Research Projects & Innovation

Current Research and Projects

We are now in the 10th month of our involvement in a 30-month-long international research project with several other countries in Europe.  The START Project focuses on how pre-school children’s transitions from their early childhood care and education (ECEC) settings into Reception classes in primary schools are experienced by the children along with their families, ECEC practitioners and Reception class teachers and how this important, and for some critical, phase in the lives of young children can be more effectively supported.  The Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families, Our Lady’s Primary School and Rockingham Primary School in Corby form the Project team from England in the START Project and we are working with other teams of researchers, early years practitioners and teachers from Ljubljana and Tisina in Slovenia, Bologna and Vignola in Italy and Ghent and Aalst in Belgium. At this point in the research process:

  • Representatives from each research team met for an initial START Project planning meeting in Bologna in September 2016
  • The Project was represented by two research team members from Italy and England at the European Commission’s ‘A Great Start in Life’ international conference’ in Brussels in November 2016
  • The Research Teams from all four of the countries involved in the Project took part in a week-long study and training week at the Pen Green Centre in December 2016
  • Representatives from research teams met for a second and interim meeting to review the progress of the Project in each national location in Ghent in June 2017

Further opportunities to disseminate the work of the START Project will take place in September 2017 at the European Early Childhood Research Association (EECERA) annual international conference in Bologna, the theme of which is ‘Early Childhood Education beyond the crisis: social justice, solidarity and children’s rights’ and also at the International Step by Step Association’s (ISSA) conference in Ghent in October 2017k, the theme of which is ‘Local Responses, Global Advances: Towards Competent Early Childhood Systems’.  Another study and training week is planned for December the Research Teams in Tisina, Slovenia in December 2017. 

Preliminary work on the START Project identified several critical issues which the Project aims to address, i.e.:

  • the fragmentation of educational systems at different level (split ECEC systems as well as the splits between pre- and primary school) produces discontinuity in pedagogical approaches and practice implemented within such institutions
  • during transitions from one setting to another children are therefore required to make great efforts to adapt to new relational and  learning environments
  • this has negative repercussions on children’s learning and socialising experiences which, in turn, have a detrimental impact on their school achievements in the long term
  • children belonging to vulnerable/marginalised groups are particularly at risk of experiencing negative transitions which lead to lasting relational difficulties and poor educational performance
  • practitioners and teachers are rarely supported to develop new practices for smoothening transitions

In the context of the needs identified at local and transnational levels by the partners involved, this project aims to develop innovative practices for facilitating children’s transitions across ECEC services and school institutions by sustaining local experimentation through staff professional development and participatory action-research.

The Project teams in each country are working with children and their families who are transitioning between settings in order to better understand how they are experiencing this process with the following intended outcomes:

  • valuing the exchange of good practices elaborated in different contexts rather than transferring best practices from one context to another
  • existing transitions practices will be examined and rethought within a slightly different focus at each location, taking into account the diversified needs of the children, families, practitioners, teachers and communities in each context
  • maximising the impact of pedagogical, educational and didactic innovation that can be generated by joining the diversified research and professional expertise deriving from each national location where the research is taking place
  • providing ECEC practitioners and school teachers with access to high quality training activities aimed at increasing professionals’ competence in the development of innovative transition practices that are responsive of the needs of children, families and communities at each location
  • each national location will be focusing specifically on those children who are most at risk of ‘low achievement’ and social exclusion

The START Project Research Teams will be publishing a final report about the research study and its findings in early 2019 but intend to offer co-authored papers to suitable peer-reviewed journals for publication as the Project progresses.  The Research Teams will also work collaboratively on producing and developing a training kit for use by early years practitioners and primary school teachers based on the START Project’s findings which will support and facilitate their work with children and families in making children’s transitions as smooth and as unproblematic as is possible.


Sustaining warm and inclusive transitions across the early years: preliminary findings

The Project is funded by the European Union via their Erasmus funding stream and more information can be found at

Building on Being Two, Early Education and Childcare, Early Years and SEND.

90% of 400 Maintained Nursery Schools (MNS) take more children with SEND than other providers and significantly narrow the attainment gap between children with SEND and others. Given the current difficulties in local authority child protection services; the role of nursery schools in early intervention is crucial (Audit Office, Oct 2016).

The DfE funded projects have been focussed on increasing the confidence, understanding, skills and capability of early educators and practitioners working with children with SEND within nursery schools and the Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) sector.

We have worked in partnership with colleagues from Charnwood Nursery, Stockport and Rowland Hill in Haringey as well as working closely with nursery schools and children’s centres from Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Warwickshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Bognor Regis to develop locality self-improvement models supporting PVIs and enhancing SENCO capacity. We have provided professional development programmes to PVI staff giving them the opportunity to achieve accredited CACHE, Level 4 and Level 7 qualifications from the University of Hertfordshire.

We have worked collaboratively with the Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA) and the National Portage Associate ensuring that practitioners and parents are equipped with legal information, advice and support to be empowered to ensure children with special educational needs and disabilities get the best possible education. Together with HomeStart a parent volunteer course has been developed and parents had the opportunity to complete online SEND Law Foundation IPSEA training for parents and carers.

