EEF Blog: Closing the attainment gap through innovation

Andy Cawthera comments on three of the EEF’s recently agreed projects

The EEF has funded 72 innovative projects all aimed at closing the attainment gap. We have run eight application rounds and today announced funding for six new projects taking the total to 78. Each round brings in about 200 applications, a superb indicator of the real desire there is to close the attainment gap and the capacity available to design and develop innovative projects. So here is a quick run-down on three from the latest batch.


A couple of months ago I was visiting an EEF funded project in Boscombe. A GP there told me how many of the children she sees don’t eat properly and how this affects their learning. “If you want children’s attainment to improve you have got to feed them” - Magic Breakfast does this. Our trial will test three breakfast models in primary schools: a universal free breakfast within the school morning, a universal free breakfast before the school day and a targeted offer to free school meal pupils before the school day with the option for others to pay. Results are due in Spring 2016.


In Boscombe I saw organisations which provide evening meals and laundry facilities for young people. With a highly mobile population and families living in bedsits or just in one room in a house in multiple occupancy some young people didn't have access to these necessities. It made me wonder whether organisations like this would soon provide everything apart from a bed to sleep in and, most importantly, the love and care that nurtures growth and maturity in young people.

The project we are evaluating here takes things a step further and is examining the impact of placing 150 pupils in boarding schools who might otherwise be placed in residential care. The trial will measure impact on attainment after three years of boarding provision with an additional measure of well-being. Results due in January 2020.


A survey in 2012 by the Children’s Commissioner found that 80% of pupils reported that other pupils disrupt their learning. 40% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years with pupil behaviour been a major contributor. Pupils are increasingly starting school with less ‘school readiness’ resulting in them falling behind and in some cases never becoming good learners. The Good Behaviour Game (GBG) tries to address this and in a US trial was found to be especially effective on disruptive boys. Those who participated in the game made one year’s more progress in reading and maths at age nineteen, were 36% less likely to have received special education services in secondary school and 62% more likely to be attending university with further health benefits relating to reduced prevalence of smoking, drug taking, alcohol use etc. The intervention rewards positive group behaviour as opposed to individual behaviour and is supplemented by weekly teacher-led sessions to improve children’s behaviour and social skills. During the year pupils internalise the rules resulting in a 75% decrease in rule infraction outside the Game. The project will take place over two years starting in Year 3, looking at impact on reading, behaviour and teacher job satisfaction. Results due Autumn 2017.

The next general round opens in about a month, we can’t wait to see the exciting proposals this will bring in.

Andy Cawthera is Grants Manager at the Education Endowment Foundation. Andy joined the EEF in June 2013 from the charity Pro Bono Economics. He previously worked in the Department for Education, on 14-19 reform, international work with the OECD and Central and Eastern Europe and leading the team of economist working on the evaluation of schools policy.