Today marks the first day back at school in almost six months for many pupils in England, following Covid-19 partial closures. The usual feeling of excitement is likely to be mixed with more-than-usual anxieties – and an unusual level of uncertainty, given the unpredictability of the months to come.
Even with the incredible support provided by schools, each pupil will have had a different experience. Given the typical resilience of children and young people, most will be fine, and some will have thrived, but others – and the reality is that these pupils will be disproportionately drawn from disadvantaged homes – will have suffered. For some of these pupils, the priority for schools will be meeting their social and emotional needs. For many, it will be focused on providing extra support with their academic work.
Here’s how the EEF is responding to all this…
Tutoring: added support for disadvantaged pupils
Our focus has been on the potential of quality tutoring to support pupils who may have fallen behind as a result of school closures. The evidence is clear that both one-to-one and small-group tuition can be highly effective – boosting pupils’ progress byup to +5 months– as well as easing the burden on classroom teachers at a challenging time.
We began funding a programme of online tuition pilotsin June in partnership with three other charities, Impetus, Nesta and the Sutton Trust, and with generous support from the Wellcome Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and others.
Our analysis sparked the interest of the Dept for Education. We proposed a programme of different types of tutoring to be made available to disadvantaged pupils, drawing from our project evaluations. Following intense discussions, a new National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was announced in June as the centrepiece of the Government’s 2020 ‘catch-up’ package.
Ten weeks later, the NTP has beenlaunched, in partnership with our charity partners and the DfE, and with much valued support from a range of expert collaborators. The EEF will be leading the delivery of NTP Tuition Partners – through which schools will be able to access subsidised high-quality tuition from an approved list of providers – and is already busilyrecruiting organisationswishing to become eligible for funding. The NTP has recently published a brief guide, Best Tutoring Practice: briefing for schools, which aims to help schools make the most of tutoring opportunities in the coming year.
I’m also delighted that the early years has not been forgotten, with the DfE recently announcing that it is to make Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) – one of the EEF’s Promising Projects– available to state-funded primary schools at no cost. A recent EEF trial found that Reception-age children receiving the NELI programme made the equivalent of +3 additional months’ progress in oral language skills. Further information on this opportunity is available here.
High-quality teaching for all
While tutoring has huge potential, it will only be effective as a supplement to great teaching, which is the most powerful tool we have.
This year, like never before, the EEF aims to offer the best possible practical support to schools across the country, and in particular those serving the most disadvantaged communities. We have just published a new report, The EEF Guide to Supporting School Planning, 2020 – 21, which coheres the best available evidence into one easily accessible resource, and has been developed in partnership with expert school leaders from across the country.
In addition, our team of content specialists – all of them current teachers – are initiating substantial campaigns to ensure the recommendations in our guidance reports are brought to life through exemplifications, case studies and other tools to provide direct paths of action from the evidence-based guidance to classroom practice.
In the past week, for example, we have updated our Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1 guidance, and also published a range of new tools to bolster our guidance on Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools. The latter report will also be mailed to all schools thanks to the support of Kusuma Trust.
Valuable as, we hope, such evidence-based resources are, we know that many schools need training and additional resources to implement them effectively.
That is why we have invested in our national network of Research Schools, which are supporting the use of evidence to improve teaching practice. In the past academic year – and despite all the challenges – they engaged nearly 2,500 schools in their events, over 10 per cent of all schools.
In addition, the EEF has six regional teams working across the country to help foster and coordinate school improvement partnerships with local authorities, multi-academy trusts, Teaching School Alliances, and informal groups of schools. Our aim is to ensure all schools — especially those in deprived areas — have access not only to our freely available evidence, but also to the resources, training and support they need to make the most of it.
I was very struck by the findings of the Education policy Institute’s latest annual report, with its stark finding that the attainment gap has stopped closing for the first time in five years, and that there are indications it is beginning to widen. And that was before the Covid-19 disruption, which our own published research indicates will have at least reversed the past decade’s gap-narrowing progress.
Yet I remain an optimist. The past six months has showcased the creativity, commitment and professionalism of the teaching profession and highlighted the role of our education institutions as pivotal in our communities. With the right, sustained support, and collective determination, we can maintain our vital effort to support pupils’ learning and life chances.