The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Feedback


High impact for low cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +8 months

What is it?

Feedback is information given to the learner and/or the teacher about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals. It should aim to (and be capable of) producing improvement in students’ learning. Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome. It can be about the learning activity itself, about the process of activity, about the student’s management of their learning or self-regulation or (the least effective) about them as individuals. This feedback can be verbal, written, or can be given through tests or via digital technology. It can come from a teacher or someone taking a teaching role or from peers.

How effective is it?

Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning. However, it also has a very high range of effects and some studies show that feedback can have negative effects and make things worse. It is therefore important to understand the potential benefits and the possible limitations of this as an approach. The research evidence about feedback was part of the rationale for Assessment for Learning (AfL). One evaluation of AfL indicated an impact of half of a GCSE grade per student per subject is achievable, which would be in line with the wider evidence about feedback. In general, research-based approaches which explicitly aim to provide feedback to learners, such as Bloom’s ‘mastery learning’, also tend to have a positive impact. Feedback has effects on all types of learning across all age groups. Research in schools has focused particularly on English, mathematics and, to a lesser extent, science. 

Other studies reporting lower impact indicate that it is challenging to make feedback work in the classroom. This has also been demonstrated in a recent EEF pilot study where teachers tried to apply the evidence on feedback through an action research approach.

How secure is the evidence?

There are a substantial number of reviews and meta-analyses of the effects of feedback. Educational (rather than psychological or theoretical) studies tend to identify positive benefits where the aim is to improve learning outcomes in reading or mathematics or in recall of information. The most recent meta-analysis of studies focusing on assessment for learning in schools indicates the gains are more modest, suggesting an improvement of about three months' additional progress is achievable in schools or nearer four months' when the approach is supported with professional development.

For full references, please click here

What are the costs?

The costs of providing more effective feedback are not high. However it is likely to require sustained professional development to improve practice, and this includes active inquiry and evaluation. Estimates of this (including up to 7-10 days cover) are in the region of £2,000-£3,000 per teacher per year or about £100 per pupil. Overall costs are estimated as low.

What should I consider?

  • Providing effective feedback is challenging. Research suggests that it should be specific, accurate and clear (e.g. “It was good because you...” rather than just “correct”); compare what a learner is doing right now with what they have done wrong before (e.g. “I can see you were focused on improving X as it is much better than last time’s Y…”); encourage and support further effort and be given sparingly so that it is meaningful; provide specific guidance on how to improve and not just tell students when they are wrong; and be supported with effective professional development for teachers.

  • Wider research suggests the feedback should be about complex or challenging tasks or goals as this is likely to emphasise the importance of effort and perseverance as well as be more valued by the pupils. Feedback can come from other peers as well as adults (see Peer tutoring).

  • Have you considered the challenge of implementing feedback effectively and consistently?

  • What professional development requirements is likely to be necessary for success?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Meta-cognition and self-regulation


High impact for low cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +8 months

What is it?

Meta-cognition (sometimes known as ‘learning to learn’) and self-regulation approaches aim to help learners think about their own learning more explicitly. This is usually by teaching pupils specific strategies to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own academic development. Self-regulation means managing one’s own motivation towards learning. The intention is often to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from during learning activities.

How effective is it?

Meta-cognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact with pupils making an average of eight months’ additional progress. The evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low achieving and older pupils.

These strategies are usually more effective when taught in collaborative groups so learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion.

The potential impact of these approaches is very high, but can be difficult to achieve as they require pupils to take greater responsibility for their learning and develop their understanding of what is required to succeed. There is no simple strategy or trick for this. It is possible to support pupils’ work too much, so that they do not learn to monitor and manage their own learning but come to rely on the prompts and support from the teacher. “Scaffolding” provides a useful metaphor: a teacher would provide support (scaffolding) when first introducing a pupil to a concept, then remove the scaffolding to ensure that the pupil continues to manage their learning autonomously. 

How secure is the evidence?

A number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses have consistently found similar levels of impact. Most studies have looked at the impact on English or mathematics, though there is some evidence from other subject areas like science, suggesting that the approach is likely to be widely applicable. Studies come from a number of countries, including the UK. A recent EEF-funded study, Improving Writing Quality, used a structured programme of writing development based on a self-regulation strategy. The evaluation found gains, on average, of an additional 9 months’ progress, suggesting that the high average impact of self-regulation strategies can be achieved in English schools. 

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as low. Many studies report the benefits of professional development or an inquiry approach for teachers where they actively evaluate strategies as they learn to use them. A course of sustained professional development or collaborative professional inquiry is estimated at £2-3,000 per year (including some release from classroom teaching) or about £100 per pupil. The cost of the Improving Writing Quality project was estimated at £52 per pupil (very low).

What should I consider?

  • Teaching approaches which encourage learners to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning have very high potential, but require careful implementation.

  • Have you taught pupils explicit strategies on how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning? Have you given them opportunities to use them with support and then independently?

  • Teaching how to plan: Have you asked pupils to identify the different ways that they could plan (general strategies) and then how best to approach a particular task (specific technique)?

  • Teaching how to monitor: Have you asked pupils to consider where the task might go wrong? Have you asked the pupils to identify the key steps for keeping the task on track?

  • Teaching how to evaluate: Have you asked pupils to consider how they would improve their approach to the task if they completed it again?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Peer tutoring


High impact for low cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +6 months

What is it?

A range of approaches in which learners work in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support. In cross-age tutoring an older learner takes the tutoring role and is paired with a younger tutee or tutees. Peer-Assisted Learning is a structured approach for mathematics and reading with sessions of 25-35 minutes two or three times a week. In Reciprocal Peer Tutoring, learners alternate between the role of tutor and tutee. The common characteristic is that learners take on responsibility for aspects of teaching and for evaluating their success. Peer assessment involves the peer tutor providing feedback to children relating to their performance and can have different forms such as reinforcing or correcting aspects of learning.

How effective is it?

The evidence of impact is relatively high (typically equating to about a GCSE grade). The benefits are apparent for both tutor and tutee (particularly in cross-age tutoring), though the approach should be used to supplement or enhance normal teaching, rather than to replace it. There is some evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and low attaining pupils make the biggest gains.

Though both pupils involved gain, cross-age tutoring appears to offer slightly greater benefit for tutor than tutee. A study of cross-age peer tutoring showed that the lowest attaining pairs actually made most progress, and a two-year gap seems to support both tutee and tutor learning. One way of matching pupils across classes is to match the highest attaining pupil in the older class with the highest attaining child in the younger class through to the lowest attaining pupil in the older class being matched with the lowest attaining pupil in the younger class (making adjustments if necessary). This enables the teacher to focus support on lower attaining pairs.

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is consistent and positive especially for mathematics and reading and at both primary and secondary school levels.

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

The direct costs of running peer tutoring in schools are low, as few additional materials required (£10-20 per pupil). Professional development and additional support for staff is recommended, particularly in the early stages of setting up a programme. Estimates are about £3,000-£4,000 per class or £200 per pupil indicating low overall costs.

What should I consider?

  • Are the activities sufficiently challenging for the tutee to benefit from the tutor’s support?

  • Will the tutor be able to teach without support from a teacher?

  • Training for staff and tutors are essential ingredients for success. How will you organise sufficient time to train both staff and tutors?

  • How will you organise peer-tutoring to ensure that it enhances classroom learning but does not replace it?

  • How will you build time into your plan to allow tutors to review the success and challenges of their role? This is important to develop their own skills and learning.

  • How will you organise peer tutoring into 4-10 week intensive blocks? This will provide maximum impact for both tutors and tutees.

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Early years intervention


High impact for very high costs, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +6 months

What is it?

Early years or early childhood interventions are approaches which aim to ensure that young children have educationally based pre-school or nursery experiences which prepare for school and academic success, usually through additional nursery or pre-school provision. Many of the researched programmes and approaches focus on disadvantaged children. Some also offer parental support.

How effective is it?

Overall, the evidence suggests that early years and pre-school intervention is beneficial with above average levels of impact (a typical impact of six additional months' progress). There is some international evidence that these programmes need to be for a whole day (rather than a half day which on average has less impact, though it should be noted the UK’s Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) study did not find a difference) and of longer duration (up to a year or more) rather than for shorter periods of time. 

In most studies, the impact on attainment tends to wear off over time, though impact on attitudes to school tends to be more durable. There is no established amount of time where the fade takes place, rather there is a pattern of decline over time. Early years and pre-school interventions are therefore not sufficient to close the gap in attainment for disadvantaged children.

How secure is the evidence?

There are a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses which have looked at the impact of early childhood intervention. Most of these are from the USA however, where children tend to start school at a later age. Evaluations of Sure Start in the UK do not show consistent positive effects and indicate that some caution is needed when generalising from exceptionally successful examples. However, overall the evidence supporting early childhood intervention is robust.

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

Understandably the costs are high, as adult/child ratios in pre-school provision tend to be higher than in school classes and family interventions have similar high costs. The Sure Start average cost per child was about £1,000 in 2006, so the estimates are in the region of £1,000-£2,000 per child. This can be compared with the average yearly childcare costs for a child under two at about £5,000. Overall, the costs are estimated as very high.

What should I consider?

