Progress with PEN in early years

We work with the Parental Engagement Network (PEN) to train and support early years staff, provide parents and carers with knowledge, skills and confidence and – ultimately – help children to learn and develop skills to better prepare them for school.

In this blog, you can find out the latest progress.


31 January 2019

Back in June 2018, we announced funding for the Parental Engagement Network’s (PEN) early years projects in Liverpool. More than 6 months later, and with the projects now in full swing, we joined a network meeting for early years staff to exchange practical tips and ideas, seek guidance from PEN’s expertise and discuss impact.

Here are some key updates on our progress:

Keeping it simple

PEN projects suggest fun and creative activities, while using everyday materials in and around the home, such as starting a conversation while pairing socks! These simple ideas are helping parents and carers to engage in their child’s learning and development, and continue this engagement into the early years setting.

Emotional development

Children’s emotional and social skills are crucial for being ready to learn in school. To support the transition from home into education, children taking part in the projects are provided with a toy mouse that joins them on this journey. While a seemingly simple idea, it was fascinating to learn how the mouse symbolises the familiarity and security from home, making the children feel more comfortable and ready to learn in school.

Some staff even observed that the way the children interacted with their mouse gave insight into how they were feeling. It acted as a window into their social and emotional development, prompting further conversation about wellbeing.

Local relevance

The brilliant staff in Liverpool had also identified simple ways to engage children, parents and carers through making the activities applicable to their local context. For example, their toy mouse came alive through the book ‘Scouse Mouse Has Lost His House’, which references local landmarks for children to discover.


In keeping with OVO Foundation’s ethos, the projects are aiming for long-term change not short-term fixes. By providing early years staff with training and ongoing support, from PEN, as well as their participating peers, the projects seek to create sustainable change.

They equip staff with the tools, techniques and confidence to support children, through their parents and carers, in preparation for school. In addition, parents’ and carers’ gained knowledge, skills and confidence can have a wider reach on other children, family members and friends.

Breaking the cycle

The visit was a welcome reminder of the potential in tackling inequality early to break a cycle of disadvantage. This important approach is also confirmed by the evidence explored in our recent research.

PEN will be following up with another network meeting and visits to all of the participating schools next term, and we look forward to bringing you further updates on our progress. PEN will also be working with new schools to scale up our current reach, so we can level the playing field for even more children.

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