Making it REAL (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy)

Making it REAL Programme

Making it REAL sets out to improve the way practitioners work with parents; to hand over knowledge and build confidence through meaningful early literacy activities to support the early home learning environment and ultimately improve literacy and wider outcomes for young children and their families.   Engaging parents in their children's early literacy development has been shown to improve children's outcomes and is a valuable intervention for narrowing the gap between disadvantaged and other children.

What is the REAL approach?

Making it REAL uses the REAL approach and evidence base drawn from the original REAL project delivered by Professors Cathy Nutbrown and Peter Hannon at the University of Sheffield.  REAL uses a framework which is called ORIM for short which stands for Opportunities, Recognition, Interaction and Model which works across the four strands of early literacy.  Teachers and practitioners share this framework with families through a series of home visits and literacy events to support parents to think through how they can create:

  • More opportunities for children to engage and play with early literacy
  • How to recognise and value the small steps children make as they make progress and learn
  • How to interact in the most supportive ways, to talk, play and let children join in everyday activities 
  • To become more conscious about the power they have as a model themselves as a literacy user, making it explicit to their children when they read and write, as children like to join in and copy what adults do.

 How has the programme developed?

Making it REAL was first funded by the Big Lottery and operated in Sheffield and Oldham from 2009-12 in collaboration with the University of Sheffield. The project was really successful and won the Early Years category in the Children and Young People Now Awards 2012 for making the greatest difference to young children's life chances.

Since 2013 the Department for Education has funded the national Making it REAL programme providing support local authorities and a range of non-statutory and private, independent and independent early years setting and childminder groups across the country.  The 2013-15 programme consisted of a large-scale rollout of Making it REAL training and project delivery in eight local authorities in which practitioners received two-day project training and delivered a series of home visits and literacy events for local families.   

The NCB Research Centre has evaluated the Making it REAL 2013-15 and findings consistently show positive impact on children's outcomes.

Download the report from Year 2.

Download the report from Year 1.

Making it REAL 2015/2016

This year ECU continues to works in partnership with eight local authority areas - Blackpool, Haringey, Luton, Oldham, Peterborough, Sandwell, Sheffield and South Tyneside; to support them to take Making it REAL to the next level of being able to cascade and sustain the approach locally, and to support new areas through sharing their experience.  ECU is running a series of Making it REAL events, co-hosted by three of the local authority project areas. To find more information about the next Making it REAL Neighbourhood hub event please click here.

To support wider engagement 20 one-day training courses and 15 consultancy and training support packages are being offered to new areas across England. ECU is also developing further material and tailored training focused on supporting two-year olds, bilingual families, children with additional needs to improve inclusion strategies.  Information about the use of the Early Years Pupil Premium for early intervention work is also being provided to help sustain Making it REAL at a local level. 

Making it REAL in Oldham

ECU has received funding from the Sutton Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to develop and deliver Making it REAL in Oldham, a 2.5 year project and feasibility trial through which ECU will assess how well REAL works, compared to 'business as usual' practice in settings where REAL is not routinely delivered. 

Making it REAL runs from June 2015 to September 2017 and is part of an exciting national initiative - the Parental Engagement Fund, which is guided by the University of Oxford and aims to evaluate the impact of engaging families in children's learning.  Making it REAL in Oldham is one of six projects, all aimed at improving children's cognitive development through partnerships with parents, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  For further information about the project please contact Lucy Williams on

Find out more about Making it REAL training and consultancy and resources including A REAL Approach to Maths.