EEF publishes four new independent evaluations

Spending more class time on meaningful dialogue that encourages pupils to reason, discuss, speculate, argue and explain, rather than simply give the expected answers can boost primary pupils’ maths, science and English results, a report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today finds.

78 English primary schools with higher than average proportions of disadvantaged pupils took part in the randomised controlled trial of Dialogic Teaching, which was devised and piloted by Professor Robin Alexander and developed by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and the University of York. 

Teachers were trained to deliver the approach, which aims to maximise the power of classroom talk to increase pupils' engagement, learning and attainment. The programme usesvideo and print materials, as well as in-school mentoring to support teachers’ planning, teaching and evaluation in English, maths and science lessons.  

The independent evaluation by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University found that the 2,493 Year 5 pupils (nine and 10 year olds) who received the intervention made, on average, two months more progress in English and science than a similar group of pupils who did not receive the intervention. The intervention also boosted maths results by two months for pupils in receipt of free school meals and one month overall. Teachers were generally very supportive of the approach but many felt they needed more than two terms to fully embed the approach in their classrooms.

The consistent results across subjects suggest that the approach may improve children’s overall thinking and learning skills rather than their subject knowledge alone. This is backed up by evidence summarised in the Sutton Trust – EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit that advises that metacognition approaches - strategies that encourage pupils to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning – are a particularly effective way of improving results.

Previous EEF trials which have tested different ways of improving the quality of classroom talk have found similarly positive results. In Thinking Talking, Doing Science, primary school pupils were asked ‘big questions’, like ‘how do we know the earth is a sphere’ to stimulate discussion about scientific topics and the principles of scientific enquiry. Independent evaluators found that pupils participating in the trial made three month’s more progress than a similar group of children who did not take part.

Also published today are evaluations of different ‘whole school’ approaches to improving outcomes. One of these was Success For All, a highly-structured training and support package that aims to improve literacy results for primary school pupils.

Teachers were given training in different areas of literacy teaching and provided with daily lesson plans and teaching resources. School leaders were given support in change management, effective use of data, coaching, peer support and strategic whole school leadership of systems and resources, so they could effectively measure pupils’ progress and regularly group and regroup pupils into classes based on their reading ability, not their age . Pupils struggling to learn to read were given intensive catch-up programmes.

The independent evaluators from Queen’s University Belfast found that Year 1 pupils in the schools who took part in Success for All made about one month’s more progress than children in schools who did not take part in the programme, with disadvantaged pupils making two months more progress.

The other reports published today are:

  • Challenge the Gap, a whole school improvement programme which supports schools to improve the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils through a professional development programme for staff run by schools that have successfully narrowed their gaps. The report from the independent evaluators at the University of Manchester, which looked at the 2012 version of the Challenge the Gap programme, suggests that it lacked consistent impacts on pupils eligible for free school meals. However, the security of these findings was low for secondary schools and low to moderate for primary schools. Challenge the Gap has been developed since this evaluation, drawing on lessons learnt from the project.
  • Achieve Together, a partnership between Teach First, Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders that tested a model of working together to recruit and develop high-potential teachers in schools with high numbers of disadvantaged pupils. Despite increased participation in all three programmes, the impact evaluation from the independent evaluators at the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that pupils in schools who took part made no more progress than a similar group of pupils at other schools. Some schools struggled to coordinate the different aspects of the programme and given the resource intensive nature of the programme were not fully able to engage with it. A pilot of an area-based approach to the programme in Bournemouth – evaluated by NatCen - found similar issues.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said:

Getting children to think and talk about their own learning more explicitly can be one of the most effective ways to improve academic outcomes. But it can be difficult to put this into practice in the classroom. While there is no simple strategy or trick, today’s evaluation report on dialogic teaching does give primary school heads and teachers practical evidence on an approach that appears to be effective across different subjects.

The other evaluations published today investigate different models of whole-school improvement programmes, to see if they could help improve grades. While this is something that’s difficult to achieve, it is promising that Success For All, a highly structured package popular in the US, appears to have been effective.

Success for All

Success for All UK Foundation

A training and support package for primary schools that aims to improve pupils’ reading ability.

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Notes to editors

  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £87 million to test the impact of 142 projects reaching more than 960,000 children and young people in over 9,200 schools, nurseries and colleges across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.
  2. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit and its Early Years companion are accessible summaries of educational research developed by the EEF in collaboration with the Sutton Trust and a team of academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The Toolkits cover 46 topics and summarises research from over 11,500 studies. The Toolkits are a live resource which are regularly updated.
  3. Click here for further information about Professor Robin Alexander’s work on dialogic teaching.