The pandemic added a layer of complexity to the already sizeable challenge of improving early learning outcomes in some of the most deprived areas of the UK. In many cases, the ELCs had to stall implementation of elements of their strategies that had been developed before the pandemic, instead switching their focus to supporting families with their immediate needs e.g. producing activity and resource packs, distributing food packages, and providing IT equipment for those struggling to engage with online schooling from home. With the focus on responding to the pandemic, professionals had less time and space to focus on some of the systems change conditions set out in the maturity model, such as ‘Systems mindset and a long-term view’ and developing a ‘Culture of evaluation and learning that enables adaptation’.

While progress on those conditions was limited, we found evidence that some of the foundations established prior to the pandemic had started to pay off. For example, the relationships and forums for collaboration established by the ELCs, as part of their initial development, helped partners such as schools, health visitors and voluntary sector organisations to come together to collectively adapt their approaches. Partners reflected that the ELC had helped them be ‘pandemic prepared’ as it enabled them to organise quickly and coordinate services to meet the changing needs of local families.

During the pandemic we saw evidence of development in some of the systems change conditions across the majority of the ELCs, such as ‘Aligned and coordinated use of resources’. This is normally a challenging aspect of place-based systems change, requiring long-term structural shifts, but the pandemic enabled ELC partners to see the potential of sharing resources in new ways. We also observed progress in ‘Trusted, collaborative relationships’ and ‘Coordinated delivery of integrated support’.

Read the full article about evaluating systems change by Lewis Haines and Ben Fowler at Think NPC.