Buddying Project: Raising Boys’ Attainment, Sheffield

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Narrowing the gap in outcomes for young children through effective practices in the early years

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

National Strategies/Sheffield Local Authority

Local authority/local area:

Schools in three service districts in Sheffield with lowest Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) results for boys were targeted. The private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings selected had links with the schools and included childminders.

The context and rationale

We aimed to raise boys’ attainment in all areas and particularly in Communication, Language and Literacy (CLL).
This was prompted by the analysis of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) results, which identified that boys consistently scored less well in all areas of learning, particularly in CLL, where they trail behind girls by 15 per cent.

The consultant leading the project had a particular interest in this area. 

The Every Child Matters (ECM) outcomes addressed were 'Enjoy and Achieve' and 'Making a Positive Contribution'.

The Buddying Project gave us the opportunity to address this complex and multi-layered issue and combine other service priorities, for example, promoting effective use of the outdoor environment, mark making and the self-evaluation and improvement agenda.

The project was aimed at practitioners at all levels of qualification, meaning they would achieve an outcome at their specific level. It enabled each of them to develop their action research to suit the needs of their setting. This variety will eventually give the local authority (LA) published case studies from which we will be able to share practitioners’ knowledge, experience and practice in future continuing professional development (CPD).

The practice

Sheffield’s Learning and Achievement Service and Sheffield Hallam University worked in collaboration to build the course project around high-quality CPD. They invited practitioners from across the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sector, including childminders. This meant that course participants were at different levels of qualification and that they would achieve an outcome at their specific level. 

The course began in January 2009 and finished in December of the same year. The content is based around action research, which encourages investigation of the issues – boys’ engagement, CLL, Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED), effective use of the outdoor environment and implementing changes in practice. 

Each practitioner’s research questions were specific to their own setting and their own learning journey within the set parameters. This means that a wide variety of practical changes have taken place from providing ‘boy-friendly’ spaces to write, to strategies that encompass boys’ interests.

There was a variety of networking opportunities to develop collaboration between participants. These included assignments with opportunities to work with their neighbours, with similar settings and those linked by a similar theme. There have also been more informal opportunities, such as drop-ins, web forums and social events. 

Action research provides an effective mechanism for quality improvement within a setting. It is a process where the practitioner is empowered to identify and tackle issues, while developing their own and the setting’s practice. The whole reflective process is a practical approach to changing practice with the academic rigours to ensure quality outcomes. 

Measures used to demonstrate achievement were the EYFSP results and the following indicators (as shown in the case study carried out as part of the evaluation):

• An improvement in behaviour.
• Speech development and developing the confidence to use that speech.
• More widely accessed mark-making activities (indoors and out).
• Ages and stages trackers (still ongoing). 

The programme could be transferable to other local authority contexts.

Costs and funding
Funding was needed for staff cover, tuition and accreditation fees. Sheffield was funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) Buddying Project budget (30 students: around £56,000).

The project has been 50 per cent of one Early Years Consultant’s EYC) work, which is largely responsible for the project’s success. The EYC worked with the lecturers on content, attended and contributed to sessions, supported candidates in what is a daunting experience initially, organised and supported the ‘buddying’ of settings, and ensured an inclusive ethos throughout, as candidates required differentiated levels of work. 

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

The EYFSP results show that every school in the project has made significant improvements in boys’ achievements. For example, boys’ results in CLL have improved. See Figure 1 below.

Provision for boys has improved in all settings involved in the project. Each setting has approached development in a different way. 

Practitioners have a much greater awareness of boys’ developmental needs and have made significant changes to their working practices. Professional relationships between staff in nurseries have improved, as practitioners from different rooms/classes or age ranges have worked together. 

The project required each setting to produce a case study. These are now being used in the training programme to disseminate good practice, and are shared at each team coordinators' meeting. 

Helping others to replicate your practice


The training team have carried out internal reviews of the project, which have led to minor organisational changes for the next cohort. This cohort will also buddy the next cohort. A case study was written for the National Strategies.

Due to the structure of the course, the data presented here is selective. The data comes from those schools using Sheffield’s Web-Based Tracker and so is restricted to reporting on reception age children’s progress. Measurable improvements are shown in Figure 1 below.

Anecdotal information from practitioners states that relationships with parents have developed significantly. Close observations of children has led to a deeper exchange of information about interests and progress. Boys have had their interests truly developed, so show a more positive and enjoyable approach to their learning.

The practitioners will be evaluating their projects, which will provide more substantial documentary evidence of improvement.

The practitioners involved in the project have created a professional 'buzz' amongst themselves, in their settings and across the LA. This has been created through giving the practitioners the time and permission to implement changes to their outdoor practice. They have relished the opportunity to focus on trying out their ideas and exploring academic research and debate in greater depth. This reflection has been particularly powerful as it has not only challenged their own views especially with regard to ‘gender’, but has also released their creativity.

Tips for others

Key elements to have in place are:
• Funding
• Links with higher education (HE) establishments
• A rigorous system for the moderation and analysis of EYFSP data and progress through the EYFS age bands. 

Candidates need sensitive support to build their confidence to work in a university environment.


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