literacy at the end of Reception. This figure has likely increased as children have had less opportunity for play and learning over the past two years. All of the text messages were crafted to embed activities in everyday life, requiring minimal effort on the parents’ part. The programme was first created in the US by a team of researchers led by Professor Susanna Loeb. 

With support from Professor Loeb, BIT adapted the programme to align with the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (the curriculum used in preschools in the UK), and in November 2019, we tested it with a group of 109 schools in the North East of England (about 3,500 families). EEF appointed The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to act as independent evaluators. 

What we did

Half of participating parents were randomly allocated to receive the text messages while the other half did not receive them. The primary outcome measure was a literacy assessment (the York Assessment of Reading Comprehension). 

Unfortunately, data collection was disrupted in January 2021 when schools closed due to the coronavirus outbreak across the UK. Outcome data for 70% of the sample could not be obtained. For the 30% that could be analysed, we found a null result overall which was expected given the high level of attrition. 

When looking at the sample of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM); a marker of deprivation in the UK, we found a directionally positive effect, equivalent to +1 month of schooling, however this result was not statistically significant. 

Additionally, the Implementation and Process Evaluation (IPE) suggests that parents enjoyed the messages and found them helpful inspiration for other activities to do at home with their children (especially during the lockdowns). 

Huge thanks to our partners at NIESR, IES and EEF for their continued support over the course of this 3-year project. And last, but not least, thanks to the 109 schools that participated and saw the programme through to the end while balancing many other challenges as a result of coronavirus.


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