Monday, 18 December, 2017 - 08:57

An interview with Andrea Joseph, parent representative for the national evaluation of the A Better Start programme

Parents and carers have been true partners in building the A Better Start programme at each of the five sites, ranging from participation in committees and administration, to volunteering and supporting other parents, or helping to design services.

The university researchers (‘The Warwick Consortium’) studying the programme want to mirror this collaboration in their national evaluation work. We already have parent representatives on the national evaluation steering group, who are helping to build a robust study of A Better Start, which will influence governments and policymakers of the future.

As the evaluation continues, these academics intend to work with A Better Start parents to discuss and share the evaluation’s messages, and ensure that these are articulated in a relevant and impactful way.

Later on, parents will be asked to capture the views and experiences of A Better Start among their communities as ‘peer researchers’, which will contribute to the evaluation findings.

Ecorys spoke to Andrea Joseph, who is a parent representative from Lambeth, and asked her about her work with the national evaluation.

“The first time I attended an evaluation steering group meeting I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, but it sounded grand and professional. Also, I knew that I would be the only parent rep. there. But the coproduction lead at LEAP had invited me, and I knew she had faith in me, and really I felt honoured to be asked. So I went.”

What is it like?

“The meetings are held twice a year and involve about ten people sitting around a meeting room table, usually with some overseas callers on the phone from the USA. It’s a nice office block with lifts and refreshments. Things are well prepared, with documents sent out in advance and an agenda for the two-hour meeting. Different people take turns to present the different elements of what they are studying.”

“It’s interesting, because you’re not just looking at one site, but at the whole programme nationally.”

Is it important?

“The evaluation is trying to prove scientifically that if you invest from the very beginning, then all children can hopefully have improved life chances - the best they possibly can.”

“At the last meeting, I had the realisation that this could really have an impact on government in the future. This evaluation could prove scientifically that it is worth spending the money to improve children's life chances. That definitely makes it worth being involved.”

What is your role there?

“I understood nothing at that first meeting. I remember just sitting there trying to follow the discussion. For the second meeting I made more effort to go through the papers beforehand and it was better. Now, I understand the basics pretty well.”

“It’s the rest of the steering group that wanted to have a parent view there. Maybe it’s just to get a grass-roots viewpoint, not just a scientific viewpoint. But I am impressed that they want to have a coproduction to make things a success at all levels, and I think that’s good.”

Why did you get involved?

“For me, it was an opportunity to get involved in very high level discussions that I would not otherwise have ever been able to do. And it was a chance to get a view of what’s going on in the other sites.”

“The reps need to be parents who are confident enough to give their view. You need to be able to read the papers and grasp what’s going on. But there’s the potential for making it easier: we could have briefing meetings perhaps, or a “story so far” reminder from someone... The most important thing is that you need to be interested and have a passion to make a difference.”

Would you encourage others to sign up?

“To anyone who is interested I would say go along, don’t be intimidated, and ask a question if you want to. There have been up to three parent reps there, but last time I was the only one, so it would be great to have some more company!”

Evaluation steering group attendees are paid for their time and receive travel expenses to the meetings, which are held in London twice a year. The work is led by professors and researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Warwick, Kings College London, Glasgow and Durham, along with Vivette Glover, Ipsos Mori, BPSR, and Ecorys. For more information about joining the evaluation steering group, please ask your local engagement coordinator to email