A Better Start – national evaluation update webinar

This webinar was the first in an annual series of events, presenting the findings from the national evaluation of A Better Start.
  • Event time:
    6th June 2023 10:00 – 11:00
  • Format:

A Better Start (ABS) is the ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. There are five ABS partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham, and Southend-on-Sea, which focus on supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life.

Working with local parents, these partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language, and communication. The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life.

The Fund have commissioned NatCen and partners from the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), Research in Practice, RSM and the University of Sussex, to carry out the national evaluation of ABS.

The national evaluation has been running since 2021 and will continue until March 2026. There are four evaluation objectives:

  • Objective 1: To identify the contribution made by the ABS programme to the life chances of children who have received ABS interventions.
  • Objective 2: To identify the factors that contribute to improving diet and nutrition, social and emotional skills and language and communication skills through the suite of interventions, both targeted and universal, selected by ABS partnerships.
  • Objective 3: To evidence, through collective journey mapping, the experiences of families from diverse backgrounds through ABS systems.
  • Objective 4: To evidence the contribution the ABS programme has made to reducing costs to the public purse relating to primary school aged children.

More information about the evaluation and its objectives can be found here.

You can watch a recording of the proceedings below. Practitioners, policy-makers and others working in the Early Years sector will find this session of interest, to understand the outcomes of the ABS programme and how the ways of working across ABS can influence outcomes.

For parents and carers, the presentations will help to demonstrate and explain the impact of how the ABS programme has had on the lives of families with young children.

For those with an interest in large-scale, complex evaluations, this webinar will illuminate the methods used in the project, explore the challenges encountered in data collection and the ways of mitigating such challenges.

ABS logos


  • Andi Fugard
    Co-Director of the Centre for Evaluation National Centre for Social Research
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    Dr Andi Fugard is Co-Director of NatCen’s Centre for Evaluation. They have over a decade of experience designing and delivering a wide variety of evaluations, including pilots, embedding outcomes monitoring in routine practice, cluster randomised controlled trials, and quasi-experimental evaluations, primarily in mental health and education. They have also conducted research on the psychology of reasoning under uncertainty, and methodology research, including developing a novel quantitative approach for choosing a sample size for qualitative studies. They are passionate about using social science and causal inference to improve people’s lives. Andi is a member of the UK government Evaluation and Trial Advice Panel, which advises civil servants and What Works Centres.



  • Janet Boddy
    Professor University of Sussex
    Janet's research is concerned with family lives and with services for children and families, in the UK and internationally. She also has a long-standing interest in methodology, particularly in relation to complex evaluation, qualitative, longitudinal and narrative approaches, cross-national research, and research ethics and governance.
  • Beth Young
    Associate Director RSM
    Beth is an Associate Director in RSM’s Social Policy team. She has over 15 years’ experience of managing and conducting research and evaluations on behalf of a range of public, private and voluntary sector clients. She has extensive expertise in project managing large scale, complex evaluations and stakeholder engagement exercises and reporting the findings in a clear and concise manner. Beth is leading RSM’s work on Objective 4 of the ABS National Evaluation. Objective 4 aims to evidence the contribution the ABS programme has made to reducing costs to the public purse relating to primary school aged children.
  • Eliza Garwood
    Senior Researcher National Centre for Social Research
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    Eliza is a Senior Researcher in the Centre for Children and Families. She is particularly interested in early years, education, youth, inequalities, and qualitative methodologies.  In her role at NatCen, Eliza has worked on a range of mixed-methods and qualitative evaluations and research studies, including the evaluation of the National Lottery Community Fund’s A Better Start programme. She is also currently working on DfE's Five to Twelve study, a longitudinal study looking to understand factors influencing educational outcomes and wellbeing.

    Prior to joining NatCen, Eliza worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Southampton


  • Mary McKaskill
    Research Director National Centre for Social Research