For too long, education research lived in an academic ‘secret garden’, accessible only to a select few. To get even a very basic overview of the research around one topic, you would have had to have spent hours – if not days – reading papers, usually presented in inaccessible jargon and hidden in expensive journals.
When the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), in partnership with the Sutton Trust, launched the Teaching and Learning Toolkit in 2011, our aim was to change this. We wanted to give research back to schools so we designed it specifically with busy teachers in mind. ‘Best bets’ for improving children’s attainment were presented in terms that teachers will immediately understand: the extra months of learning that approaches might lead to during an academic year.
Its myth-busting messages immediately caused a stir: reducing class sizes had surprisingly limited impact; different learning styles had no evidential basis; and school uniforms made no difference to attainment.
The things that really mattered were all down to the classroom interaction between teacher and pupil: providing and receiving effective feedback; ‘metacognitive‘ strategies making learning goals explicit; providing one-to-one (or indeed two-to-one or three-to-one) tuition for children falling behind their peers.
The Toolkit – and its early years companion – summarises thousands of pieces of academic research and presents them in a practical, manageable and robust way. We use meta-analyses – a combination of results from different academic studies – and existing research reviews to compare impacts across different teaching and learning topics. We also make an estimate of the cost and impact of different approaches as accurately as we can.
The aim of the Toolkit is not to give you definitive answers on what will boost your pupils’ attainment, but to provide guidance on how you can best improve learning outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children and young people.
Evidence can only ever tell us what has been successful, on average, in other contexts, with other pupils, in other schools. This is “what’s worked”, rather than what will work somewhere else, guaranteed. The Toolkit is designed to be used in conjunction with your own knowledge; of your pupils, your contexts, and their challenges. This is what really makes the difference.
You can also look at some of the other resources the EEF provides for support on how to implement a particular approach in a way which increases the chances of success for you and your pupils. Our ‘promising projects’ outline specific programmes and approaches that we’ve trialled with positive results; and our ‘big picture’ school themes bring together all our resources on a number of high priority areas like ‘behaviour’, and ‘parental engagement’.
Our Guidance Reports make actionable, practical and evidence-based recommendations for improving practice in a particular area. So far we’ve published six EEF Guidance Reports – covering primary literacy, the deployment of teaching assistants, implementation, maths, and metacognition – and are planning to publish more on science, digital technology, parental engagement and early literacy in the coming months.
EEF Guidance Reports are accompanied by a batch of additional resources that support implementation. For example, the Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants guidance was accompanied by Self-assessment audit tools, Staff observation tools, and Draft school policies.
We are also working with partners, including our Research Schools Network, to design and deliver programmes of training and support. In our current North East Primary Literacy Campaign we partnered with local authorities, teaching schools and multi-academy trusts (MATs) to deliver training based on our improving literacy guidance.
You can keep up-to-date with the latest evidence by signing up to our news alert, or following us on Twitter and Facebook. Explore the EEF Guidance Reports here: educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports