EEF Blog: Generating evidence is the start, scaling evidence is the goal

In our 2018 Annual Report, just published, EEF chief executive Sir Kevan Collins reflects on both the achievements we've chalked up in our first seven years - and  the challenges we still face...

Generating evidence is the start

When we were establishing the EEF in its first year, 2011-12, our major challenge was in showing that generating evidence of ‘what works’ to raise attainment for disadvantaged learners – through the use of rigorous, independently-evaluated randomised controlled trials – was not only possible, but that it would also be welcomed by teachers and senior leaders.

With 160 trials commissioned since then – involving more than 10,000 schools, as well as early years and post-16 settings, and reaching well over one million children and young people – we feel confident in saying the EEF’s approach has not only been welcomed, but embraced by a profession increasingly receptive to high-quality evidence when presented clearly and accessibly.

The task of generating evidence is never complete. We will continue identifying high-potential programmes which we hope will prove capable of delivering positive impact when put to the tough tests we set – programmes such as Magic Breakfast and Embedding Formative Assessment (both featured in this report) are good examples of these.

And we will continue to build out the evidence in those areas of education where do not yet know enough. I would particularly highlight three areas:

  • Early years education: there is agreement on the huge promise of supporting children’s early learning; but less is known about the most effective programmes and practice. In particular this year, we have been working closely with the Department for Education to boost professional development in the sector, as well as to improve the home learning environment for 0-5 year-olds.
  • Post-16: there is a huge task here, with more than half of all disadvantaged 19 year-olds leaving formal education without good passes in English and maths, which open so many doors into further education and careers. We are continuing to work in partnership with J.P. Morgan to address this.
  • Essential life skills: we need to find out more about what schools can do to help students develop greater self-control, confidence, social skills, motivation, and resilience – all skills that are thought to underpin success in school and beyond.

Scaling evidence is the goal

Our major challenge now is to scale this evidence so that it makes a practical difference in achieving our charitable goal: breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.

As our chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, highlights in his foreword, we are testing a number of different approaches: publishing guidance reports on high-priority issues, with clear and actionable recommendations for teachers; setting up our Research Schools network; expanding the EEF’s ‘Promising Projects’; and launching major campaigns to promote effective evidence use.

We have commissioned independent evaluations of all these initiatives so we can assess which are most likely to be effective ways of teachers being able to act on our evidence.

And we are actively planning fresh ways to ensure we mobilise the knowledge of ‘what works’, so that it reaches those schools and settings with the greatest need and then benefits those disadvantaged learners for whom education is their most realistic route to a better life.

This is a complex space in which to be working. To be frank, it would be far more straightforward to focus simply on generating evidence: to say to teachers and senior leaders “this project seemed to work when we trialled it, this one didn’t” and then leave it to them to try and work out the rest. But we know this would not be an adequate response to the stark problem of the attainment gap, nor to our share of the responsibility for tackling it.

We firmly believe more and better use of evidence is crucial in securing greater reliability in our education system, so that children and young people receive the best possible teaching, no matter where they live and no matter what their background.

The prize on offer is a great one: an innovative, consistent, well-led, and empowered teaching profession providing better outcomes for all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged.

Finally: thank you

I believe we are on the right path. That confidence is bolstered by the enthusiasm of so many who wish to partner with the EEF on this journey.

In the last year alone, for example, we have: renewed our partnership with Wellcome, generating new evidence about science teaching; partnered with Kusuma Trust to scale up evidence for impact in mathematics and science in up to 220 schools; and formed a major new partnership with BHP Billiton Foundation to improve learning outcomes for disadvantaged pupils across the world by building a global evidence network.

Indeed – as the chart below, ‘Total EEF leverage and reach’, highlights – we have been able within our first seven years to more than double the £125 million grant from the Department for Education with which the EEF was founded. Almost £140m more has been levered into the system, either directly through EEF-run work, or more indirectly through EEF-managed and EEF-influenced work.

Total_EEF_leverage_and_reach

All this has enabled the EEF to extend our reach and scope: broadening our remit to early years and post-16; retaining our focus on attainment, while also looking at the impact of our trials on students’ essential life skills; and developing new ways to make sure evidence is placed into the hands of teachers and senior leaders in ways they can act on it.

Big challenges remain. The way to tackle them is by working together. Doing so, we will make a difference.