  • High quality provision is essential with well-qualified and well-trained staff.

  • Such provision is likely to be characterised by the development of positive relationships between staff and children and by engagement of the children in activities which support pre-reading, the development of early number concepts and non-verbal reasoning.

  • Extended attendance (1 year+) and starting early (i.e. 3 years) is more likely to have an impact than shorter durations starting later, which on average produce much lower gains.

  • Disadvantaged children benefit from good quality programmes, especially where these include a mixture of children from different social backgrounds, and a strong educational component.

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

One to one tuition


Moderate impact for high cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +5 months

What is it?

One to one tuition is where an individual pupil is removed from their class and given intensive tuition. It may also be undertaken outside of normal lessons, for example as part of after school programmes or summer schools.

How effective is it?

Evidence indicates that one to one tuition can be effective, on average accelerating learning by approximately five additional months’ progress.

Short, regular sessions (about 30 minutes, 3-5 times a week) over a set period of time (6-12 weeks) appear to result in optimum impact. Evidence also suggests tuition should be additional to, but explicitly linked with, normal teaching, and that teachers should monitor progress to ensure the tutoring is beneficial. Studies comparing one to one to small group tuition show mixed results. In some cases one to one tuition has led to greater improvement, while in others tuition in groups of two or three has been as or more effective as one to one. The variability in findings may suggest that the quality of teaching in one to one tuition or small groups is more important than the group size, emphasising the value of professional development for teachers.

Programmes involving volunteers or teaching assistants can have an impact, but tend to be less effective than those using experienced and specifically trained teachers, which have nearly twice the effect on average. Where tuition is delivered by volunteers or teaching assistants there is evidence that training is beneficial.

How secure is the evidence?

Overall, the evidence is consistent and strong, particularly for younger learners who are behind their peers in primary schools, and for subjects like reading and mathematics. There are fewer studies at secondary level or for other subjects.

In recent evaluations of one to one tuition interventions (see Catch Up Numeracy and Switch-On Reading) pupils made an average of three months’ additional progress, showing that positive impacts can be successfully replicated in English schools. 

For full references, please click here

What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as high. A single pupil receiving 30 minutes tuition, five times a week for 12 weeks requires about four full days of a teacher’s time, which is estimated to cost approximately £700 per pupil. Costs could be reduced by trialling groups of two or three (see Small group tuition). 

What should I consider?

  • One to one tuition is very effective in helping learners catch up, but is relatively expensive. Before you commit to one to one tuition, have you considered trialling groups of two or three and evaluating the impact?

  • Tuition is more likely to make an impact if it is explicitly linked to normal lessons. Have you considered how you will support pupils and regular class teachers to ensure the impact is sustained once they return to normal classes?

  • Training is likely to be particularly beneficial when tuition is delivered by teaching assistants. What training and support have you provided?

  • Have any programmes you are adopting been evaluated?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Homework (Secondary)


Moderate impact for very low or no cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +5 months

What is it?

Homework refers to tasks given to pupils by their teachers to be completed outside of usual lessons. Common homework activities may be reading or preparing for work to be done in class, or practising and completing tasks or activities already taught or started in lessons, but it may include more extended activities to develop inquiry skills or more directed and focused work such as revision for exams.

How effective is it?

On average, the impact of homework on learning is consistently positive (leading to on average five months' additional progress).  However, beneath this average there is a wide variation in potential impact, suggesting that how homework is set is likely to be very important.

There is some evidence that homework is most effective when used as a short and focused intervention (e.g. in the form of a project or specific target connected with a particular element of learning) with some exceptional studies showing up to eight months' positive impact on attainment. Benefits are likely to be more modest, up to two to three months' progress on average, if homework is more routinely set (e.g. learning vocabulary or completing problem sheets in mathematics every day). 

Evidence also suggests that how homework relates to learning during normal school time is important. In the most effective examples homework was an integral part of learning, rather than an add-on. To maximise impact, it is also appears to be important that students are provided with high quality feedback on their work (see Feedback).

Studies imply that there is an optimum amount of homework of between 1 and 2 hours per school day (slightly longer for older pupils), with effects diminishing as the time that students spend on homework increases.

How secure is the evidence?

Homework has been extensively studied. However, studies have mainly looked at the correlation between homework and how well schools perform. It is certainly the case that schools whose pupils do homework tend to be successful schools, but it is less clear that the homework is the reason why they are successful. 

There are a smaller number of studies which have investigated what happens when homework is introduced and compared with classes where homework is not given. These studies tend to show that homework is beneficial, though the evidence is less secure.

For full references click  here.

What are the costs?

There are few costs associated with homework, though there are implications for staff time for preparation and marking. With younger children there may be additional resources required (such as reading books or games for children to take home). Overall costs are estimated as very low.

What should I consider?

  • Planned and focused activities are more beneficial than homework which is more regular but routine or not linked with what is being learned in class.

  • It should not be used as a punishment or penalty for poor performance.

  • A variety of tasks with different levels of challenge is likely to be beneficial.

  • The quality of homework is more important than the quantity. Pupils should receive feedback on homework which is specific and timely.

  • Have you made the purpose of homework clear to children (e.g. to increase a specific area of knowledge, or fluency in a particular area)?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Collaborative learning


Moderate impact for very low cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +5 months

What is it?

Collaborative or cooperative learning can be defined as learning tasks or activities where students work together in a group small enough for everyone to participate on a collective task that has been clearly assigned. This can be either a joint task where group members do different aspects of the task but contribute to a common overall outcome, or a shared task where group members work together throughout the activity. Some collaborative learning approaches also get mixed ability teams or groups to work in competition with each other, in order to drive more effective collaboration. There is a very wide range of approaches to collaborative and cooperative learning involving different kinds of organisation and tasks, but this summary does not include Peer tutoring, which is reviewed separately

How effective is it?

The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive, but it does vary so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to work together; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. There is some evidence that collaboration can be supported with competition between groups, but this is not always necessary, and can lead to learners focusing on the competition rather than the learning it aims to support. Approaches which promote talk and interaction between learners tend to promote the best gains. 

How secure is the evidence?

Evidence about the benefits of collaborative learning has been found consistently for over 40 years and a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of research studies have been completed. In addition to direct evidence from research into collaborative learning approaches, there is also indirect evidence where collaboration has been shown to increase the effectiveness of other approaches such as mastery learning or digital technology. It appears to work well for all ages if activities are suitably structured for learners’ capabilities and positive evidence has been found across the curriculum. Not all of the specific approaches to collaborative learning that are adopted by schools have been evaluated so it is important to evaluate any new initiative in this area.

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

The direct costs involved are very low, though professional development is advisable. Estimated costs for a class of 25 pupils are about £500 or £20 per pupil per year, plus the costs of monitoring and evaluating impact of adopting the approach. Overall the costs are estimated as very low.

What should I consider?

  • Pupils will need support and practice to work together; this does not happen automatically.

  • Tasks need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils will try to work on their own.

  • Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively within their group, though over-use of competition can focus learners on the competition rather than succeeding in their learning so it needs to be used cautiously.

  • It is particularly important to encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks as they may contribute less.

  • Have you considered the professional development required to support effective use of these approaches?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Phonics


Moderate impact for very low cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +4 months

What is it?

Phonics is an approach to teaching reading, and some aspects of writing, by developing learners’ phonemic awareness. This involves the skills of hearing, identifying and using phonemes or sound patterns in English. The aim is to teach learners the relationship between these sounds and the written spelling patterns or graphemes which represent them. Phonics emphasises the skills of decoding new words by sounding them out and combining or ‘blending’ the sound-spelling patterns.

How effective is it?

Phonics approaches have been consistently found to be effective in supporting younger readers to master the basics of reading, with an average impact of an additional four months’ progress. Research suggests that phonics is particularly beneficial for younger learners (4-7 year olds) as they begin to read. Teaching phonics is more effective on average than other approaches to early reading (such as whole language or alphabetic approaches), though it should be emphasised that effective phonics techniques are usually embedded in a rich literacy environment for early readers and are only one part of a successful literacy strategy.

For older readers (above Year 5) who are still struggling to develop reading skills, phonics approaches may be less successful than other approaches such as reading comprehension and Meta-cognition and self-regulation. The difference may indicate that children who have not succeeded using phonics approaches previously require a different approach once they have reached Year 6 or Year 7, or that they have other difficulties related to vocabulary and comprehension which phonics does not target. However, it may be that older pupils initially received poor-quality phonics teaching and they haven’t been given a good opportunity to learn phonics so far. It is therefore important to carry out careful diagnosis of the reasons why an individual pupil is struggling before deciding on an approach. 

Qualified teachers tend to get better results (up to twice the effectiveness of others), suggesting that their expertise is a key component of successful teaching of early reading.

How secure is the evidence?

There have been a number of studies, reviews and meta-analyses which have consistently found that the systematic teaching of phonics is beneficial. There is some evidence that approaches informed by synthetic phonics (where the emphasis is on sounding out letters and blending sounds to form words) may be more beneficial than analytic approaches (where the sound/symbol relationship is inferred from identifying patterns and similarities or after a word is known). However, the evidence here is less secure and it is probably more important to match the teaching to children’s particular needs and systematically teach the sound patterns with which they are not yet confident. A recent evaluation of an intensive 10-week programme,  Switch-on Reading, that taught phonics showed that the average positive impact of phonics programmes can be replicated in English schools. 

