We believe that the Toolkit should be used as one step in a decision-making process.
Before identifying a new strategy and considering how to evaluate it, it is important to consider your school’s context, and what you want to achieve. Much depends on your school, its teachers (their levels of knowledge and experience), and its pupils (their level of attainment and their social background). Internal data and professional judgement should be used to identify priorities.
Having identified what you want to achieve, the summaries in the Toolkit can be used to help identify solutions. Crucially, the summaries in the Toolkit combine evidence from a range of different research studies into a single average for each area. This average will not necessarily be the impact of this approach in your school. Some of the approaches which are less effective on average might be effective in a new setting or if developed in a new way. Similarly, an approach which tends to be more effective on average may not work so well in a new context. However, we think that evidence of average impact elsewhere will be useful to schools in making a good ‘bet’ on what might be valuable, or may strike a note of caution when trying out something which has not worked so well in the past.
The Toolkit entry for Teaching Assistants (TAs) provides a useful example to explain what we mean by this. The average impact of TAs is very low (only one month's progress) and in some individual studies the presence of a TA in the classroom actually hindered pupils' attainment. However, this does not mean that TAs cannot achieve much greater impact if deployed effectively and implies that schools might want to think carefully about the strategies they use to deploy and support their TAs to maximise their effectiveness.
As a result of the importance of context, it is crucial to use the Toolkit alongside on-going evaluations of the impact of the decisions you make, to ensure that the approaches you use are having the desired effect. To help with this step the EEF has published a DIY Evaluation Guide which provides advice for schools on how to evaluate new strategies as robustly as possible. Many changes in schools initially feel positive but have little lasting impact on learning so this step is essential.
Finally, it should be noted that the evidence summarised in the Toolkit takes educational attainment as its primary metric. Most of the measures used are traditional measures of attainment such as curriculum tests and examinations. This focus does not suggest that all educational aims and outcomes are captured in the literature that we have pulled together. Though we highlight impacts on other outcomes such as aspiration, attendance or behaviour where this information is available, these outcomes are not systematically recorded, or reflected, in the overall summary.