An Early Years Working Party has been set up to improve the quality of developmental assessment of children with SEND. SENCOs, Child and Educational Psychologists, Early Years Lead of Inclusion, Lecturers, Nursery School Head Teachers and Researchers came together from three associate nurseries and children’s centres to share their extensive knowledge and expertise of working with children with SEND. The intention was to develop a celebratory strengths based assessment framework to support PVI practitioners develop resources and video vignettes to demonstrate a range of approaches for working with children with a range of disabilities and complex needs and to provide strong exemplars of parent engagement in the assessment process.

The Early Years Working Party acknowledged the progress of children with SEND cannot easily be demonstrated or celebrated using existing Early Years frameworks and identified key challenges in relating to this notion. Through discussion the Working Party identified a set of principles informing their recommendations and suggestions and considered several assessment pathways with associated assessment tools. The aim being to place the child at the centre and to celebrate their learning and development. The outcome has been the publication of a booklet ‘A holistic approach to SEND assessment in the Early Years’. The booklet provides templates, interactive links and video vignettes and it will be uploaded on to the DfE website to be accessed nationally by practitioners.

The Project Approach

We have learned that in order to make significant improvement in practice, continuing professional development needs to:

  • involve the whole staff team
  • Engage practitioners in reflection about what they currently do


  • Engage practitioners in how they can develop their work in their own context

We have developed a project-based approach, where action research projects are guided through attendance at two initial days of training followed by project work in the setting and a third day, where action plans for practice development are made as a result of reflecting on the learning during the project.

Our three day programmes are designed to develop reflective practice to enable staff teams to continue the process of reflection beyond the duration of the course. These programmes, such as Parents’ Involvement in their Children’s Learning (PICL) and Making Children’s Learning Visible (MCLV) have been hugely successful, with both programmes being validated by C4EO. They are outcomes-oriented and complement a strategic approach within local authorities to develop clusters of highly reflective settings who can share their practice in locality networks.

A Strategic Approach

We have worked with several local authorities who have commissioned us to deliver a three day programme in their authority area. They have invited strategically selected participants on to the programme, often anticipating that some will become trainers in the programme themselves. After completing the three day programme and the project work in practice, these practitioner trainers can train up to 60 people in that programme, in their locality, under license from Pen Green.

Pen Green License

In order to offer training under license by Pen Green, a local authority is required to:

  • Have at least four trainers who have completed the Pen Green training programme and project work
  • Enable each trainer to attend a ‘train the trainer’ event at Pen Green
  • Arrange quality assurance visits by Pen Green to moderate the training being offered
  • Share copies of the evaluations of the training with Pen Green and submit delegate lists so that Pen Green staff can conduct random evaluation calls to participants on each of the training programmes

Priority projects for future funding

We are always seeking to maintain and improve the services we provide to children and their families but everything costs money and budgets for children’s centres and nurseries have been squeezed. We are currently seeking funding for the following projects:

Sponsor places at Pen Green or Kingswood for children from families with the greatest need

We wish to provide a safety net to local families by sponsoring places within our Early Years and/ or Nursery provision for children from families at times of greatest need. These places will be funded based on individual needs, they might for example provide respite care to give families a break during a time of crisis or offer an opportunity for the most vulnerable of children to get a better start in life.

Maintain our current provision of support groups and playschemes for children with special
educational needs and disabilities and their families

We run a number of support groups and playschemes for children with SEND and their families. These provide an opportunity for children who may not easily be able to participate in mainstream services to play together and integrate into society. They provide families with respite and a much needed peer support network.
Cuts to children’s centre and nursery budgets have resulted in reduced funding for these existing services. We are seeking grant funding and donations to ensure the continued provision of our much needed and much valued support groups and play-schemes running to enable us to continue to support these families.

Extend support for children with Special Educational needs and disabilities and their families

We have a large number of children with SEND who already access our centre, but there are many more who do not. Too many families find themselves facing these challenges alone once their children are discharged from hospital. We want to improve access to our community based services by placing a liaison officer in our local hospital to make families aware of the community support services that are available to them once their children are discharged from hospital. This would help to provide families them with the support and support networks they need to meet the challenges life has thrown at them.

Carry out Research to provide evidence to maintain our current services and provisions

We know that the work we do makes a real difference to children’s lives and to those of their families. Our family support services and early education provision help children to achieve to their full potential, we provide support families in crisis or poverty, and help all families to feel part of their wider community.
With cuts to children’s centre and nursery budgets, many of our services, and those of other children’s centres are under threat. We want to carry out research to demonstrate the impact of our services to help us to justify their costs and secure the funding we so desperately need to keep them going, before it is too late.
Research providing evidence of the impact of our work would also enable us to share our knowledge and methods with the aim of improving or maintaining services for children and their families nationally.

Upgrade our facilities

We need to upgrade and refresh our facilities to improve accessibility and make sure we can enable all children to exercise their right to play and learn in a safe, comfortable and inspirational environment.

To donate towards the work of Pen Green visit our giving page or contact us