For full references, please click  here.

What are the costs?

Overall, the costs are estimated at £1,200 per teacher or £48 per pupil and are therefore very low. The costs associated with teaching phonics arise from the need for specific resources and professional training. Evidence suggests that the effectiveness of phonics is related to the pupil's stage of reading development, so it is also important that teachers have professional development in effective assessment as well as in the use of particular phonic techniques and materials. A recent UK evaluation estimated costs at £627 per pupil (moderate). This included resources (£77 per pupil), direct salary costs of additional teaching assistant support (£500), initial training for staff (£32) and on-going monitoring and support (£18).

What should I consider?

  • Phonics can be an important component in the development of early reading skills, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, it is also important that children are successful in making progress in all aspects of reading including vocabulary development, comprehension and spelling, which should be taught separately and explicitly.

  • The teaching of phonics should be explicit and systematic to support children in making connections between the sound patterns they hear in words and the way that these words are written.

  • The teaching of phonics should be matched to children’s current level of skill in terms of their phonemic awareness and their knowledge of letter sounds and patterns (graphemes).

  • Phonics improves the accuracy of the child's reading but not the comprehension. How are you planning on developing wider literacy skills such as comprehension?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Small group tuition


Moderate impact for moderate cost, based on limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +4 months

What is it?

Here, small group tuition is defined as one teacher or professional educator working with two, three, four or five pupils. This arrangement enables the teacher to focus exclusively on a small number of learners, usually on their own in a separate classroom or working area. Intensive tuition in small groups is often provided to support lower attaining learners or those who are falling behind, but it can also be used as a more general strategy to ensure effective progress, or to teach challenging topics or skills.

How effective is it?

Research indicates that pupils taught in small groups make an average of four additional months’ progress when compared with larger groups or whole class teaching. As a rule of thumb, smaller groups lead to higher attainment. E.g. groups of three have a higher impact than groups of six, but, on average, a slightly lower impact when compared with one to one tuition [Link]. The evidence suggests that this is because smaller groups allow for more sustained engagement from the pupils, work that is more closely matched to leaners’ needs and for the teacher to provide more effective feedback.

Once group size increases to six or above there is a clear reduction in effectiveness compared to smaller groups. However, below this level the evidence about group size is less conclusive, with some studies suggesting that groups of three or four pupils can sometimes be as or more effective than either one to one or paired tuition, especially when approaches like peer tutoring [link] and collaborative learning [link] are used. Given this uncertainty and the lower cost of small group tuition, it may be sensible to trial small group tuition as an initial option, before moving to one to one tuition if small group tuition is ineffective.

The variability in findings suggests two things. First, the quality of the teaching in small groups may be as or more important than group size. This is supported by evidence showing the positive impact of professional development on outcomes. There are also examples where reading practice has been efficiently organised so that all pupils in the group stay fully engaged as they wait for their turn, such as in Guided Reading. Second, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of different arrangements as the specific subject matter being taught and composition of the groups may influence outcomes. 

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is limited and mainly relates to low attaining pupils receiving additional support to catch up with their peers. More research has been undertaken into paired tuition than other kinds of small group tuition, so the evidence for small group teaching across varying sizes of groups and at different levels of intensity is not conclusive and mainly comes from single studies. There are very few studies where group size has been varied systematically to explore the effects beyond one-to-two and one-to-three so more research would be useful in this area. The majority of the evidence comes from the USA, and there are few rigorous UK studies. However, in a recent UK evaluation Year 6 and 7 pupils made an additional three months’ progress from a structured programme of small group tuition. This finding suggests that positive impacts can be achieved in English schools. 

Please click here for full references.

What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as moderate. Costs decrease with group size as the majority of the costs are for teaching time. The cost of paired tuition is approximated as £350 per pupil per term (based on two pupils receiving 30 minutes tuition, five times a week for 12 weeks) plus any resource or equipment costs, with one to three cheaper still (£233 per pupil). 

What should I consider?

  • Small group tuition is most likely to be effective if it is targeted at pupils’ specific needs. How will you assess pupils' needs accurately before adopting a new approach?

  • One to one tuition and small group tuition are effective interventions. However, the cost effectiveness of one to two and one to three indicates that greater use of these approaches may be worthwhile. Have you considered trialling one to two or one to three as an initial option?

  • Training and support are likely to increase the effectiveness of small group tuition. Have those leading the small group tuition been trained in the programme they are delivering?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Behaviour interventions


Moderate impact for moderate cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +4 months

What is it?

Behaviour interventions seek to improve attainment by reducing challenging behaviour, including aggression, violence, bullying, substance abuse and general anti-social activities. Three broad categories of behaviour interventions can be identified: 1. Universal programmes which seek to improve behaviour and generally take place in the classroom; 2. More specialised programmes which are targeted at students with either behavioural issues or behaviour and academic problems; 3. School level approaches to developing a positive school ethos or improving discipline which also aim to support greater engagement in learning. It should also be noted that other approaches, such as parental involvement programmes, are often associated with reported improvements in school ethos or discipline, but are not included in this summary which is limited to interventions that focus directly on behaviour (see instead Parental involvement).

How effective is it?

Evidence suggests that behaviour interventions can produce large improvements in academic performance along with a decrease in problematic behaviours, though there is relatively wide variation between alternative programmes. Effect sizes are larger for targeted interventions matched to specific students with particular needs or behavioural issues, than for universal interventions or whole school strategies. 

The majority of studies report higher impact with older pupils. Different treatment approaches, such as behavioural, cognitive and social skills for aggressive and disruptive behaviour, seem to be equally effective. Parental and community involvement programmes are often associated with reported improvements in school ethos or discipline so are worth considering as alternatives to direct behaviour interventions. 

School level behaviour approaches are often associated with improvement in attainment, but the evidence of a causal link to learning is lacking. There is some anecdotal evidence about the benefits of reducing problematic behaviour of disruptive pupils on the attainment of their classmates, but this is an understudied dimension in evaluations of behaviour programmes.

How secure is the evidence?

Overall, it is clear that reducing challenging behaviour in schools can have a direct and lasting effect on pupils’ learning. This is based on a number of meta-analyses based on randomised controlled studies of interventions in schools. Evidence mainly comes from studies in the USA where problematic behaviours in schools have been studied in more depth than in the UK.

Some caution in interpreting findings is needed as the majority of the meta-analyses on behaviour focus on pupils diagnosed with specific emotional or behavioural disorders. There is also considerable variation in impact between interventions studies, with one meta-analysis of an anger management intervention showing a positive effect on behaviour but an overall negative effect on learning. This implies both that careful targeting and evaluation is important, and also that it is possible to reduce problematic behaviour without improving learning. Further research is needed to investigate links between universal approaches to improving behaviour and learning.

For full references click here.

What are the costs?

There are no specific costs reported in the studies summarised here. Costs will be highly dependent on the type of intervention. Teacher-led behavioural interventions in the classroom are the least costly, but the least effective (estimated at £20 per pupil per year). One to one support is more expensive, but more effective (about £40 per hour, or £640 per pupil for 15 sessions). Overall, costs are estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

  • Targeted interventions for those diagnosed or at-risk of emotional or behavioural disorders produce the greatest effects.

  • Programmes of two to six months seem to produce more long-lasting results.

  • The wide variation in impact suggests that schools should look for programmes with a proven track record of impact.

  • Have you considered what training and professional development is required for the programmes?

  • Have you explored how to involve parents or communities in behaviour programmes? On average they show higher effects.

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Digital technology


Moderate impact for high cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +4 months

What is it?

The use of digital technologies to support learning. Approaches in this area are very varied, but a simple split can be made between 1) Programmes for students, where learners use technology in problem solving or more open-ended learning and 2) Technology for teachers such as interactive whiteboards or learning platforms.

How effective is it?

Overall, studies consistently find that digital technology is associated with moderate learning gains (on average an additional four months). However, there is considerable variation in impact. Evidence suggests that technology should be used to supplement other teaching, rather than replace more traditional approaches. It is unlikely that particular technologies bring about changes in learning directly, but different technology has the potential to enable changes in teaching and learning interactions, such as by providing more effective feedback for example, or enabling more helpful representations to be used or simply by motivating students to practise more.

There is some evidence that it is more effective with younger learners and studies suggest that individualising learning with technology (one to one laptop provision, or individual use of drill and practice) may not be as helpful as small group learning or collaborative use of technology. There is clear evidence that it is more beneficial for areas like writing than spelling or mathematics practice rather than problem solving.

How secure is the evidence?

There is extensive evidence across age groups and for most areas of the curriculum which shows positive impact on learning. However, the variation in effects and the range of technologies available suggest that it is important to evaluate the impact on learning when technology is used. The pace of technological change means that evidence is usually about yesterday’s technology rather than today’s but average impacts have remained consistent for some time, implying that general messages are likely to remain relevant. 

