Early Years

Research related to the early years of children’s lives is undertaken across the Faculty and is related to early learning and education. Young children’s wellbeing, inclusion, sustainability, citizenship and rights are also key research interests of the School of Early Years.

The School of Early Years is actively involved in current research and has two key focus areas:

  1. School of Early Years personnel have for several years developed a research portfolio with a focus on supporting young children (0-8 years) and families – and are often involved in research investigating the links between home, community and setting/school life.
  2. As a School that delivers higher education courses to future early years practitioners, there has been focus on researching higher education pedagogy and evaluating student experience and attainment. Much of this focus has also explored providing provision that widens access to higher education for those working in the early years sector. This research also links to supporting the up-skilling of the early years workforce.

Expertise and current research

Early years research linked to children, families and practice

The School has a diverse range of expertise ranging from those with a background in early years teaching and learning support; police and child protection; nursing and health visiting; setting leaders and managers; additional needs practice; and sustainability and outdoor learning.

School staff have also gained specific skills linked to undertaking research including training using observational scales such as ECERS and SSTEW, allowing them to support other research initiatives in UWTSD or in partnership with other organisations.

This diverse range of skills allows the School to support a variety of different research projects and to have a unique understanding of the holistic nature of child development and early years practice.

The School is also not solely focused on school-based education and thus research staff have depth of understanding of the range of sectors that support early years education and care beyond the classroom.

For further information contact: Dr Glenda Tinney on g.tinney@uwtsd.ac.uk

Using environment rating scales to improve quality

The use of environmental rating scales, as a measure of quality of provision, has been an established, though not uncontested, approach in empirical research in the field of early years education and Historically, the scales have focussed upon material provision (e.g. ITERS, ECERS) though later iterations have included aspects of pedagogy (e.g. ECERS-E; ECERS-R).

The publication of a rating scale that attends directly to the quality of interaction between adults and children in early years settings and hence to the children’s wellbeing is potentially a valuable tool in the drive to ensure that the most effective provision is available for all early years children.

The publication of the Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing (SSTEW) rating scale has prompted the research question: ‘To what extent can this tool be used in Wales to support professional learning and excellence in provision for early years children?

There are currently two projects related to this research question. One explores the impact of HEI staff training in the use of the scale on the learning of HEI students undertaking programmes in early years and primary teaching.

The other explores the perceptions of all the staff involved in one local authority’s ‘Flying Start’ provision of the scale as a benchmarking tool and as a supportive structure for professional learning.

A third project adopts a small scale case study approach in order to unpick the manner in which engagement with the SSTEW scale in a Welsh early years setting, supports, or otherwise, the development of pedagogic practice.

The project outcomes will be posted on this website as they emerge but if you are interested in learning more please contact: Dr Jane Waters and natalie.macdonald@uwtsd.ac.uk

Recent funded projects include:

BookTrust Superbox 2015 evaluation

(Dr Glenda Tinney, Alison Rees Edwards, Gwyneth Davies, Ann-Marie Gealy)

The School achieved the bid (£5,000) to undertake the evaluation of the 2015 Superbox programme.

Bookstart Superbox is a programme designed “to inspire children and families across Wales to enjoy books and read together” (BookTrust, 2016). Superbox was developed to increase the impact of Bookstart/ Dechrau Da by engaging a wider range of early years workers in activity that supports the key Bookstart messages and practices.

It was designed to provide early years practitioners and other allied workforce with the knowledge, skills and resources to encourage and support parents and carers to increase their engagement in shared reading activity and enjoy books with their children.

Superbox runs annually and initially involves practitioners from a variety of early years settings, programmes and children’s library services attending the Superbox conference (either in North or South Wales). The Superbox 2015 conference, includes a keynote speaker, practical workshops providing ideas for creative ways of sharing and using books with families and children; and best practice carousels, in which frontline practitioners provide ideas for using the Superbox books in practice based on their own work in settings.

In addition to the practical ideas and knowledge shared through the conference programme, practitioners attending the conference are also given the Superbox resource – a bag comprising 10 copies of each of the four current Bookstart books, with supporting resources to take away and use in their settings.

The evaluation included:

  • Undertaking in-depth interviews with 15 practitioners who attended the Superbox 2015 conference;
  • Visiting five settings to observe early years practitioners using the Superbox resources with children and families;
  • Analysing conference participant evaluation questionnaires and diaries reflecting on using Superbox resources in their practice.

The evaluation demonstrated that Superbox 2015 did support practitioners to promote shared reading; provided benefits in terms of parents, carers and practitioners engagement with book sharing and stories; provided benefits for children’s holistic development; and supported the development of bilingual story sharing.

