Chief Executive’s Letter: The EEF’s is a story of two gaps

Professor Becky Francis, the EEF's chief executive, writes:

I am deeply grateful for the warm welcome I’ve been given by the sector as I’ve taken up leadership of the EEF.

In reflecting on the privilege of appointment to the role, and in preparing for my first few days in post, I’ve thought more about the incredible reputation and role in the system that the EEF has established since it was created. Understanding that success, in order to build on it, is my first mission.

I’m just two weeks in, so am not rushing to conclusions without full consideration of the evidence! But I do have two hypotheses...

1. Building and maintaining trust is crucial

First, that at the heart of the EEF’s success to date has been its ability to build and maintain trust.

The foundation stones of the trust are clearly the EEF’s research evidence, and the rigour and transparency with which it approaches the tasks of evidence generation and synthesis. And then, crucially, how it approaches the even harder task – making that evidence truly accessible to teachers and senior leaders to support them in improving young people's outcomes, particularly for the most disadvantaged.

The latest example of this is our just-published guidance report, focused on early maths, packed with examples and case studies carefully designed to help practitioners put the best-available evidence to good work.

But not to be overlooked – the cement for those foundation stones, if you like – is the way in which the EEF has sought to build and strengthen relationships across the sector. The EEF can only ever succeed in generating evidence and putting it to work, if it collaborates with, and is trusted by, a huge range of partners:

• Schools, colleges, and early years settings

For example, we are currently recruiting to 11 EEF-funded projects, spanning early years and Key Stages 1-5, including our latest Teacher Choices trial, aiming to explore some of the most common questions teachers ask about their practice. Meanwhile, our national network of Research Schools is busy supporting their colleagues across the country – in 2018-19, they supported a total of 1,895 schools.

• Universities and researchers
For example, we are about to publish our 100th independently evaluated randomised controlled trial (RCT) – I pulled out some of the most interesting findings in an article just published by Tes: ‘The 7 things 100 RCTs tell us about the attainment gap’. We are also commissioning a systematic review of the evidence about the application of cognitive science in the classroom which we can turn into a resource readily usable by teachers and senior leaders.

• Government and other stakeholders
For example, we are supporting the Department for Education’s Early Career Framework to ensure teachers can access and apply the best-available evidence at an essential point in their careers.

• Co-funders at home and internationally
For example, we are delighted that Intermediate Capital Group (ICG) has committed £1.5 million to support the scale up of two of our Promising Projects. Meanwhile, our international partnerships – the latest of which, eBASE Africa, is based in Cameroon – now means there is representation across five continents.

• The wider public
For example, more than 10,000 donors contributed well over £1 million to support schools serving disadvantaged communities as part of The Sunday Times’ Christmas Appeal in partnership with the EEF. We are now working with the schools and Opportunity Areas featured to ensure every pound entrusted to us achieves the appeal’s aim – as demonstrated here – such as by ensuring their local school can stay open, providing food and a safe place to play throughout the holidays, as well as a host of educational day trips and activities that can support young people’s learning.

2. A deep commitment to our mission is fundamental

My second confident hypothesis is about the importance of the mission that drives the EEF’s work: to support teachers and senior leaders to raise the attainment of children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This aim drives all our work, and the deep commitment to ensuring that pupils can access high-quality education and equal life chances irrespective of background energises the EEF’s strong team.

You don’t publish 100 RCTs in 9 years without a sense of urgency, and it’s clear to me that that the EEF’s commitment to fairness and social justice has been key.

The EEF’s story is and will remain, therefore, one of two gaps: closing the evidence gap to help close the disadvantage gap.

I want to thank you for your ongoing support in working to achieve this.