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

The costs of investing in new technologies are high, but they are already part of the society we live in and most schools are already equipped with computers and interactive whiteboards. The evidence suggests that schools rarely take into account or budget for the additional training and support costs which are likely to make the difference to how well the technology is used. Expenditure is estimated at £300 per pupil for equipment and technical support and a further £500 per class (£20 per pupil) for professional development and support. Costs are therefore estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

  • Effective use of technology is driven by learning and teaching goals rather than a specific technology: technology is not an end in itself.

  • Are you clear how you expect the introduction of technology to improve learning? New technology does not automatically lead to increased attainment.

  • Technology should support pupils to work harder, for longer or more efficiently to improve their learning.

  • Motivation to use technology does not always translate into more effective learning, particularly if the use of the technology and the learning outcomes are not closely aligned.

  • Teachers need support and time to learn to use new technology effectively. This involves more than just learning how to use the technology; it should include support to understand how it can be used for learning.

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Social and emotional learning


Moderate impact for very low cost, based on extensive evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +4 months

What is it?

Interventions which target social and emotional learning (SEL) seek to improve attainment by improving the social and emotional dimensions of learning, as opposed to focusing directly on the academic or cognitive elements of learning.  As with behaviour, three broad categories of interventions can be identified: 1. Universal programmes which seek to improve behaviour and generally take place in the classroom; 2. More specialised programmes which are targeted at students with either behavioural issues or behaviour and academic problems; 3. School level approaches to developing a positive school ethos or improving discipline which also aim to support greater engagement in learning.

SEL interventions seek to improve the ways in which pupils work with and alongside their peers, teachers, family and community. In 2005, a national SEL programme was introduced to support effective learning, positive behaviour, attendance, and emotional well-being, first in primary schools then in secondary schools.

How effective is it?

On average, SEL interventions have an identifiable and significant impact on attitudes to learning, social relationships in school, and attainment itself (on average around three to four months additional progress).

However, though SEL interventions almost always improve emotional or attitudinal outcomes, not all interventions are equally effective at raising attainment. In particular, evidence from the nationwide SEL programme introduced in 2005 suggests that benefits on learning will not be automatically achieved. A quasi-experimental evaluation of the impact of the secondary programme did not find a significant impact on attainment in the SEL schools.

Improvements seem more likely when approaches are embedded into routine educational practices, and supported by professional development and training for staff. In addition, the implementation of the programme and the degree to which teachers were committed to the approach appeared to be important. 

SEL programmes appear to benefit disadvantaged or low-attaining pupils more than other pupils, though all pupils benefit on average. Approaches have been found to be effective from nursery to secondary school.

How secure is the evidence?

There is extensive research in this area and a number of meta-analyses, though more research has been undertaken with younger children in primary, than in secondary schools, and more studies have evaluated the impact on disadvantaged or low attaining pupils. 

For full references click here.

What are the costs?

Social and emotional interventions targeted at individuals are the most expensive (see also Behaviour interventions). Estimates from the US suggest targeted programs cost about $4,600 per student (about £2,800) per year and involve professional counselling services. However, the costs of training school staff and implementing and evaluating the impact are estimated at £1,000 per teacher for professional development and in-school support. Overall the costs per pupil are therefore estimated as low at about £40 per pupil per year, assuming a school-based, whole class approach.

What should I consider?

  • Skills should be taught purposefully and explicitly linked to direct learning in schools, encouraging pupils to apply the skills they learn.

  • Teachers and other school staff can effectively support these approaches, particularly with appropriate professional development.

  • How will you ensure that staff commit to supporting the programme and consistently apply the skills more widely in school?

  • Sensitive and targeted intervention may benefit at risk or more vulnerable pupils.

  • The impact on attainment of social and emotional aspects of learning is not found consistently, so it is important to evaluate the impact of any initiative? Have you considered how you will evaluate the impact of these approaches?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Parental involvement


Moderate impact for moderate cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +3 months

What is it?

Actively involving parents in supporting their children’s learning at school. This includes programmes focused on parents and their skills (such as improving literacy or IT skills), general approaches to encourage parents to support their children to read or do mathematics, and more intensive programmes for families in crisis.

How effective is it?

Although parental involvement is consistently associated with pupils’ success at school, the evidence about how to increase involvement to improve attainment is much less conclusive. This is particularly the case for disadvantaged families. There is some evidence that supporting parents with their first child will have benefits for siblings. However there is also conflicting evidence which suggests that, at least in terms of Early Years Intervention for example, the involvement of parents does not increase the benefits. This suggests that developing effective parental involvement to improve their children’s attainment is challenging and will need effective monitoring and evaluation. The impact of parents’ aspirations is also important, though again there is insufficient evidence to show that changing parents’ aspirations will raise their children’s aspirations and achievement over the longer term. Two recent meta-analyses from the USA suggest that increasing parental involvement in primary and secondary schools has on average 2-3 months positive impact.

How secure is the evidence?

Although there is a long history of research into parental involvement programmes, there is surprisingly little robust evidence of the impact of programmes which have tried to increase involvement to improve learning. The association between parental involvement and a child’s academic success is well established, but rigorous evaluation of approaches to improve learning through parental involvement is more sparse.

The evidence is predominantly from primary level and the early years, though there are studies which have looked at secondary schools. Impact studies tend to focus on reading and mathematics attainment.

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

The costs of different approaches vary enormously, from running parent workshops (about £80 per session) and improving communications, which are cheap, to intensive family support programmes with specially trained staff. The cost of a specialist community or home/school liaison teacher is about £35,000, or about 37 secondary-level Pupil Premium allocations. Costs per pupil are therefore estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

  • Involvement is often easier to achieve with parents of very young children.

  • What approaches will you take to support parents in working with their children?

  • Have you provided a flexible approach to allow parental involvement to fit around their schedule?

  • Parents of older children may appreciate short sessions at flexible times to involve them.

  • How will you make your school welcoming for parents whose own experience of school may not have been positive?

  • Have you provided some simple, practical ways that parents can support their children in ways which do not require a high level of ability (e.g. by ensuring that students have an environment where they can work at home)?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Reducing class size


Low impact for very high cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +3 months

What is it?

Reducing the number of pupils in a class. As the size of a class or teaching group gets smaller it is suggested that the range of approaches a teacher can employ and the amount of attention each student will achieve will increase.

How effective is it?

Intuitively, it seems obvious that reducing the number of pupils in a class will improve the quality of teaching and learning, for example by increasing the amount of high quality feedback or one-to-one attention learners receive. However, overall the evidence does not show particularly large or clear effects, until class size is reduced to under 20 or even below 15.

The key issue appears to be whether the reduction is large enough to permit the teacher to change their teaching approach when working with a smaller class and whether, as a result, the pupils change their learning behaviours. If no change occurs then, perhaps unsurprisingly, learning is unlikely to improve. When a change in teaching approach does accompany a class size reduction (which appears hard to achieve until classes are smaller than about 20) then benefits on attainment can be identified, in addition to improvements on behaviour and attitudes. In some studies these benefits persist for a number of years (from early primary school through to at least the end of Key Stage 2). It appears to be very hard to achieve improvements from modest class size reductions above 20, e.g. from 30 to 25. 

There is some evidence that reducing class sizes are more likely to be effective when supported with professional development to learn and develop teaching skills and approaches. Some evidence suggests slightly larger effects are documented for the lower achievers and those from the lower socio-economic status for very young pupils. Additionally teachers may potentially further develop their teaching skills and approaches in a smaller class.

How secure is the evidence?

There are a number of issues in interpreting the evidence about class size as many countries or schools already teach lower attaining pupils in smaller groups. Overall there is a relatively consistent picture where smaller classes are associated with slightly higher attainment (when other factors are controlled for) and when class sizes have been deliberately reduced in experimental evaluations. 

The strongest evidence comes from research into primary schools in the USA where the benefits appear to be sustained for 3-4 years when classes are reduced below 18. There is some evidence that pupils in disadvantaged areas in the UK benefit from classes of fewer than 20 pupils in primary schools.

For full references click here.

What are the costs?

The costs associated with reducing class sizes to a level where a significant benefit is likely are very high. The evidence suggests that typical classes would need to be halved to 15 pupils or even fewer. A class of 25 pupils with 50% of them receiving free school meals would be allocated an extra £8,000 under the pupil premium in 2012/13; this would not be sufficient to appoint an additional teacher. In 2013-14, a year group of 60 pupils where 50% were eligible for the Pupil Premium would increase funding by £27,000, enabling two classes of 30 to be split between three teachers with 20 pupils in each class. Costs are estimated as very high.

What should I consider?

  • Small reductions (e.g. from 30 to 25 pupils) are unlikely to be cost-effective relative to other strategies.

  • Reducing class sizes for younger children may provide longer term benefits.

  • Smaller classes only impact upon learning if the reduced numbers allow teachers to teach differently. Have you considered how you will adjust your teaching strategies?

  • The gains from smaller class sizes are likely to come from the increased flexibility for organising learners and the quality and quantity of feedback the pupils receive. Have you considered how you will organise learning in smaller classes and how you will improve feedback to your pupils?

  • As an alternative to reducing class sizes, have you considered deploying staff (including teaching assistants) so that teachers can work more intensively with smaller groups?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Summer schools


Moderate impact for moderate cost based on limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +2 months

What is it?