Project outcomes can be found via the following links:


Research and Evaluate the Canolfan Plant Jig-So Children’s Centre – ‘Cegin Prydiau Plant’ Project

Gwyneth Davies, Ann-Marie Gealy, Alison Rees Edwards and Dr Glenda Tinney are undertaking a project to Research and Evaluate the Canolfan Plant Jig-So Children’s Centre – ‘Cegin Prydiau Plant’ Project. This is an evaluation of a community project where children and families are involved in cooking and food preparation workshops designed to support healthy meals for children.

This was a project tendered for and provides £4,712.50 funding. Research involves collecting questionnaire and focus group data evaluating participants’ experiences of the workshops. The project outcomes will be published in July 2017.

Menter Cwm Gwendraeth – 'Evaluation of the ABC, 123 Ti a Fi’

Project Lead:- Alison Rees Edwards 

This is a project which is funded by UWTSD and is designed to evaluate an early years project run by Menter Gwendraeth, linked to healthy eating in the early years. The  project achieved £4,916 funding and part of the project includes early years’ students gaining experience delivering these types of workshops. The outcomes of the project will be published in Spring 2017.

Ecoshools Evaluation 2014

The school was successful in achieving the funding to evaluate the Ecoschool Programme. This was an all-Wales research project which used questionnaire, interviews and an extensive literature review to evaluate the benefits and challenges of delivering Ecoschool outcomes.

The research utilised the school’s sustainability expertise and allowed for collaborative working with personnel from other key organisations such as the Centre for Alternative Technology and Forest Schools.

The work lead to the publication of Merriman, E., Rekers-Power, A., Tinney, G. and MacGarry, A. (2014) An Evaluation of the Eco-Schools Programme in Wales. Access at www.keepwalestidy.org and provided data that continues to inform the school’s teaching and recent research outputs.

These projects demonstrate a growing expertise within the school to provide research capacity for organisations working directly with children and families.

Additional needs and safeguarding

Alison Rees Edwards, Ash Burns and Sioned Saer are contributing chapters to a book funded by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol relating to additional learning needs. This work will lend from the expertise of this team relating to additional learning needs and safeguarding.

The book will be a Welsh-medium resource and thus provide a valuable tool for those studying undergraduate and postgraduate Welsh-medium programmes. The book is edited by Nanna Ryder and thus provides an opportunity for staff from other schools within the Faculty of Education and Communities to collaborate and share good practice.

Sustainability and outdoor learning

(Dr Glenda Tinney, Ann-Marie Gealy,  and )

Dr Glenda Tinney has combined her ecology/ biology background and an interest in sustainability to develop her research linked to early years and education for sustainability and ESDGC policy in Wales.

This has led to submitting a chapter for an ‘Understanding Education for Sustainability Across the UK’ book to be published by Routledge. Such expertise has also led to producing publications targeted at children and practitioners in the Foundation Phase.

These include the bilingual resources ‘Exploring the Environment in the Foundation Phase, UK’ published by Canolfan Peniarth. This included two sets of books and resources one for children 3-5 year and one for children 5-7.

Ann-Marie Gealy and  have also published ‘Chwarae Allan Dysgu Mas’ with Canolfan Peniarth, a resource to support practitioners to engage with outdoor learning experiences.  and Dr Glenda Tinney have also been involved in the Ecoschools Evaluation (2014) and more recent research linked to ESDGC and early years.

Children’s Rights

Sioned Saer and Dr Glenda Tinney have also been involved in the Welsh Government funded UNCRC training programme aimed at supporting a range of sectors including childcare, education, police and social care to understand their responsibilities to support children and young people’s rights. Again this is a cross-faculty initiative led by Nichola Welton and the evaluation of this project could also provide opportunities to publish an analysis of the opportunities and barriers when developing training linked to children’s rights.

Emergent literacy and language development

Gwyneth Davies, Ann Marie Gealy, Alison Rees Edwards and Dr Glenda Tinney have an interest in emergent literacy and language development. The publication of the Booktrust ‘A qualitative evaluation of Superbox 2015’ and other research interests linked to storytelling and emergent literacy are allowing the team to focus on the links between language development and emergent literacy.

Members of the team have also developed specialised interests including the link between emergent language and literacy with music and nursery rhymes, with the outdoors and in the context of adult support.

'Attachment and Me' Project

(Natalie MacDonald)

The First pilot project sought to address the question:

‘How can we help early years professionals to recognise attachment difficulties and support children’s emotional and behavioural development? Does specific intervention training for childcare staff make a difference to the intervention impact and staff development?’

