Trial shows project based on a fun day out boosts writing skills by nine months

An evaluation of a writing project, which increased pupils’ progress by an extra nine months of schooling on average, was published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today. The programme gives pupils in their final year of primary school a memorable experience, like a day at the zoo, and then offers them a structured approach to writing about it. It was tested in a trial involving 842 pupils across 23 primary schools. Three secondary schools also participated in the project, offering the scheme to pupils in their first term of Year 7.

The trial is one of over 20 the EEF has funded focusing on improving literacy outcomes for pupils moving from primary to secondary school. In 2013 some 85,000 11 year-olds, about one in six pupils, left primary school without reaching the expected level in writing. Improving the attainment of these pupils is a significant challenge for schools.

Pupils participated in the writing scheme during the summer term, after finishing their SATs. The programme began by involving all pupils in a memorable experience which they could then write about. These included a trip to a castle, a session with a World War II veteran and a visit to local caves. A structured approach to writing about the experience was then put in place, which included pupils learning how to self-evaluate and improve their work.

The programme was developed by the Calderdale Excellence Partnership, a group of schools working together across West Yorkshire. It cost approximately £60 per teacher for the initial training and £50 per pupil for the memorable experiences.

When pupils took a standardised writing test at the end of the evaluation, those who had participated in the project were found to do considerably better than those in the control group. This was a statistically significant result, meaning the improvement in writing was highly likely to have been a result of the programme. Pupils who were struggling to achieve the expected level in literacy made an extra nine months’ progress when they took part in the project compared to similar pupils who didn’t.

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

“We probably all remember being asked to write about an exciting day out at primary school. This project starts by giving all children access to an enjoyable experience, and then uses a structured approach to writing and reviewing to significantly improve their skills.

“It’s rare to find schemes that demonstrate such a large impact when they are rigorously tested. That’s why we are excited about the potential this project could have in helping struggling students significantly improve their writing skills.

“We know that good literacy skills are fundamental to success in secondary school, and for future life chances. By supporting further evaluation of this project on a larger scale we hope to improve the attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals, who are less likely to leave primary school with the expected level of literacy.”

Carlton Midgley, Director of the Calderdale Excellence Partnership, said:

“This project shows what schools can achieve when they come together to develop and test new ideas to improve pupils’ learning. From our monitoring visits, we knew that pupils and teachers found the scheme enjoyable and useful, and we saw many examples of high quality writing. We’re delighted that it has now also been independently tested and shown to offer pupils who struggle with writing the chance to catch up with their peers before starting secondary school."

The EEF also released evaluation reports for three other projects aimed at improving literacy during the transition from primary to secondary school:

  • Chatterbooks, an extra-curricular reading programme which encourages children to read for pleasure, adapted for use in secondary schools
  • Rhythm for Reading, a primary school programme that uses rhythm based exercises to improve reading ability, adapted for struggling Year 7 readers
  • Discover Summer School, a holiday writing workshop for pupils about to start secondary school

Copies of the evaluation reports for all projects are available here.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1.The Education Endowment Foundation was set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead charity in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a Department for Education grant of £125m. The EEF is a charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement through applying evidence-based research. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £41 million to 78 projects working with over 560,000 pupils in more than 2,900 schools across England.

2.The Calderdale Excellence Partnership is a company limited by guarantee set up in 2011 with funding from its member schools. This organisation is the successor body to the education action zone and the excellence cluster. The Partnership exists to support the 24 primary schools and three secondary schools in Halifax, which mostly serve disadvantaged communities, to work collaboratively to raise achievement, improve behaviour, reduce exclusions, increase attendance and improve staying in learning rates.

3. Table of results

    ProjectEstimated months' additional progress over a yearWas the result statistically significant?Independent evidence rating
    Chatterbooks-1No
    Discover Summer School+3No
    Improving Writing Quality+9Yes
    Rhythm for Reading+1No

    If a result is statistically significant we can be confident that it has not occurred by chance.

    The evidence rating assesses how likely you would be to find the same result in a similar context again. The rating is based on the evaluation’s design, implementation and analysis (for example the size of the study or number of students that dropped out).

    The Discover summer school had a very low evidence rating due to the low number of pupils who completed testing.