Summer schools are lessons or classes during the summer holidays, and are often designed as catch-up programmes. Some summer schools do not have an academic focus and concentrate on sports or other non-academic activities. Others may have a specific focus, such as pupils at the transition from primary to secondary school, or advanced classes for high attaining pupils to prepare them for University. 

How effective is it?

Research suggests that attending a summer school results in an average impact of about two additional months’ progress.

Greater impacts (as much as four additional months’ progress) can be achieved when summer schools are intensive, well-resourced, and involve small group tuition by trained and experienced teachers. However, summer schools without a clear academic component are not usually associated with learning gains. Other variables, such as whether the teacher is one of the student’s usual teachers, seem to make less difference on average.

A recent evaluation for the Department for Education in the UK found that one of the greatest challenges was ensuring attendance, with only about half of the selected pupils attending a minimum of one session. 

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is extensive. There are a number of meta-analyses, which consistently find small average effects. Studies include both primary and secondary pupils and mainly focus on reading and literacy. Some studies indicate that gains are greater for disadvantaged pupils, but this is not consistent.

Most studies took place in the USA. However, a meta-analysis of three recent EEF-funded evaluations of summer schools indicates that average gains in literacy of an additional two months progress are achievable in the UK. 

What are the costs?

Overall, the costs are estimated as moderate. Costs include the employment of teachers for the duration of the summer school, hiring a venue and providing resources (books, photocopying etc.). Courses typically cost in the region of £250-£300 per week per student. A recent evaluation of a summer school programme in England estimated the costs as being slightly higher for a summer programme at £1,370 per pupil over four weeks (£340 per pupil, per week). 

What should I consider?

  • Summer school provision that aims to improve learning needs to have an academic component. Does your summer school include intensive teaching component (small group or one to one)?

  • Summer schools are relatively expensive. Have you considered delivering alternative approaches during the school year, which may provide similar benefits for a lower cost?

  • Maintaining high attendance at summer schools can be a challenge. If you are running a summer school, what steps might you take to engage pupils and their families? 

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Sports participation


Moderate impact for moderate cost based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +2 months

What is it?

Sport participation is engaging in sports as a means to increase educational engagement and attainment. This might be through organised after school activities or as an organised programme by a local sporting club or association. Sometimes sporting activity is used as a means to encourage young people to engage in additional learning activities, such as football training at a local football club combined with study skills, ICT, literacy or mathematics lessons.

How effective is it?

The overall impact of sports participation on academic achievement tends to be low (less than one additional month's progress), though there is recent evidence from the UK that sports and learning participation can have a more dramatic effect on, for example, mathematics learning as assessed by standardised tests when combined with a structured numeracy programme (with one study showing an impact of up to 10 months' additional progress). In this circumstance the ‘participation’ acts as an enticement to undertake additional instruction.

The variability in effects suggest that the quality of the programme and the emphasis on or connection with academic learning may make more difference than the specific type of approach or activities involved.

How secure is the evidence?

There have been a number of reviews linking the benefits of participation in sport with academic benefits, including a recent systematic review for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). There is, however, considerable variation in impact, including some studies which show negative effects.

  For full references click here.

What are the costs?

Cost estimates are hard to identify in terms of costs of participation in specific activities (such as a football coaching club, linked with after school study), but are estimated here at up to about £400 per year excluding clothing and equipment. These costs vary according to equipment and venue. Costs are therefore estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

  • Being involved in extra-curricular sporting activities may increase attendance and retention.

  • Participation in sports does not straightforwardly transfer to academic learning.

  • Planned extra-curricular activities which include short regular structured teaching in literacy and mathematics (either tutoring or group teaching) as part of a sports programme, such as an after school club or summer school) are much more likely to offer academic benefits.

  • If you are considering sports participation as an approach to improve attendance, engagement and attainment, have you considered how you will evaluate the impact?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Arts participation


Low impact for low cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +2 months

What is it?

Arts participation is involvement in terms of performance and creation in artistic and creative extra-curricular activities, such as dance, drama, music, painting, sculpture. Participation may be organised as regular weekly or monthly activities or more intensive programmes such as summer schools or residential courses.

How effective is it?

Overall the impact on academic learning tends to be low, though greater effects have been identified for younger learners of primary school age in terms of impact on cognitive tests. Wider benefits on attitudes and well-being have also consistently been reported. 

There is reasonably consistent but weak evidence that participation in artistic and creative activities is beneficial. Outcomes have been identified from arts participation in terms of impact on English, mathematics and science learning in school at both primary and secondary school level. Specific benefits are linked with some particular activities (such as spatial awareness and music for example). There is some evidence that younger learners may benefit more from these approaches.

How secure is the evidence?

There are a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses which have found small benefits for arts participation. However, these vary according to the detail of the approach and the age group targeted so the effects are hard to generalise and not conclusive.

For full references, click here.

What are the costs?

Costs vary considerably from junior drama groups with small annual subscriptions (about £20), through organised dance groups for young people at about £5 per session to high quality music tuition at about £35 per hour. Costs are estimated at £150 per year, though it should be noted that some activities would be considerably more expensive (e.g. nearer £1,500 for individual music tuition). Overall costs are estimated as low.

What should I consider?

  • The research evidence shows a wide range of effects from programmes studied, suggesting that achieving learning gains from arts programmes is not straightforward.

  • Benefits for learning appear to be more achievable with younger learners, with some promising evidence supporting the academic impact of programmes which develop skills in music performance in particular.

  • Arts-based approaches may offer a route to re-engage older learners in school.

  • The transfer of learning to the classroom is not automatic and needs further exploration. For example, how can you encourage pupils to apply their learning from arts participation to more formal contexts?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Extending school time


Low impact for moderate cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +2 months

What is it?

Research has focused on three main approaches to extending school time: (1) extending the length of the school year; (2) extending the length of the school day; and, (3) providing additional time for targeted groups of pupils either before or after school. There are examples of the school year being extended by up to five additional weeks or the school day being extended to 12 hours long. This summary focuses on extending core school time and the use of targeted before and after school programmes, particularly to support disadvantaged or low attaining pupils. Other approaches to increasing learning time are included in other sections of the Toolkit, such as Homework, Early Years Intervention and Summer Schools

How effective is it?

Overall the evidence indicates that, on average, pupils make two additional months' progress per year from extended school time or the targeted use of before and after school programmes. In the UK there is evidence that such programmes are linked with GCSE improvement by a third of a grade in mathematics and three quarters of a grade in science. There is some evidence that disadvantaged pupils benefit disproportionately, making approximately two and a half months’ additional progress. There are also often wider benefits for low-income students in terms of attendance at school, behaviour and relationships with peers.

After-school programmes that support and encourage children academically while providing stimulating environments and activities are more likely to have an impact on attainment. To be successful, any increases in school time should be supported by both parents and staff, and extreme increases (e.g. more than nine hours of schooling per day) do not appear to be as effective. The research also indicates that attracting and retaining pupils in before and after school programmes is harder at secondary level than at primary level. 

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is moderately secure. Decisions to lengthen the school year or school day are often one component of wider approaches to school reform. This makes attributing any learning gains to additional time difficult. Gains are not consistent across studies, indicating that additional time may be used ineffectively. Discrete or targeted programmes are more likely to have been evaluated robustly, though even here there is substantial variation in impact. 

Most of the evaluations of extended school time come from the USA, where enthusiasm for extended school time has outpaced the research base, indicating the need for more rigorous evaluations with outcome measures that demonstrate impact on learning. Evidence from the UK is relatively scarce. 

For full references click  here.

What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as moderate. The average cost of teaching a pupil is about £2,500 a year (£13 per day) in primary school and about £3,500 a year (£18 per day) in secondary. Extending the school year by two weeks would therefore require about £260 per pupil per year for primary schools and about £360 per pupil per year for secondary. Estimates suggest after school clubs cost, on average, £7 per session per pupil. A weekly session would therefore cost £273 per pupil over the course of a 39-week school year. The use of well-qualified and trained staff may increase these cost estimates.

What should I consider?

  • Planning to get the most from the extra time is important. It should meet pupils’ needs and build on their capabilities.

  • After school programmes with a clear structure, a strong link to the curriculum, and well-qualified and well-trained staff are more clearly linked to academic benefits.

  • After school programmes could give the opportunity to carry out some more intensive tuition (see entries for one to one or small group tuition).

  • Enrichment activities can have an impact on attainment, but the link is not well-established and the impact of different interventions can vary a great deal (see entries for sports or arts participation).

  • Have you explored how the quality of teaching and learning during school time can be improved? It might be cheaper and more efficient to attempt to use existing time more effectively before considering extending the school day.

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Individualised instruction


Low impact for low cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +2 months

What is it?

Individualised instruction provides different tasks for each learner and provides support at the individual level. It is based on the idea that all learners are different and therefore have different needs, so an individualised or personally tailored approach to instruction ought to be more effective, particularly in terms of the tasks and activities that pupils undertake and the pace at which they make progress through the curriculum. Examples of individualised education have been tried over the years in education, particularly in areas like mathematics where pupils can have individual sets of activities which they complete, often largely independently. 

How effective is it?

Individualising instruction does not tend to be particularly beneficial for learners. One possible explanation for this is that the role of the teacher becomes too managerial in terms of organising and monitoring learning tasks and activities, without leaving time for interacting with learners or providing formative feedback to refocus effort. The average impact on learning tends overall to be low, and is even negative in some studies, appearing to delay progress by one or two months.

