February 2017


  • Time for action
    The crises in funding, recruitment and retention need urgent attention, says Malcolm Trobe. But they can only be resolved if government and the profession tackle them together. More
  • Learning beyond the battlefield
    Thousands of pupils and their teachers have retraced soldiers’ footsteps to the Western Front to mark the centenary of WWI. National Education Coordinator Simon Bendry highlights how schools can sign up for the free programme. More
  • Research insights
    In the third of a regular research insights page, Pippa Lord and Jennie Harland, researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), present key findings that shed light on the emerging role of the executive headteacher. More
  • Primary focus
    Former primary head Dame Reena Keeble says a new review into effective primary teaching practice provides thought-provoking, practical advice to help schools improve their teaching. More
  • Raising the bar
    Research into the impact of the EBacc suggests that it is helping to improve attainment but Pupil Premium students may still be missing out on all of its potential benefits, according to researchers Rebecca Allen and Philip Nye. More
  • Going for gold
    Baroness Sue Campbell explains what lies behind Team GB’s phenomenal achievements at the Rio Olympics and how well-functioning schools have parallels in the turnaround in British sporting success. She talks to Dorothy Lepkowska. More
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Former primary head Dame Reena Keeble says a new review into effective primary teaching practice provides thought-provoking, practical advice to help schools improve their teaching.

Primary focus

In recent years, there has been a steady growth in the evidence base around pedagogy and teaching practice. The last national review of teaching practice was the Gilbert Review in 2007 (Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group). The new review, Effective Primary Teaching Practice 2016, aims to expose some of this evidence to a wider audience and help teachers and schools to make sense of it. The review, by the Teaching Schools Council (TSC), draws on evidence to identify the most effective practices for primary schools in England and how they can be best supported.

I had the privilege of leading a group of teachers, heads and academics to guide and challenge this work. The final report is the culmination of eight months’ work reviewing evidence, visiting schools and talking to teachers and experts. We wanted our conclusions to be robust, realistic and replicable and, therefore, underpinned by strong reliable evidence. In looking at effective primary teaching practice, we considered effective to mean those things that best contribute to pupils’ outcomes across the curriculum.

Key findings:

1. Effective schools have strong leadership

  • Effective leaders have a clear vision for their school that is shared, understood, owned and consistently implemented by all staff.
  • These leaders make sure that their vision is driving all decisions in the school, including how to teach and develop teaching, how to use resources and how to organise their school/s so that their teachers and pupils flourish.
  • The most senior leader in the school takes responsibility for leading teaching and learning.
  • The leaders do not allow themselves to be distracted from their core business as leaders of teaching and learning.

Executive Headteacher of The Compass Partnership of Schools in Greenwich, John Camp, firmly believes “great leadership is, in essence, concerned with learning”. He says, “Shaping pedagogy that is informed by evidence-based research is our core purpose – in keeping this at the centre, we are able to secure better outcomes for all our children.”

2. Effective schools prioritise the ongoing development of teachers and teaching

  • Strong staff development is structured around clear objectives to improve pupil outcomes and is informed and led by the evidence of effective teaching practices. It is sustained over time and prioritised by school leadership.
  • Teachers and others involved in supporting teaching have a good understanding of how children learn.
  • There appear to be some sensible principles that make for effective teaching:
    – Review previous learning.
    – Explain and introduce new content in small chunks.
    – Model skills.
    – Provide opportunities to practise.
    – Review.
  • There is strong evidence that whole-class teaching, small group work, interventions, corrective teaching and mastery approaches are effective. In recent years, the mastery approach has become more common for teaching maths, however, we believe there is no reason why mastery principles could not apply in other subjects too.
  • Subject leaders who oversee planning and teaching across all year groups are an effective resource to improve teaching.
  • There is no evidence at present that subject specialists are more effective at teaching core subjects than generalists. However, teachers’ understanding of a subject and how children learn that subject is very important.

Jan Knox, Headteacher at Houghton on the Hill C of E Primary School, Leicestershire, describes the growth of her school’s vision for pedagogy as “organic”. She said, “It has grown over time as teachers’ growth mindset has developed. Teachers have been trusted to experiment and to share from their experiences. They question each other out of professional curiosity, and gradually the belief in a consistent mastery approach across the curriculum has grown within the team.”

3. Effective schools make the most of all their resources

  • In effective schools, teachers use their time on those things that make the most significant difference to improving outcomes for all their pupils.
  • Teaching assistants (TAs) are used most successfully where careful consideration is given to whether to use them at all and what to use them for – in particular, the types of intervention they support.
  • Effective schools vary the layout of the classroom to support teaching so that teaching dictates the classroom layout.
  • Classroom clutter and distractions are avoided; the classroom promotes a calm and purposeful approach to learning, helping pupils to focus and supporting pupils’ self-regulation (that is, being able to avoid impulsive behaviour and stay focused).
  • In effective schools, teachers ensure that everyone has access in the classrooms to prompts and learning cues to strengthen independence and help pupils when they are stuck.
  • Technology is used to improve teaching where it has a clear pedagogical purpose. Before purchase, effective schools are clear about how technology will be used, what training will be required, how it will be embedded and how its impact will be monitored.

Rebecca Dunne, Associate Headteacher at Prestolee Primary School, Manchester, said, “For every decision we make across school, be it funding, deployment, resourcing, staff development or parental engagement, we ask how our work aligns to our mission statement. There are millions of things you ‘can do’, lots you ‘should do’ and a few you ‘must do’. Our clear mission ensures we always action the ‘must do’ first.” 4. Effective schools make clear choices about how they organise, structure and prioritise, based on evidence

  • Effective schools invest in developing a strong reception year with a structured approach to teaching and planning for focused learning, rather than aimless activities. (By a structured approach, we do not mean a purely top-down, formal approach to teaching but, rather, that teachers structure and scaffold learning through their decisions about what their pupils need to know, understand and can do next and how best this should be taught, to achieve success.)
  • Setting and/or streaming may not help all pupils to achieve. This does not mean that schools should never use ability grouping but, given the evidence, they should have a clear rationale, have considered how to avoid potential negative consequences and be actively measuring impact.
  • Homework has the greatest impact on pupil outcomes when its effect is consistently evaluated against pupil progress, and adjusted when judged necessary through this process. Effective schools are clear about what they are trying to achieve and whether homework is the best way to do that. They engage with parents and find ways to minimise the impact of homework on pupil and teacher workloads.

Matt Burdett, Headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, Southall, believes in a balanced approach to learning in the early years, with both adult-led and child-initiated activities, culminating in focused opportunities to read, write and solve problems. He said, “Despite the fact that our children enter our nursery and reception significantly below the national average, through our balanced approach, we are securing excellent outcomes for every child … and every child enters Year 1 ready for the National Curriculum.”

What is in it for schools?

We hope that our report challenges leaders, teachers and schools to reflect on their current practice, to think hard about the teaching approaches they are using and what impact they are having. Schools are busy places. Teachers are busy people. Rather than to add to this burden, we believe that our report should help schools and teachers to focus on what is effective, helping them to make the most of teachers’ time.Therefore, our report includes self-evaluation questions for leaders, middle leaders and teachers, signposts to other resources and includes examples from schools that already use some of the approaches outlined in the report. In addition, we have produced accompanying posters and slides to support discussions and use in schools. Read the full report and download the resources online at http://tinyurl.com/hs7yx6w

Dame Reena Keeble is the author of the report Effective Primary Teaching Practice.