Three new EEF trials announced, including focus on improving outcomes for children with SEND

400 schools wanted to test impact of programmes aiming to support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

A new trial, finding out if taking part in enrichment activities like sports clubs and community volunteering can boost attainment and attributes like teamwork and social responsibility, is one of three announced today by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). The EEF has also launched two new initiatives focused on improving outcomes for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Children's University

Nine- and 10-year olds in 150 primary schools across England will take part in the EEF-funded trial of Children’s University, which aims to raise the aspirations and attainment of pupils by providing learning activities and experiences outside of the classroom.

Each pupil will get a ‘Passport to Learning’, used to record each activity and hours spent on the activities. Children will make their own choice from a wide range of activities and receive a stamp in their passport on completion. Activities range from walking trails and gymnastics, to trips to wildlife parks, sports sessions and performing arts classes.

The EEF previously funded a smaller trial of Children’s University, which found positive impacts on Key Stage 2 maths and reading results equivalent to about +2 months’ additional progress. Small improvements were also seen for a range of other outcomes, such as teamwork, social responsibility, and aspirations. 

This larger trial, which will be independently evaluated by a team from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), is designed to find out if these positive effects can be replicated across a larger number of schools.

The EEF believes that all children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, deserve a well-rounded, culturally rich, education. However, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to participate in enrichment activities like volunteering and arts and cultural events. Evidence from trials like this will help schools to make decisions about how best to target their resources and provide enrichment activities in their school.

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

The two new trials focused on children with SEND are:

1. SEND review

A programme, delivered by the National Association for Special Educational Needs, that aims to improve provision for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools by helping schools to evaluate the effectiveness of their provision, and then implement a bespoke action plan to target areas of priority and drive improvement. 

Around 150 mainstream secondary schools will take part in the trial, which will be independently evaluated by a team from Manchester Metropolitan University.

2. Headsprout Early Reading in Special Schools

A programme, delivered by Bangor University, that aims to improve reading skills through a computer programmes that adapts instruction in response to children’s answers. Activities are designed to be engaging, with pupils working through cartoon-based worlds via tasks that resemble computer games. Bangor University have piloted the programme in UK special schools, and over 100 special schools will now be invited to take part in a large-scale trial of the programme for primary-aged children with SEND. 

The programme will be evaluated by a team from Warwick University.

Official figures show there is a larger attainment gap for pupils with SEND than for any other group. In 2018, just 21% of these pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths at age 11, compared to 74% of their classmates. Pupils with SEND are twice as likely to come from disadvantaged homes, too (27% of pupils with SEND are eligible for free school meals compared to 12% of all other pupils) and so face a double disadvantage in the classroom.

Pupils with SEND may face significantly greater challenges in learning than the majority of their peers, or have a disability which hinders their access to the teaching and facilities typically found in mainstream schools and colleges.

To date, the EEF’s funding has focused on improving the outcomes of socio-economically disadvantaged pupils. Much of this work – particularly around the effective use of teaching assistants – has generated evidence schools can apply to support the teaching of pupils with SEND. However, this is the first time the EEF has run trials focused specifically on improving outcomes for pupils with SEND.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, said:

All young people deserve the chance to access a well-rounded and culturally rich education. Yet we know that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take part in the sort of activities that Children’s University provide.

Our previous trial found that taking part in the programme had a promising impact on reading skills, as well as on attributes like teamwork and aspirations. This new trial will find out if these positive findings can be achieved at scale. The results will help schools to make decisions about how best to target their resources and provide enrichment activities in their school.

It is great that we’re able to announce our first two trials of programmes focused on improving outcomes for pupils with special educational needs. The attainment gap is widest for this group and the evidence we generate from these trials will provide much needed evidence of how best to support them.