How secure is the evidence?

There have been a number of meta-analyses which have found broadly similar effects, and support the conclusion that individualising learning for whole classes is not beneficial for pupils’ learning. 

This finding is also supported by research from other connected fields, such as computer based learning, and Bloom’s ‘mastery learning’, where students have instructions broken down into steps, receive feedback on their learning, and only move on when they have ‘mastered’ a particular step. In both fields, small group approaches appear to be more effective than individualised approaches.

The evidence is mostly drawn from secondary school studies and predominantly in mathematics, though there is also evidence from other curriculum subjects such as science, history and geography.

For full references, please click  here.

What are the costs?

The costs of implementing individualised learning are usually low, unless the approach uses technology (such as tutoring programmes or integrated learning systems). Estimated outlay for increased resourcing per pupils is £150 per year. Overall costs are therefore estimated as low.

What should I consider?

  • Overall the evidence does not support approaches which individualise instruction at class level.

  • It is hard to identify exactly why individualised instruction is not more effective. It may be that in a classroom setting, learners receive less direct teaching, get less feedback or move at a slower pace when they manage their own learning progress with support (see Meta-cognition and self-regulation).

  • Individualised instruction runs the risk of the teacher managing diverse activities and learners, without sufficient time to work directly with learners to teach them.

  • Have you considered small group or one to one settings as a more viable strategy?

  • Approaches to individualise learning activities supported by technology may provide learners with effective practice, however it is still important to ensure that learners receive direct instruction from a teacher when learning new content, or when they are not making progress.

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Learning styles


Low impact for very low cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +2 months

What is it?

The idea underpinning learning styles is that we all have different approaches or styles of learning and that learning will therefore be more effective or more efficient if we are taught accordingly (e.g. a student may prefer words versus pictures or analysis versus listening).

How effective is it?

It has proved difficult to identify reliably any consistent learning ‘styles’ in young people and evidence suggests that it is unhelpful to assign learners to groups or categories on the basis of a supposed learning style. Learning preferences do change in different situations and over time and there is some evidence that cognitive preference and task type may be connected (e.g. visualisation in some areas of mathematics is particularly valuable). However, studies where targeted learning takes place in conjunction with activities that match an identified learning style have not convincingly shown any benefit, particularly for low attaining pupils. In fact, in some studies the controls did better than the learning styles groups. Overall impacts recorded are low or negative, suggesting that only one or two pupils in a class of 25 might benefit from this approach. 

It is particularly important not to label primary age pupils or for them to believe that their lack of success is due to their learning style, but the lack of impact of learning styles has been documented at all stages of education. 

Where gains have been documented these may come from pupils taking responsibility for learning (see Meta-cognition) rather than directly from the use of learning styles approaches.

How secure is the evidence?

Overall the picture is consistent and reasonably robust. The evidence for the lack of impact (and in some cases detrimental effect) of using learning styles approaches has been shown in a number of studies. The unreliability of learning styles tests has also been the focus of a number of reviews.

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

The costs are relatively low, though some of the available tests of learning styles require purchase.Typically, these about about £5 per pupil.

What should I consider?

  • Learners are very unlikely to have a single learning style, so restricting pupils to activities matched to their reported preferences may damage their progress. This is especially true for younger learners in primary schools whose preferences are still very flexible.

  • Labelling students as a particular kind of learner is likely to undermine their belief that they can succeed through effort and to provide an excuse for failure.

  • It appears to be more promising to focus on other aspects of motivation to engage pupils in learning activities.

  • It certainly appears to be beneficial to have different representations of ideas when developing understanding, but this does not demonstrate that individual learners have a learning style.

  • How are you encouraging pupils to take responsibility for identifying how they can succeed in their learning and develop their own successful strategies and approaches?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Mentoring


Low impact for moderate cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +1 month

What is it?

Mentoring in education aims to develop young people’s strengths by pairing them with an older volunteer, sometimes from a similar background, who can act as a positive role model. It is often characterised as aiming to build confidence, or to develop resilience and character, rather than directly focusing on teaching or tutoring specific skills. Mentors typically build relationships with young people by meeting with them one-to-one for about an hour or so a week either at school, at the end of the school day, or at weekends.

Activities vary from programme to programme, sometimes including direct academic support with homework or other school tasks. Mentoring has increasingly been offered to young people who are hard to reach or deemed to be at risk of educational failure or exclusion. 

How effective is it?

The impact of mentoring is low in terms of direct effect on academic outcomes, accelerating learning on average by only about one month’s additional progress for the majority of pupils. There is some evidence that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit by up to about two months’ additional progress.

School-based mentoring programs have on average been less effective than community-based approaches, possibly because school-based mentoring can result in fewer opportunities for young people to develop more lasting and trusting relationships with adult role models. Other positive benefits have been reported in terms of attitudes to school, attendance and behaviour.

Programmes which have a clear structure and expectation, provide training and support for mentors, and use mentors from a professional background, are associated with more successful outcomes. There are risks associated with unsuccessful mentor pairings, which may have a detrimental effect on the mentee, and the negative overall impacts reported by some studies should prompt caution.

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is moderately secure. The quality of evaluations has improved in recent years with more rigorous designs compared with earlier studies, which often relied on correlational designs. Impact estimates have been fairly consistent over the last decade.

Most of the studies come from the USA and focus on secondary school pupils, with a few studies from the UK and other European countries such as Portugal. A recent rigorous study of mentoring for reading in Northern Ireland with eight to nine year olds found small improvements of about two months’ progress in fluency, but not in reading comprehension. Further rigorous evaluation in the UK is needed of varying approaches to mentoring across different age groups.

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

Costs overall are estimated as moderate. Compared with other professionally delivered interventions and approaches, mentoring is relatively inexpensive. Costs mainly cover mentor training and support, and the organisation and administration of the programme. Community-based programmes tend to be more expensive than school-based programmes as schools tend to absorb some of the costs, such as space costs or general administration. Estimates in the USA are between $1000-$1500 per student per year or about £600-£850 per pupil per year. 

What should I consider?

  • The impact of mentoring varies, but overall, it is likely to have only a small impact on attainment.

  • Positive effects tend not to be sustained once the mentoring stops, so care must be taken to ensure that benefits are not lost.

  • Community-based approaches tend to be more successful than school-based approaches.

  • Mentor drop-out can have detrimental effects on mentees. What steps have you taken to assess the reliability of mentors?

  • What training and support have you provided for mentors?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Homework (Primary)


Low impact for very low or no cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +1 month

What is it?

Homework refers to tasks given to pupils by their teachers to be completed outside of usual lessons. Common homework activities may be reading or preparing for work to be done in class, or practising and completing tasks or activities already taught or started in lessons, but it may include more extended activities to develop inquiry skills or more directed and focused work such as revision for exams.

How effective is it?

It is certainly the case that schools whose pupils do homework tend to be successful schools. However it is less clear that the homework is the reason why they are successful. A number of reviews and meta-analyses have explored this issue. There is some evidence that when homework is used as a short and focused intervention it can be effective in improving students’ attainment (with some studies showing up to eight months' positive impact on attainment). Overall the general benefits are likely to be modest if homework is more routinely set. There is clear evidence that it is helpful at secondary level, but there is much less evidence of benefit at primary level. 

How secure is the evidence?

Homework has been extensively studied. However, studies have mainly looked at the correlation between homework and how well schools perform. There is a relatively consistent picture that there is a positive association, but there are a smaller number of studies which have investigated what happens when homework is introduced and compared with classes where homework is not given. These studies tend to show that homework is beneficial, though the evidence is less secure.

For full references, please click here

What are the costs?

There are few costs associated with homework, though there are implications for staff time for preparation and marking. With younger children there may be additional resources required (such as reading books or games for children to take home). Overall costs are estimated as very low.

What should I consider?

Overall, homework in primary schools does not appear to lead to large increases in learning.

  • Overall, homework in primary schools does not appear to lead to large increases in learning.

  • Effective homework is associated with greater parental involvement and support and can be developed to increase parental engagement.

  • Short focused tasks or activities which relate directly to what is being taught, and which are built upon in school, are likely to be more effective than regular daily homework.

  • Have you made the purpose of homework clear to children?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Teaching assistants


Low impact for high cost, based on limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating +1 month

What is it?

Teaching assistants (also known as TAs or classroom support assistants) are adults who support teachers in the classroom. Teaching assistants’ duties can vary widely from school to school, ranging from providing administrative and classroom support to providing targeted academic support to individual pupils or small groups.

How effective is it?

Evidence suggests that TAs can have a positive impact on academic achievement. However, effects tend to vary widely between those studies where TAs provide general administrative or classroom support, which on average do not show a positive benefit, and those where TAs support individual pupils or small groups, which on average show moderate positive benefits. The headline figure of one additional month’s progress lies between these figures.

Research that examines the impact of TAs providing general classroom support suggests that students in a class with a teaching assistant present do not, on average, outperform those in one where only a teacher is present. This average finding covers a range of impacts. In some cases teachers and TAs work together effectively, leading to increases in attainment. In other cases pupils, particularly those who are low attaining or identified as having special educational needs, can perform worse in classes with teaching assistants.

