Following a commercial procurement process over April and May 2022, the Department for Education (DfE) is pleased to announce that the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) were successful in their bid and have been appointed as the Stronger Practice Hubs programme delivery partner. The Stronger Practice Hubs programme launches in November 2022, and is part of the Department’s Early Years Education COVID-19 Recovery Package. The programme aims to support settings to address the impact of the pandemic on young children, by sharing effective practice and building lasting local networks.

Existing, well-established early years settings can apply to become Hubs, and will support other settings in their area to adopt evidence-based practice improvements.

NCB will be leading the relationships with the new Hubs, including providing oversight and quality assurance, as well as running the upcoming selection process.

NCB will be supported by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) who will be the Evidence Partner for the programme. The EEF will support the Hubs by providing accessible information about the evidence around Early Years pedagogy and processes that support practice change. EEF will also support Hubs in their approach to communicating and engaging other settings with implementing these evidence-informed practices, e.g., through exemplification and professional development programmes.

The role of Stronger Practice Hubs

Stronger Practice Hubs will support other early years settings to improve outcomes for children in their local area across the EYFS, but specifically focusing on areas of development that research informs us have been most impacted by COVID-19: personal social and emotional development (PSED); communication and language, and early literacy and maths.

Each Stronger Practice Hub will support settings to adopt well-evidenced practice improvements by:

  • Establishing local networks of settings to share knowledge and effective practice.
  • Proactively sharing information and advice on evidence-based approaches, for example, through newsletters, blogs and social media.
  • Acting as a point of contact for bespoke advice, and signposting to other funded support.
  • Working with the Education Endowment Foundation to select evidence-based programmes to fund and make available to settings.

Each Hub will play a key role in developing the types of support that they will offer to settings and providers in their area. Hub deliverables will be agreed locally as part of a co-produced process with the hub, DfE and NCB, to produce a bespoke support offer for the local sector that meets the needs of early years professionals, and ultimately of children under 5 in the area.

Hubs will receive grant funding from DfE to support this important work.

Eligibility to apply to become a Hub

Each Hub will be led by a group-based (school-based, private, voluntary, or independent) early years provider. The Department’s ambition is for Hubs to be evenly distributed across England, with two Hubs in each of the nine government office regions. Hubs will be funded for two years until late 2024.

To be eligible to become a Stronger Practice Hub, your setting must be:

  • A group-based early years setting, including:
    • School-based (LA-maintained; schools belonging to Multi-Academy Trusts where the application comes from the school rather than the Trust itself)
    • Private, voluntary, or independent (PVI)
  • Rated good or outstanding by Ofsted
  • Providing pre-reception early education

This programme will mainly target settings and children most in need due to COVID-19, with a focus on supporting children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Therefore, we will expect hubs to be serving socio-economically disadvantaged children in their own setting; however we will consider applications from settings that can demonstrate extended experience of working with other settings that do.

Across the Hubs we want a range of provider types and local contexts that reflect the diversity of Early Years.

Applications are welcomed from partnerships, where the lead partner is a group based early years setting as outlined above. Applications from partnerships that span the PVI and maintained sectors will be looked upon favourably since the programme seeks to encourage collaboration between different provider types.

Special schools are welcome to apply as part of a partnership.

Hub Selection Criteria

The application process will open in mid-August running for  six weeks (a more detailed timeline is given below). Through this application process, your setting must demonstrate that you are able to provide the following:

  1. Use of Evidence : Be able to understand and reflect on research evidence and exemplify evidence-informed practice. Including the evidence around need in relation to the impact of COVID-19 nationally and locally, and how evidence informed practice may be used to provide support.
  2. Sharing excellent practice: Be able to demonstrate excellent practice underpinned by the reformed EYFS (2021) and an ability to support others to improve practice, including practice beyond your own setting. To include ability to support the needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with SEND.
  3. Networks and partnerships: Proven ability to build strong local networks, working with, understanding and supporting the local early years sector. To include understanding of the work of childminders as well as maintained and PVI settings.
  4. Capacity: Be able to demonstrate you have the people and systems in place to operate as a hub. To include financial capability to manage a large grant, and the capacity to mobilise quickly.

A reference or indication of support by the Local Authority will be required at application stage. A four-phase selection process is anticipated, including written application, online interview, site visit and due diligence check.

Applications process and timeline

  • 15 August: anticipated date for Stronger Practice Hub application process to open to settings, and application pack with further detail to be made available.
  • August – September: A series of webinars will be delivered by NCB providing detailed information about Stronger Practice Hub expectations and recruitment processes.
  • 23 September: anticipated closing date for applications.
  • NCB welcome early applications (although these will not be considered any differently); the recruitment and selection process will begin on receipt of first applications. All applications submitted by the deadline will be considered.
  • Mid October: Hubs will be selected.
  • November 2022: successful settings will begin operating as hubs.

Please note: the application form is not yet available but is expected to be published on Monday 15 August.

To sign up for direct updates on the applications process, and for any other questions, please email the National Children’s Bureau’s Stronger Practice Hubs team: