Kevan Collins in Leader magazine

Kevan Collins in Leader magazine

EEF Chief Executive Kevan Collins wrote the following article for the Association of School and College Leader's Leader magazine.

Learning to Learn

No one would claim that the last two years have been a peaceful time for English schools. Academies, free schools, a new curriculum and examination system, and the introduction of the Pupil Premium; barely a month has gone by without the announcement of a new reform.

Here I want to push your patience with an account of one more change.
It is one that hasn’t received as much attention or as many column inches as those above, but which I believe is perhaps as signifi cant a development as any I have seen in the 30 years I have worked in the English education system. 

I am talking about the fact that more than ten per cent of secondary schools across the country are now involved in research projects that will allow them and others to take a more evidence-based approach to teaching.

This activity – funded by the charity I work for, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) – is just the start of a move that will increase the role of evidence and professional refl ection in our system with the potential to benefit every school in the country. Including our work at primary level, more
than 1,000 schools and more than 275,000 children and young people are now involved in projects that will rigorously test new pedagogical techniques, targeted interventions and strategies for engaging with parents and communities.

I believe that this work is quietly revolutionary for three reasons.

First, it demonstrates that school leaders are now looking for hard evidence to support their decision making. Rather than having to accept edicts from above, heads are seeking proof that ideas are effective. This trend is hugely encouraging.

Second, it will demonstrate the power that collaboration has to increase outcomes for all of our children. In order to rigorously evaluate a new programme, it is essential that schools work together. Without the participation of a number of schools, it is impossible to establish that any apparent benefits of the programme are attributable to the intervention and not to some other factor.

Third, through this collaboration, we are seeing the development of a new type of school-to-school support, which transcends geographical
boundaries. All of our projects share the common aim of raising the attainment of disadvantaged students. Together, the fi ndings will build a comprehensive bank of information and ideas for all.

The projects

We have funded 45 projects to date, and the range of information they will produce will be vast.

Twenty-fi ve schools in Manchester are trialling a new form of one-to-one tuition, provided by local university students and graduates and organised by a new charity, the Tutor Trust. If this is successful, it could provide a cost-effective option that can be scaled to other university cities from Exeter to Newcastle.

Thirty schools in Hertfordshire and the east of England are testing an approach that seeks to boost academic attainment by improving students’ resilience. The programme will be robustly evaluated, and if successful, could have wide implications for how schools support disadvantaged pupils.

Collectively, more than 250 secondaries are involved in projects testing out different approaches to supporting children who arrive in Year 7 without having achieved level 4 in English. These projects will provide a wealth of advice to secondary heads that have incoming students with low levels of literacy.

Maximising the effects of resources

Evidence is not just about testing new interventions. It is also about finding out how to make best use of the resources already available
to us. To take a much-publicised example, we are building on the finding that teaching assistants have, on average, no positive benefit on pupil attainment by funding projects that seek to identify specific strategies that will maximise their effects.

More broadly, we are seeking to support the decision-making of heads,
notably around the Pupil Premium, in order to ensure that schools have the best possible chance of maximising the effects of their spending.

We know that the relationship between increasing spending and increasing outcomes is not a straightforward one. Nationally, spending per pupil rose by 68 per cent in the last decade without any signifi cant
increase in the international league tables, and some early evidence on
the Pupil Premium also suggests that there is a cause for concern about its effects. But by providing heads with access to high-quality information, it will be possible to change this.

Our primary resource, which presents this information, is the Teaching and Learning Toolkit. The toolkit, initially produced by Durham University for the Sutton Trust, has been developed by the EEF since our launch in 2011 and will be updated this month. It contains summaries of educational research from the UK and overseas, as well as case studies and links to resources that can be used to embed effective strategies in schools. As our project evaluations emerge, these will also feed into the toolkit, making it a live, up-to-date summary of what we know in education.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the secondaries across the country that are already involved in projects. In the course of these projects, we have discovered that gaining true knowledge requires effort and patience. It means organising large groups of schools, staggering the implementation of projects, and measuring them closely. But I have no doubt that this shared endeavour will be worth it.

And for those of you not yet involved in projects, or who haven’t yet considered how evidence can support your school, I invite you to join the (quiet) revolution.

Dr Kevan Collins is chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation.

The original article can be found at: http://www.leadermagazine.co.uk/articles/learning_to_learn/.