Where overall negative impacts have been recorded, it is likely that support from TAs has substituted rather than supplemented teaching from teachers. In the most positive examples, it is likely that support and training will have been provided for both teachers and TAs so that they understand how to work together effectively, e.g. by making time for discussion before and after lessons. 

There is also evidence that working with TAs can lead to improvements in pupils’ attitudes, and also to positive effects in terms of teacher morale and reduced stress.

Research which focuses on teaching assistants who provide one to one or small group support shows a stronger positive benefit of between three and five additional months on average. Often support is based on a clearly specified approach which teaching assistants have been trained to deliver. Though comparisons with qualified teachers suggest that teaching assistants tend not to be as effective in terms of raising attainment (achieving, on average about half the gains), studies suggest that benefits are possible across subjects and at both primary and secondary level.

How secure is the evidence?

Overall, the level of evidence on teaching assistants is limited. A number of systematic reviews of the impact of support staff in schools have been conducted in the UK and internationally. However, there are no meta-analyses specifically looking at the impact of teaching assistants on learning.

Correlational studies from the UK and overseas looking at the impact of TAs providing general classroom support have shown broadly similar effects. One of the most recent studies in English schools suggests that on average low attaining pupils do less well in a class with a TA present, compared to a class where only a teacher is present. More recent intervention studies, including two randomised controlled trials funded by the EEF and conducted in England in 2013, provide a strong indication that TAs can improve learning if they are trained and deployed carefully. Given the limited amount of existing evidence, these studies made a substantial contribution to the overall evidence base, changing the overall average impact from zero to one additional months' progress.

The research literature does not distinguish between different levels or grades of teaching assistants.

For full references click here.

What are the costs?

The average cost of employing a teaching assistant, including salary and on-costs, is estimated at about £18,000. Overall, costs are estimated as high.

What should I consider?

The ways in which schools train and support TAs, and the teachers they work with, has a large bearing on their impact on learning.

  • Have you identified the activities where TAs can support learning, rather than simply managing tasks?

  • Have you provided support and training for teachers and TAs so that they understand how to work together effectively?

  • How will you ensure that teachers do not reduce their support or input to the pupils supported by TAs?

  • Have you considered how you will evaluate the impact of how you deploy your TAs?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Performance pay


Low or no impact for moderate cost, based on very limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating  0 months

What is it?

We know that teachers are the most important part of the education system in terms of improving students’ learning. Performance pay is where a direct link is created between a teacher’s wages or bonus and the performance of their class. A distinction can be drawn between awards where improved performance leads to a higher permanent salary and payment by results where teachers get a bonus for higher test scores. In the USA, it is sometimes referred to as ‘merit pay’. One key issue is how performance is measured and how closely this is linked to outcomes for learners. In the UK, performance measurement was one component in the performance threshold assessment introduced in 2000, but was very loosely connected and at the discretion of the head teacher.

How effective is it?

Estimates based on cross-national comparisons suggest that performance pay could lead to positive impacts of around three months, and one UK study estimates the benefit as about half a GCSE grade, which is a similar effect. However, when more rigorous evaluations are looked at, such as those with experimental trials or with well-controlled groups, within countries such as the USA, the actual average impact has been close to zero. In India, there is evidence of the benefit of performance pay in the private sector but not the state sector, but it is not clear how this evidence applies in the UK.

As the evaluation of a number of merit pay schemes in the USA have been unable to find a clear link with student learning outcomes, investing in performance pay would not appear to be a good investment without further study. There are a number of examples of unintended consequences of performance pay from the US and elsewhere, which suggests that designing effective performance pay schemes is difficult.

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is not conclusive. Although there has been extensive research into performance pay most of this is either from correlational studies linking national pay levels with general national attainment or from naturally occurring experiments. It is hard to make causal claims about the efficacy of performance pay. In the latter it is hard to measure other variables which may influence the impact of pay increases, such as teaching to the test or other forms of “gaming”.

  For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

Increases are usually of the order of £2,500 per teacher or £100 per pupil across a class of 25. Overall cost estimates are therefore low.

What should I consider?

  • It is clearly important to recruit the most effective teachers possible, and any additional resource may be better targeted at identifying and appointing the best teachers for a school.

  • Performance pay has been tried on a number of occasions, however the evidence of impact on student learning does not support the approach.

  • Evaluations of the English threshold assessment offer a cautious endorsement of approaches which seek to reward teachers in order to benefit disadvantaged students by recognising teachers’ professional skills and expertise. However, approaches which simply assume that incentives will make teachers work harder do not appear to be well supported.

  • Spending on professional development linked to evaluation of better learning by pupils may also offer an alternative to performance pay.

  • Performance pay may lead to a narrower focus on test performance and restrict other aspects of learning.

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Aspiration interventions


Very low or no impact for moderate cost based on very limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating  0 months

What is it?

Aspirations are what children and young people hope to achieve for themselves in the future. Raising aspirations is often believed to be an effective way to motivate pupils to work harder so as to achieve the steps necessary for later success. A number of approaches to raising aspirations have been tried across three broad areas: 1. interventions that focus on parents and families; 2. interventions that focus on teaching practice; 3. out-of-school interventions or extra-curricular activities, sometimes involving peers and mentors. Approaches that seek to raise aspirations are very diverse and may aim to improve learners’ self-esteem, self-efficacy or self-belief, or to develop motivation and engagement.

How effective is it?

On average, interventions which aim to raise aspirations appear to have little to no positive impact on educational attainment. This may seem counter-intuitive – and it should be noted that the relationship between aspirations and attainment is complex and not fully understood – but there appear to be three main explanations.

First, evidence suggests that most young people actually have high aspirations, implying that much underachievement results not from low aspiration itself but from a gap between the aspirations that do exist and the knowledge and skills that are required achieve them. As a result it may be more helpful to focus on raising attainment more directly in the first instance. Second, where pupils do have lower aspirations it is not clear that any targeted interventions consistently succeed in raising their aspirations. Third, where aspirations begin low and are successfully raised by an intervention, it is not clear that an improvement in learning necessarily follows. In programmes which do raise attainment, it is unclear whether raising aspirations can be credited for the learning gains rather than the additional academic support or increased parental involvement.

How secure is the evidence?

Generally the evidence base on aspiration is very weak. More rigorous studies are required, particularly focusing on pupil-level rather than school-level interventions. There are two systematic and high quality reviews of aspiration interventions, some of which include quantitative data. These indicate that the relationship between aspirations and attainment is complex, but that there is no evidence of a clear causal connection between learning, changing aspirations and attitudes to school. There are no meta-analyses of interventions to raise aspirations which report impact on attainment or learning. This lack of evidence does not mean that impact is not achievable, but should make schools cautious as to how they make any investment of time or resources in this area.

The majority of studies come from the USA. There has been little robust research on the impact of aspiration interventions in English schools. 

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

Overall, the costs are estimated as moderate. Costs vary widely, and are hard to estimate precisely. After school programmes typically cost about £5 to £10 per session, so a 20-week programme once per week would cost a maximum of £200 per pupil. The costs of parental involvement programmes also vary, but are typically between £200 per child per year when the school covers the staffing costs, and up to about £850 per child per year for family support involving a full-time support worker. Mentoring approaches in the USA have been estimated at $900 per student per year or about £560. 

What should I consider?

  • The relationship between aspirations and attainment is not straightforward. In general, approaches to raising aspirations have not translated into increased learning.

  • A key reason for this may be that most young people have high aspirations for themselves. As a result, it is more important to keep these on track by ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills to progress towards them.

  • The attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that surround aspirations in disadvantaged communities are diverse so generalisations should be avoided.

  • Effective approaches almost always have a significant academic component, suggesting that raising aspirations in isolation will not be effective.

  • Have you considered how you will monitor the impact on attainment of any interventions or approaches?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Block scheduling


Very low or no impact for very low or no cost, based on limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating  0 months

What is it?

Block scheduling is one approach to school timetabling in secondary schools. It typically means that pupils have fewer classes (4-5) per day, for a longer period of time (70-90 minutes). The three main types of block schedules found in the research are:

  • 4x4: 4 blocks of 80–90 minute classes in one day, students take 4 subjects in one term
  • A/B: classes of 70-90 minutes each for 3/4 different subjects on every alternating day
  • Hybrid: 5 classes per day, between 55 and 90 minutes in length. 

How effective is it?

There is no consistent pattern in the evidence. The most recent systematic review concluded that 4x4 seemed to produce higher overall achievement than traditional schedules, though this may mask differences between subjects. More detailed analysis suggests that in science the A/B block scheduling approach resulted in higher results than traditional schedules (two to five months of additional progress); in mathematics and English the evidence was unclear with studies showing both better and worse results for any type of block scheduling compared with traditional scheduling.

The evidence suggests that how teachers use the time they are allocated is more important than the length of lesson or the schedule of lessons, and hence that the introduction of block scheduling is unlikely to raise attainment by itself. It may also be that when different timetable patterns are introduced, the changes will only be beneficial if teachers alter the way they teach to get the best from the time allocation. Teachers and students often perceive that timetabling changes are beneficial, especially when it appears to increase one to one interaction. However, these perceptions are not clearly linked with improved learning outcomes.

