James Richardson Senior Analyst at the EEF discusses the new Families of Schools database.
Pick any measure of attainment – % 5A*-CEM, average points score, % 5A/A*, or value added – and the gap between children eligible for free school meals (FSM) and their peers is large. For the 5A*-CEM measure, the national gap is 28%. Such is the scale of the challenge in closing the national attainment gap, it can appear unattainable at times. But there are schools that are narrowing the gap year on year, with some schools having eliminated it and even reversing the attainment gap. Capturing what those schools do in an attempt to replicate it, is a source of eternal focus for policy makers.
Today, the EEF is publishing its Families of Schools database as a critical first step in helping school leaders identify the most effective schools at closing the attainment gap. The interactive tool puts schools into families of 50 based on factors including prior attainment, percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals and the number of children with English as an additional language. The attainment of pupils on a range of measures can then be compared with similar schools. It allows schools to understand the size and nature of their attainment gap in relation to other similar institutions and provides a wealth of new information to help schools learn from the best performing institution in each family.
Challenge and support
The Families database is designed to do two things:
- Provide manageable targets on the way to closing the national attainment gap
- Identify schools that have similar challenges that can provide support and guidance
Taken together this approach provides a structure for schools to be challenged by the performance of similar schools and supported by them to improve. The challenge for a school lies in improving its results to the level of the ‘family average’, and other benchmarks on the way to closing the national attainment gap. For the highest performing schools, their expertise may be needed to support other schools in their family to improve their results.
A number of interactive features allow users to change attainment measures and reorder data to explore in detail how different schools compare. What is often striking is how changing the measure can reveal different strengths and weaknesses in schools in the same family. Even though the pupil characteristics in each family are similar, the variation in outcomes is wide, suggesting that schools develop expertise in particular areas over time. Harnessing and sharing this expertise between schools is where the Families database is designed to help school leaders.
Where does research evidence fit in?
The evidence compiled in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit identifies the most promising interventions and approaches to close the attainment gap. It is not a guaranteed formula for success, but it does provide a starting point for evidence-informed decision-making, and maps out promising routes for schools to consider.
The growing bank of EEF project evaluation reports is also an important resource. As the evidence-base develops, alongside our understanding of how sensitive specific interventions are to context, we intend to expand and develop the Families tool to provide more detailed guidance on which interventions and approaches are likely to hold most promise for specific characteristics of schools.
The Families of Schools database currently contains only secondary schools. Primary schools will be added later in 2015, along with additional tools to help teachers and school leaders apply evidence in context.
View the Families of Schools database here.