Using purposeful sampling in collaboration with Carmarthenshire children’s partnership, we identified two childcare settings within areas of socio-economic disadvantage. Research shows that the incidence of insecure attachments with primary caregivers is more prevalent in these areas.

The research pilot  involved examining the impact of an attachment behaviour resource designed by Natalie Macdonald and Emma Battenbough. The comparison between the two settings looked at the difference made not only by the resource pack, but the additional impact specific attachment and resource pack training can have on the attachment behaviours of children within the setting, staff knowledge and development.

The first setting received just the resource pack to implement over a period of three months, in the second setting all staff received attachment training and support on how to use the resource pack. Research data was generated through:

  • Pre and post intervention scale questionnaires with setting leaders and staff (attached at end of document);
  • Pre and post intervention ‘attachment aware’ setting self-evaluations with the leaders;
  • Pre and post intervention use of the Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing scale by Natalie Macdonald (trained to Gold standard inter-rater reliability by co-author of scale).

The results of the pilot project were positive and indicated a gap in current childcare CPD for this type of intervention; the results confirmed that specific whole-team training was needed together with the resource pack to make a difference in the settings.

Based on the results of the initial pilot the training is being rolled out across all of the Flying Start settings in the area. The research will track the impact of the training on the development of the children over the course of an academic year.

This second project begins in February 2017 with results expected in August 2018. For further information or to find out how to get involved with the programme, please contact the project lead on natalie.macdonald@uwtsd.ac.uk.

Higher Education Pedagogy

All members of the school are regularly undertaking research which supports the delivery of early years’ programmes. A key focus of this area of research is using innovate approaches to support attainment, student engagement and widening access.

Such work has contributed to several of the school-led innovations such as block teaching and fast track flexible provision for those already working in the sector. Such innovations are now seen as models that can be used to develop similar approaches in other programmes.

Research has also included evaluation of new assessment approaches and designing assessment which focuses on both the skills required for employment as well as academic requirements. Such research allows the school to develop assignments which can be most appropriate for the sector. Specific research projects to date include:

Evaluating Fast Track Flexible provision

(Dr Glenda Tinney, Ann-Marie Gealy, Sioned Saer, Paul Darby)

The school developed a pilot group and designed a two-year, fast-track, flexible BA (Hons) degree which could be studied in the evening and some Saturdays over an extended academic year (September-July), thus allowing students to graduate in two years rather than the traditional three.

The pilot group and staff involved in delivering the programme have been monitored via questionnaires and other data collection methods in order to understand their perceptions of this study approach and to highlight the opportunities and barriers. This work has been the focus of conference presentations and publications.

Since the pilot group, the fast-track flexible provision has been running in both Carmarthen and Swansea and this cohort continue to be the focus of research, including a HEA enhancement theme project 2017-2018 ‘An evaluation of flexible fast track provision in early years education and care degree programmes’.

Evaluating block teaching

(Gwyneth Davies, Ash Burns, Alison Rees Edwards, Natalie MacDonald)

The school has developed the block teaching method for delivery of all their programmes, so that modules are delivered intensively over 4-5 week periods rather than as multiple consecutive modules. Such work lends from practice in universities such as Quest, Canada.

This approach is now monitored closely so that student experience and attainment can be evaluated. To date, feedback is positive and this work continues as part of a HEA enhancement theme project 2017-18.

Evaluating innovative approaches to early years assessment and participation

Gwyneth Davies and Ann-Marie Gealy have undertaken research investigating approaches within early years which allow students greater opportunities for participation. This work evaluated some of the schools assessment activity and noted the lessons from such approaches in encouraging more innovation with early years sector.

This work formed part of the school’s EECERA, 2015 conference presentation: ‘How can the ECE community develop more innovative and participatory policy, practice and research approaches?’ (EECERA International Conference, Barcelona, 8th September 2015)

Gealy, A. (2013) Plant yn teimlo’n dda: lles mewn plentyndod cynnar  DU: Canolfan Peniarth Y Drindod Dewi Sant. (Coordinator of   a Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol  funded Project to create digital resources for a Level 7 Wellbeing and Early Child module. Resources now accessible on Y Porth).

Gealy, A. a Rees, A. (2010) ‘Y Plentyn  Creadigol’ yn  Siencyn, S.W. (gol), Y Cyfnod Sylfaen 3-7 oed Athroniaeth, Ymchwil ac Ymarfer. Caerfyrddin: Cyhoeddiadau Prifysgol Cymru Y Drindod Dewi Sant.

