Evaluation: Early Years Physical Activity and Nutrition (EYPAN)

A group of early years practitioners and health experts in Cambridgeshire developed a new staff role to lead on physical activity and nutrition and is piloting a qualification to support it. The role of the Physical Activity and Nutrition Co-ordinator (PANCo) works in much the same way as a SENCo (special educational needs coordinator) and is intended as a key strategy to address overweight and obesity in young children.

The PANCO development team – a collaboration between NHS Cambridgeshire; Cambridge Regional College’s Academy of Care, Health and Early Years, and the director of The Old School House Day Nursery Cambridgeshire – identified a need for training in the UK to improve early years workers’ knowledge of children’s physical activity and diet. The team developed an Early Years Physical Activity and Nutrition (EYPAN) pilot programme, which aims to:

  • put child wellbeing at the centre of practice by developing a specialist PANCo role within every early years settings
  • build practitioner skills and confidence to undertake this role by providing training support and continuous professional development
  • support the well-being of children, families and staff by developing a framework and knowledge base using current research and national guidelines
  • work collaboratively with others by establishing close working relationships with a wide range of partners, including external professionals

The CEDAR evaluation

CEDAR conducted an independent process evaluation of the EYPAN pilot programme. It aimed to gain a greater understanding of what worked well during the course; what could be improved for future iterations of the programme; and the knowledge acquired by the first cohort of ‘PANCos’. A focus group and individual telephone interviews were conducted with EYPAN participants (PANCos) and those yet to attend the programme (Wait-list controls, WLCs). Audio-recordings were transcribed verbatim and thematic analyse was conducted.

Five key themes emerged from the focus groups and interviews.

  • Knowledge – PANCos had a greater knowledge of what a ‘whole setting’ approach encompassed and the consequences of poor nutrition and inactivity. PANCos were also slightly more likely to be able to recall current UK activity and nutritional guidelines for the early years.
  • The PANCo role – this was thought to be valuable by all the participants, but the role was adapted and carried out in different ways depending on the PANCo’s current position and seniority within their setting.
  • Managing change and barriers to change – some participants mentioned that they had faced barriers when trying to implement change, including: colleague and parental attitudes; time; facilities and financial restraints. Although all felt confident in leading, those in managerial roles were best placed to deliver change.
  • Positive elements of the course – PANCos were positive about the role and appreciated the opportunity to work with other like-minded individuals. They valued the contacts and information they had gained and felt that their knowledge and the qualification itself helped them to interact and feel more confident around colleagues.
  • Elements of the course to be improved – in general, these were minor. They included an occasional lack of communication and organisation, and variable speed in resource dissemination. The pitching of information, given the range in the PANCos background knowledge, was also an issue.

PANCos and EYPAN have been profiled in Nursery World here.