February 2013


  • The Right Note
    Jan Webber looks at the effect the latest changes to Ofsted inspection criteria are having and offers tips to help leaders be ready when the call comes. More
  • What Lies Beneath
    St Benedict’s Catholic School in Suffolk has used psychometric assessment to help improve the performance and behaviour of underachieving and disruptive students, as Sally Wells explains. More
  • Our Survey Says
    In light of the new Ofsted framework and Parent View website, it is more important than ever for schools to have their own analysed data about what stakeholders think, argues Ian Rowe. How does your school compare? More
  • Learning to learn
    About ten per cent of secondary schools across the country are currently involved in research looking for hard evidence of whether a range of teaching and learning strategies actually work. Kevan Collins explains how. More
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About ten per cent of secondary schools across the country are currently involved in research looking for hard evidence of whether a range of teaching and learning strategies actually work. Kevan Collins explains how.

Learning to learn

No one would claim that the last two years have been a peaceful time for English schools. Academies, free schools, a new curriculum and examination system, and the introduction of the Pupil Premium; barely a
month has gone by without the announcement of a new reform.

Here I want to push your patience with an account of one more change.
It is one that hasn’t received as much attention or as many column inches as those above, but which I believe is perhaps as signifi cant a development as any I have seen in the 30 years I have worked in the English education system. 

I am talking about the fact that more than ten per cent of secondary schools across the country are now involved in research projects that will allow them and others to take a more evidence-based approach to teaching.

This activity – funded by the charity I work for, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) – is just the start of a move that will increase the role of evidence and professional refl ection in our system with the potential to benefit every school in the country. Including our work at primary level, more
than 1,000 schools and more than 275,000 children and young people are now involved in projects that will rigorously test new pedagogical techniques, targeted interventions and strategies for engaging with parents and communities.

I believe that this work is quietly revolutionary for three reasons.

First, it demonstrates that school leaders are now looking for hard evidence to support their decision making. Rather than having to accept edicts from above, heads are seeking proof that ideas are effective. This trend is hugely encouraging.

Second, it will demonstrate the power that collaboration has to increase outcomes for all of our children. In order to rigorously evaluate a new programme, it is essential that schools work together. Without the participation of a number of schools, it is impossible to establish that any apparent benefits of the programme are attributable to the intervention and not to some other factor.

Third, through this collaboration, we are seeing the development of a new type of school-to-school support, which transcends geographical
boundaries. All of our projects share the common aim of raising the attainment of disadvantaged students. Together, the fi ndings will build a comprehensive bank of information and ideas for all.

The projects

We have funded 45 projects to date, and the range of information they will produce will be vast.

Twenty-fi ve schools in Manchester are trialling a new form of one-to-one tuition, provided by local university students and graduates and organised by a new charity, the Tutor Trust. If this is successful, it could provide a cost-effective option that can be scaled to other university cities from Exeter to Newcastle.

Thirty schools in Hertfordshire and the east of England are testing an approach that seeks to boost academic attainment by improving students’ resilience. The programme will be robustly evaluated, and if successful, could have wide implications for how schools support disadvantaged pupils.

Collectively, more than 250 secondaries are involved in projects testing out different approaches to supporting children who arrive in Year 7 without having achieved level 4 in English. These projects will provide a wealth of advice to secondary heads that have incoming students with low levels of literacy.

Maximising the effects of resources

Evidence is not just about testing new interventions. It is also about finding out how to make best use of the resources already available
to us. To take a much-publicised example, we are building on the finding that teaching assistants have, on average, no positive benefit on pupil attainment by funding projects that seek to identify specific strategies that will maximise their effects.

More broadly, we are seeking to support the decision-making of heads,
notably around the Pupil Premium, in order to ensure that schools have the best possible chance of maximising the effects of their spending.

We know that the relationship between increasing spending and increasing outcomes is not a straightforward one. Nationally, spending per pupil rose by 68 per cent in the last decade without any signifi cant
increase in the international league tables, and some early evidence on
the Pupil Premium also suggests that there is a cause for concern about its effects. But by providing heads with access to high-quality information, it will be possible to change this.

Our primary resource, which presents this information, is the Teaching and Learning Toolkit. The toolkit, initially produced by Durham University for the Sutton Trust, has been developed by the EEF since our launch in 2011 and will be updated this month. It contains summaries of educational research from the UK and overseas, as well as case studies and links to resources that can be used to embed effective strategies in schools. As our project evaluations emerge, these will also feed into the toolkit, making it a live, up-to-date summary of what we know in education.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the secondaries across the country that are already involved in projects. In the course of these projects, we have discovered that gaining true knowledge requires effort and patience. It means organising large groups of schools, staggering the implementation of projects, and measuring them closely. But I have no doubt that this shared endeavour will be worth it.

And for those of you not yet involved in projects, or who haven’t yet considered how evidence can support your school, I invite you to join the (quiet) revolution.

Improvement Strategies

The Teaching and Learning Toolkit contains summaries of more than 25 areas of educational research that can inform decision-making and provide new ideas. Of all of the areas summarised, meta-cognitive (or ‘learning to learn’) strategies have some of the highest potential impact.

What is it?
Meta-cognitive strategies are teaching approaches that make learners think about their own learning more explicitly.

How effective is it?
These strategies have consistently high levels of impact with meta-analyses reporting impact of between seven to nine months’ additional progress over a year. Encouragingly, there is also evidence that they are particularly helpful for low-achieving pupils.

What do I need to know?

  • Teach pupils explicit strategies to plan, monitor and self-assess their learning, and provide them with opportunities to use these strategies with support and independently.
  • Encourage pupils to plan, ask them to identify general planning strategies and specific techniques for particular tasks.
  • Monitoring involves identifying the key steps to be aware of as pupils complete a task (‘Where might this go wrong? What will be the difficult parts?’).
  • Evaluating can be part of the process of checking so that it feeds into the current task as it nears completion (‘Can you make it better? Are you sure this is right?’). It can also feed forward into future tasks (‘What have you learned that will change what you do next time?’).

What are the costs?
Relatively low overall, however many studies report the benefits of professional development.

How applicable is it?
The evidence suggests that teaching meta-cognitive strategies tends to be particularly effective with older and lower achieving students. Most studies have looked at effects on English or maths, although there is some evidence from other areas that benefits are likely to be widely applicable across the curriculum.

learning to learn