Gealy, A. a Saer, S. (2010) ‘Y Plentyn  Creadigol’ yn  Siencyn, S.W. (gol), Y Cyfnod Sylfaen 3-7 oed Athroniaeth, Ymchwil ac Ymarfer. Caerfyrddin: Cyhoeddiadau Prifysgol Cymru Y Drindod Dewi Sant.

Gealy, A. a Rees, A. (2011) 1...2...3...Ble wyt ti? Archwilio’r Amgylchedd yn y Cyfnod Sylfaen, DU: Canolfan Peniarth.

Gealy, A. and Rees, A. (2011) 1 2...Where are you? Exploring the Environment in the Foundation Phase, UK: Canolfan Peniarth.

Gealy, A. (2011) Allan yn yr Eira Archwilio’r Amgylchedd yn y Cyfnod Sylfaen, DU: Canolfan Peniarth.

Gealy, A. (2011) Snowy Walk Exploring the Environment in the Foundation Phase, UK: Canolfan Peniarth.

Gealy, A. a Hopwood, M. (2011) Bric, bloc a bwced Archwilio’r Amgylchedd yn y Cyfnod Sylfaen, DU: Canolfan Peniarth.

Gealy, A. and Hopwood, M. (2011) Bricks, blocks and buckets Exploring the Environment in the Foundation Phase, UK : Canolfan Peniarth.

Merriman, E. and Rees, A. (2011) ‘Yr Awyr Agored: Fforest, Maes, Iard Goncrit’, yn Siencyn, S.W. (gol) Y Cyfnod Sylfaen: Athroniaeth, Ymchwil ac Ymarfer. Caerfyrddin.

Merriman, E., Rekers-Power, A., Tinney, G. and MacGarry, A. (2014)

An Evaluation of the Eco-Schools Programme in Wales. Access at www.keepwalestidy.org

Merriman, E. (2011) The Forest School Exploring the Environment in the Foundation Phase, UK: Canolfan Peniarth.

Merriman, E. (2011) Help us live Exploring the Environment in the Foundation Phase, UK: Canolfan Peniarth.

Merriman, E. (2011)The Shepherdess Exploring the Environment in the Foundation Phase, UK: Canolfan Peniarth.

Merriman, E. (2011) Helpa ni i Fyw Archwilio’r Amgylchedd yn y Cyfnod Sylfaen, DU: Canolfan Peniarth.

Merriman, E. (2011) Yr Ysgol Goedwig Archwilio’r Amgylchedd yn y Cyfnod Sylfaen, DU: Canolfan Peniarth.

Merriman, E. (2011) Y Fugeiles Archwilio’r Amgylchedd yn y Cyfnod Sylfaen, DU: Canolfan Peniarth.

Rees, A. a Gealy, A.M. (2013) Chwarae Allan Dysgu Mas. DU: Canolfan Peniarth Y Drindod Dewi Sant.

Thomas, S. a Rees Edwards, A. (2010) ‘Chwarae Plant’ yn Siencyn, S.W. (gol), Y Cyfnod Sylfaen 3-7 oed Athroniaeth, Ymchwil ac Ymarfer. Caerfyrddin: Cyhoeddiadau Prifysgol Cymru Y Drindod Dewi Sant.

Tinney, G.W. (2011) Time Travelling Caerfyrddin: Peniarth UWTSD. ISBN: 978-1-908395-38-2

Tinney G.W. (2011) Nature’s Sounds Caerfyrddin: Peniarth UWTSD. ISBN: 978-1-908395-32-0

Tinney G.W. (2011) What is that Sound? Caerfyrddin: Peniarth UWTSD. ISBN: 978-1-908395-10-8

Tinney G.W. (2011) Teithio Trwy Amser  Caerfyrddin: Peniarth UWTSD. ISBN: 978-1-908395-37-5

Tinney, G.W. (2011) Beth yw’r sŵn yna? Caerfyrddin: Peniarth UWTSD. ISBN 978-1-908395-12-2

Tinney, G.W. (2011) Seiniau Natur Caerfyrddin: Peniarth UWTSD. ISBN 978-1-908395-31-3

Tinney, G.W. (2010) A all plant ifainc newid y byd? Addysg ar gyfer datblygu cynaliadwy a’r Cyfnod Sylfaen in Siencyn, S. W. (ed) Y Cyfnod Sylfaen: Athroniaeth, Ymchwil ac Ymarfer. Caerfyrddin:  Cyhoeddiadau Prifysgol Y Drindod Dewi Sant.

Tinney, G and Gealy, A (2015) ‘Developing flexible learning degree programmes for early childhood practitioners: using students’ perceptions to inform programme development and promote widening access’,Practice and Evidence of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Vol. 9, No. 1, Special Issue - Future Directions Wales Conference, January 2015 pp.100-118