Providing evidence for the debate on education

Education is rarely out of the news these days. The question of what we teach and how we teach it is widely debated by politicians and educational professionals. But how much of this debate is informed by evidence? And how much do these debates influence what is actually happening in classrooms around the country?

At the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) we aim to inform this debate and influence practice in schools, and in doing so achieve our mission of breaking the link between family background and educational achievement.

We know that just 37% of disadvantaged children achieved 5 good GCSEs, including English and Maths, compared to 63% of all other pupils. This attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is particularly pronounced in the UK compared with other OECD countries and has significant consequences for social mobility – young people with poor educational attainment are much less likely to find themselves in education, employment or training.

We’re tackling this problem by investing in rigorous research to evaluate the most effective means of improving the achievement of the 21% of children eligible for free school meals. Schools receive a “pupil premium” for these students (from September 2014 £1,300 a year per primary school pupil and £935 for secondary students), but this money is not always being spent effectively.

Since the EEF was set up in 2011, by education foundation the Sutton Trust in partnership with Impetus-PEF, we have funded trials in 2,400 schools across England involving over half a million pupils. These projects use rigorous methods, including randomised controlled trials, to test which educational interventions actually make an impact on the attainment of the least-advantaged pupils.

The interventions we test are wide-ranging but always based on promising prior evidence of success. Among the 72 trials we have funded so far, are ones looking at the impact of teaching chess in schools, offering high quality affordable tutoring to disadvantaged pupils, and using text messages to prompt parents to engage with their child’s progress learning.

All our trials are independently evaluated by a team of academics who assess how secure their findings are. The results of all our trials are incorporated into our Toolkit – a practical resource for teachers and school leaders that they can use to assess which strategies are most effective in improving the performance of disadvantaged pupils. The Toolkit already incorporates the results of over 10,000 previous studies into educational interventions and has been used by over a third of school leaders to provide a starting point for how to spend their pupil premium budget.

So far we have published the results of six of our trials, which have added considerable new information to the question of how schools can use teaching assistants most effectively. In May and September of this year we will publish the results of further trials. As we develop a secure, evidence-based body of knowledge our focus will shift to ensuring this information is widely disseminated across schools and scaling up the most successful projects.

By working with schools, policymakers, charities and researchers we hope to change the nature of the debate on education – focusing on evidence and the practical application of knowledge – to increase the achievements and prospects of all students, regardless of their background.

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Dr Kevan Collins is Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation

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