EEF Blog: 10 top tips for school leaders and governing boards

Today we are publishing The EEF Guide to Becoming an Evidence-Informed School Governor and Trustee, designed to offer a quick way into the evidence the EEF makes freely available to all schools. Here are our top 10 tips, based on this report.

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  1. Know your school’s attainment gaps. Find out which groups of pupils in your school the data suggest need particular support. Ask your school for its gap data from Analyse School Performance (ASP), formerly RAISEonline, used by Ofsted inspectors. Check your school has an action plan to improve overall attainment while also closing its gaps – and make sure the governing board is monitoring progress.
  2. Benchmark your school against other, similar schools. The EEF’s Families of Schools database can provide you with a useful picture of how well your school is performing compared with a ‘family’ of 50 schools with pupils with similar characteristics. Request an item on the agenda of your board’s meeting for the head to talk through your school’s profile. 
  3. Understand the evidence of ‘what works’ to improve teaching and learning. Evidence can help schools spend smarter, learn from the experiences of others, and focus efforts on things which are likely to have the greatest impact. The EEF's Teaching and Learning Toolkit offers an accessible overview of the international evidence on teaching 5-16 year-olds. Ask your school’s senior leaders if/how they are using it to inform the School Improvement Plan and Pupil Premium Strategy.
  4. Make closing the attainment gap a key part of your overall School Improvement Plan. The Pupil Premium will represent a relatively small part of your school’s overall budget. It is crucial, therefore, that if your school wants both to raise attainment for all and to close the gap for disadvantaged pupils it focuses its resources (not just the Pupil Premium) on well-evidenced ways of improving teaching. EEF guidance reports, which offer clear and actionable recommendations on a range of key issues based on the best available evidence, are a good starting point. 
  5. Take the lead in signing off your school’s Pupil Premium strategy. Support – and challenge – your senior leadership team to ensure your school’s Pupil Premium funding is being spent in evidence-informed ways. We recommend that the largest proportion of spending is focused on improving the quality of teaching, followed by targeted support (including for high-attaining Pupil Premium-eligible students) and whole-school strategies which support learning (eg, to improve pupil attendance and behaviour). Make sure you are taking strategic responsibility for monitoring the impact of Pupil Premium spending on pupil progress, including agreeing measures of success at the outset.
  6. Invest first in the quality of teaching at your school. High-quality teaching is a powerful driver of educational equity. Governing boards have a key role to play. Ask for a discussion of your school’s recruitment and retention success: are you getting – and keeping – the teachers you need to improve pupil learning? Ask to see your school’s programme for professional development: is it clearly linked to the School Improvement Plan with the purpose of improving pupil learning?
  7. Then think hard about what additional targeted support is needed. While high-quality teaching is the priority, there undoubtedly remains a place for targeted support, particularly for those pupils who are struggling. Ensure your senior leadership team carefully monitors the impact of new programmes or approaches put in place, whether developed internally or bought externally, to check what impact they are having.
  8. Before you buy in a programme, read this! Schools are right to think hard before spending their limited funds buying in programmes which make great claims about their impact on pupil outcomes. In our experience, most programmes are no better than what schools are already doing: around 1-in-4 EEF trials show enough promise for us to re-invest in. Check our list of Promising Projects, or the Institute for Effective Education’s Evidence4Impact website, to see if there’s an available programme which might help address your school’s gaps.
  9. Support effective implementation of new teaching and learning strategies in your school. Implementation is what schools do to improve: to change and be more effective. Governing boards can play an important role, including by fostering a healthy leadership environment in which staff feel trusted to try new things and make mistakes, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported with high-quality resources, training, and encouragement to try again and keep improving. The EEF guidance report, Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation, can support this process.
  10. Think carefully about what your school should stop doing. It is tempting when you identify an area for school improvement to think only about what new initiative is needed to solve the problem. However, it is important to make space for additional programmes by considering very carefully what you should stop doing. Otherwise you risk spending money and effort unnecessarily, adding to your budget and workload worries. 

* The EEF Guide to Becoming an Evidence-Informed School Governor and Trustee is freely available online to read and download here.