New trial will find out if a smartphone app can improve toddlers’ language skills

A new trial will find out if a low-cost smartphone app that sends activities and tips on child development to parents can help improve toddlers’ language and communication skills, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) announced today.

Parents and carers of 7,800 children will take part in a trial of EasyPeasy. They’ll be sent short video clips that give them ideas of games to play with their child, along with brief written instructions and a series of text reminders encouraging them to try out the games.

There is good evidence that engaged parents and a vibrant home learning environment are major influences on children’s development, yet little is known about how to better support families who are struggling to provide this. The content on the EasyPeasy app covers all areas of the early years curriculum and aims to encourage positive interaction with children at home.

A smaller trial of the programme – funded through the Sutton Trust’s Parental Engagement Network – found promising evidence that the app improved children’s concentration and their willingness to complete difficult tasks. This trial will see if gains can be replicated with a larger group of families.

A separate trial will find out if a digital maths app that acts as a virtual teacher can help five and six year olds with their maths. 1,200 pupils will take part in a trial of onebillion: app-based maths learning. They’ll use the app to work through exercises at their own pace while their knowledge is assessed through a quiz at the end of each topic. Teaching assistants monitor progress to identify any areas that individual pupils might find particularly challenging.

A third trial will find out if removing grades in marked schoolwork and replacing them with targeted and actionable feedback can help boost English GCSE results and reduce teacher workload. 12,500 pupils in 100 secondary schools will take part in the trial of FLASH Marking, developed and delivered by Meols Cop High School in Southport.

Sarah Cunliffe, subject leader for English, explains: “The programme translates the skills required to access top band grades at GCSE English and English Literature into codes. Teachers are trained to use them when assessing pupils’ work. The codes are also used in lessons to help pupils to understand the skills they’re good at and those they need to improve.”

Subject leads can see how effective teachers are at developing particular skills, meaning that peer support and additional training can be targeted effectively. It is hoped that the programme will reduce teacher workload by making marking more focused.

The trial follows a review of the evidence on marking by the EEF that highlighted a critical lack of evidence to show which written marking strategies have a positive effect on pupil progress and which will not. However, the report did find some evidence that grading work can reduce the impact of marking, particularly if pupils become preoccupied with grades and don’t take on board teacher feedback.

Finally, a matched study of the Education Development Trust’s Schools Partnership Programmewill test how a partnership-based approach to rigorous peer review and school-to-school-support can lead to improved outcomes for pupils. 110,000 pupils in 300 schools will take part in the EEF funded evaluation of the programme. Based around partnerships of 3 – 7 schools, the programme trains and supports leaders at all levels to develop the capacity and culture needed for challenging, supportive and mutually accountable relationships both within and between schools. Working with their partnership, schools will identify and address individual and cluster priorities for improvement, with a focus on closing the attainment gap.

All four of today’s new trials are recruiting schools to take part. More information can be found on the individual project pages on the EEF’s website.

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

We know that the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest pupils begins before they’ve even started school. Tackling this disparity early on is critical to breaking the cycle of disadvantage and improving social mobility.

But it can be difficult to get parents involved in their child’s learning. EasyPeasy is an inexpensive app that encourages positive play and interaction with children at home. After early promising results, our trial will find out if this could be an effective way of improving parental engagement.

Jen Lexmond, Founder and CEO of EasyPeasy, said:

This is a fantastic opportunity for EasyPeasy to build on the strong results that we have already seen from our trial with the University of Oxford and reach thousands more families across England.

We believe that every child deserves the best start in life and we would love to hear from nurseries, primary schools and local authorities who are interested in partnering with us as we expand our service.

  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 £86.7 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 Sutton Trust’s evaluation of EasyPeasy can be found here.
  3. The EEF’s review of the evidence on marking can be found here.
  4. The new grants have been awarded to:
GRANTEEPROJECTGRANT AWARDEDNUMBER OF SETTINGS (PUPILS)
EasyPeasyEasyPeasy: Learning through play£359,824120 (7,800)
Education Development TrustSchool Partnership Programme£721,533300 (110,000)
Meols Cop High SchoolFLASH Marking£355,300100 (12,500)
University of Nottinghamonebillion: app-based maths learning£227,000120 (1,200)