How secure is the evidence?

There are a reasonable number of studies and one systematic review which looks at the quantitative evidence of the impact of timetabling and scheduling changes on students’ learning.

Timetabling mainly affects secondary schools, though the time spent on different areas of the curriculum is also relevant at primary level. The research has mainly looked at impact on mathematics, English and science.

For full references, click here.

What are the costs?

The costs of making alterations to the timetable are mainly in terms of organisational effort and time and involve minimal financial outlay.

What should I consider?

  • Timetabling changes alone are not sufficient to improve learning.

  • Teachers need to alter the way that they teach and should plan and organise different kinds of learning activities to obtain benefits.

  • Have timetabling changes been matched to curriculum goals and teaching and learning objectives (such as longer lessons for science experiments)?

  • Have you considered how longer lessons may provide opportunities for other promising approaches such as improving the amount of feedback that students get from the teacher or from each other (see Feedback)?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

School uniform


Very low or no impact for very low cost, based on very limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating  0 months

What is it?

Schools identify clothing considered appropriate for pupils to wear in school, usually including style and colour.

How effective is it?

There is a general belief in the UK that school uniform supports the development of a whole school ethos and therefore is supportive of discipline and motivation. However, there is no robust evidence that introducing a school uniform will, by itself, improve academic performance, behaviour or attendance. There are studies which have information about these outcomes linked to the introduction of a school uniform policy, but this was usually one factor amongst other improvement measures, such as changes in behaviour policy or other teaching and learning developments.

How secure is the evidence?

One of the problems in interpreting the evidence is that schools in challenging circumstances often choose a school uniform policy as part of a broader range of improvement measures. There are no systematic reviews of well-controlled interventions of a school uniform policy. The evidence rests mainly on correlational studies which look at the relationship between schools with uniforms compared with those without or the performance of schools before and after the introduction of uniforms and the school’s subsequent trajectory of improvement. The most rigorous reviews and analyses have so far been unable to establish a causal link, but speculate that adoption of a uniform policy may provide a symbolic and public commitment to school improvement. 

There are cultural issues about how a school uniform is perceived which play an important role in determining the acceptability and success (in terms of compliance). There is some evidence that in areas of very high poverty free school uniforms improve attendance, however this does not appear to be true in all areas. In other cultures school uniforms are associated with regulation and the loss of individuality, so care must be taken in generalising from studies from abroad.

For full references click here.

What are the costs?

The costs associated with introducing a school uniform are very low and mainly depend on parents buying the clothes instead of others the child would wear.

What should I consider?

  • Wearing a uniform is not, on its own, going to improve learning, but where it is combined with the development of a school ethos and the improvement of behaviour and discipline, it can be successfully included as part of this process.

  • Improved behaviour, on its own, does not necessarily lead to better learning, though it may be an important precondition (see Behaviour).

  • The commitment of staff to uphold and enforce a uniform policy is crucial to its success. Have you considered how you will implement a uniform policy as part of a wider school policy?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Physical environment


Very low or no impact for low cost based on very limited evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating  0 months

What is it?

Changing the physical learning environment, either by moving to a new school building, or seeking to improve the design, air quality, noise, light or temperature of an existing building.

How effective is it?

Overall, changes to the physical environment of schools are unlikely to have a direct effect on learning beyond the extremes (i.e. once an adequate building standard has been achieved). 

Moving to a new building could be an effective part of a whole school change which seeks to change behaviour and establish new norms (similar to School Uniform), but there is no evidence that new buildings or particular aspects of architecture directly improve learning.  Where a new building is being used as a catalyst for change, there is some evidence supporting the impact of co-design, or involving potential beneficiaries in taking responsibility for learning spaces and changing their behaviours as they adapt to new settings. 

Most individual factors in the physical environment show a relationship with learning only at the extremes. So in terms of sound, if the noise levels are high (such as under the flight path of an airport) there can be a measurable detrimental effect on learning. In terms of temperature, warmer and more humid conditions (particularly above 30°C conditions) can cause a loss of concentration and drowsiness though most school environments are within acceptable limits. Likewise, lighting in schools is usually adequate for reading and writing. The evidence on ambient music is inconclusive as it appears that people react differently to different kinds of music according to their preferences. Similarly with colour in the environment, personal preference is probably more important than any general effect. 

Air quality is the one exception to the general picture on school environment. The evidence suggests low air quality does have a negative impact on attainment (reducing word recognition by 15% in one study), and that classrooms often have poor air quality conditions, with higher CO2 concentrations than the average recommended levels.

How secure is the evidence?

The research on the impact of the physical environment on learning is generally weak, mainly being based on correlational studies or drawn as inferences from wider environmental research. There are very few more rigorous experimental designs, and this makes it hard to establish causal claims about the impact of physical changes.

Please click here for full references.

What are the costs?

It is very difficult to estimate the costs of physical changes as they are usually part of capital spending and a single cost, rather than a recurrent part of a school budget. A new secondary school costs about £15 million for 1,500 pupils or £10,000 per pupil. However several generations of pupils are likely to use the building. Improving air quality can be done relatively cheaply with better ventilation, filtration and the use of dehumidifiers where necessary. Overall, costs are estimated as low.

What should I consider?

  • Most environmental factors have an impact on classrooms only at the extremes.

  • Air quality is likely to be the most significant factor affecting learning, particularly where there is poor ventilation or high levels of dust and other pollutants

  • If you have a new learning environment, it provides an opportunity to change the expectations and behaviour of pupils, but it does not have a direct impact on learning. Have you considered how you will take advantage of the new environment to bring about improvements in the attitudes and expectations of the pupils?

The Education Endowment Foundation Sutton Trust

The SuttonTrust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Setting or streaming


Negative impact for very low or no cost, based on moderate evidence.

cost per pupil
evidence rating -1 month

What is it?

Pupils with similar levels of current attainment are grouped together either for specific lessons on a regular basis (setting or regrouping) or as a whole class (streaming or tracking). The assumption is that it will be possible to teach more effectively or more efficiently with a narrower range of attainment in a class.

How effective is it?

Overall, ability grouping appears to benefit higher attaining pupils and be detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower attaining learners. On average, ability grouping does not appear to be an effective strategy for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to be assigned to lower groups. Summer born pupils and students from ethnic minority backgrounds are also likely to be adversely affected by ability grouping.

On average, studies show that higher attaining learners make between one and two additional months progress when set or streamed compared to when taught in mixed ability groups. Studies of targeted interventions for pupils identified as “gifted and talented” are consistent with this finding. They show that high attaining pupils benefit from a range of different kinds of ability grouping including pull-out classes, accelerated classes and promotion (where high attaining pupils move up a year). The effects of these programmes potentially provide an advantage for these pupils of three and 12 months additional learning. However, research into gifted and talented schemes rarely records the impact of the schemes on the students not identified as gifted and talented, who are more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Low attaining learners fall behind by one or two months a year, on average, when compared with the progress of similar students in classes without ability grouping. It appears likely that routine setting or streaming arrangements undermine low attainers’ confidence and discourage the belief that attainment can be improved through effort. Research also suggests that ability grouping can have a longer term negative effect on the attitudes and engagement of low attaining pupils. It should be noted that there are some exceptions to this average, where ability grouping has benefitted all learners. Further study could be undertaken to understand what happened differently in these examples.

Evidence suggests that the impact of setting is more detrimental to low attaining pupils in mathematics who do better in mixed attainment groups, and that ability grouping particularly affects upper primary and lower secondary education. The effects appear to be less clear-cut in other subjects, though negative effects are reported for low attaining pupils across the curriculum.

Though the average impact of ability grouping on low attaining pupils is negative, evidence suggests that certain types of ability grouping are more effective than others. Some studies have shown that reducing the size of the lowest attaining groups and assigning high-performing teachers to these groups can be effective, as can providing additional targeted catch up support.

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence on ability is fairly consistent and has accumulated over at least 30 years of research. Although there is some variation depending on methods and research design, conclusions on the impact of ability grouping are relatively consistent. 

Though much of the research into mixed ability grouping is dated and based on studies from overseas, a recent study conducted across 45 secondary schools in the UK showed a similar effect to previous research. This study suggests that setting in mathematics may be a means of raising the attainment of higher attaining pupils in Years 7 to 9, but that the benefits for pupils in high performing groups come at the cost of reducing the attainment of lower attaining pupils, who make better progress in mixed ability classes. Overall the evidence is estimated as moderate.

For full references, please click here.

What are the costs?

Ability grouping is an organisational strategy which has few, if any, financial costs associated with it. Additional resources may be needed to support different groups. Overall the costs are estimated as very low.

What should I consider?

  • Flexible within-class grouping is preferable to tracking or streaming for low attaining pupils.

  • The key issue is ensuring that any ability grouping benefits all learners, particularly low-attaining or disadvantaged pupils, over both the long and short term.

  • It is important to recognise that a measure of current attainment, such as a recent curriculum test, is not the same as a measure of ability or of potential.

  • Have you considered how the differences in grouping will enable more effective teaching for all pupils, including lower attaining pupils?

  • How will you monitor the impact of ability grouping on pupils’ attitudes to learning and their engagement?