EEF Blog: Sweating the small stuff

Megan Dixon, Director of Aspirer Research School, introduces the EEF’s early literacy guidance report and explains how the small stuff can make the biggest difference when it comes to learning to read and write.

After two terms at school, Anna had made very little progress in learning to read and write. She seemed to be attentive in lessons but was described as dreamy. She tried her best, but nothing seemed to make sense to her. Her teachers were beginning to think she had an unidentified learning difficulty and were wondering what the next steps might be.

Acting on a hunch, her class teacher arranged for her to have her eye sight tested. A visit to the optician led to a visit to the hospital and after several weeks, Anna returned to school the proud owner of a brand new pair of glasses and transformed attitude to learning. To Anna, the world had become bright and clear, full of details and features she had never seen before. Remarkably, it appeared that she had always had poor vision, but with her new glasses, she was amazed the world looked so different. As she told her teacher, she now understood what everyone had been talking about. Her eyesight had always been poor and no one around her had considered that she might not see well – she was just Anna.

Foundations, the small building blocks on which progress rests, are vital when it comes to learning to read and write. It is impossible to learn to read if, like Anna, you can’t see well enough to discriminate the different in how letters look, or see what the teacher is pointing to. If you can’t understand the difference between letters and words, don’t have the ability to hear and discriminate sounds in speech or understand how a book works, then it is easy to fall behind your more experienced classmates.

Sadly, the evidence suggests that for children who live in persistent disadvantage, these challenges are a constant reality, regardless of the school they attend.

​Three new EEF evaluation reports published

​Three new EEF evaluation reports published Download PDF get_app

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Can teaching GCSEs over three years help boost grades? New EEF grant to find out Download PDF get_app

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What works at Key Stage 4, two or three years of study? Download PDF get_app

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New EEF grants announced, including three focusing on maths from the early years through to GCSE Download PDF get_app

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TEEM UP: Teaching Effective Early Mathematical Understanding in Primary Schools Download PDF get_app

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Thinking, Doing, Talking Science (second re-grant) Download PDF get_app

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EEF announces expansion of Research Schools Network Download PDF get_app

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Becky Francis: “Surface-level compliance is the biggest threat to any change in education” Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: Reading aloud with your class – what does the research say? Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for job applicants

Privacy notice for job applicants Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for EEF grantees and suppliers

Privacy notice for EEF grantees and suppliers Download PDF get_app

Guidance on data protection for grantees delivering or evaluating an EEF-funded project

Guidance on data protection for grantees delivering or evaluating an EEF-funded project Download PDF get_app

Guidance on data protection for schools and settings involved in an EEF-funded project

Guidance on data protection for schools and settings involved in an EEF-funded project Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for identified potential or current supporters

Privacy notice for identified potential or current supporters Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for individual donors

Privacy notice for individual donors Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for those attending an EEF-organised event

Privacy notice for those attending an EEF-organised event Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for subscribers to EEF emails

Privacy notice for subscribers to EEF emails Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for funding applications

Privacy notice for funding applications Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice for website users

Privacy notice for website users Download PDF get_app

Privacy notice - information that we need to tell everyone

Privacy notice - information that we need to tell everyone Download PDF get_app

Bitesize evidence - weekly EEF email series

Bitesize evidence - weekly EEF email series Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: Improving mathematics - why starting early is crucial Download PDF get_app

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New EEF guidance published with 5 recommendations to improve early maths Download PDF get_app

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Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 Download PDF get_app

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‘The 7 things 100 RCTs tell us about the attainment gap’ Download PDF get_app

Use high quality targeted support to help all children learn mathematics

Use high quality targeted support to help all children learn mathematics Download PDF get_app

Ensure that teaching builds on what children already know

Ensure that teaching builds on what children already know Download PDF get_app

Use manipulatives and representations to develop understanding

Use manipulatives and representations to develop understanding Download PDF get_app

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Dedicate time for children to learn mathematics and integrate mathematics throughout the day Download PDF get_app

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Develop practitioners’ understanding of how children learn mathematics Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: The Voices informing Teacher Choices Download PDF get_app

Invitation for expressions of interest to be a peer reviewer (closed)

Invitation for expressions of interest to be a peer reviewer (closed) Download PDF get_app

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Donations to Sunday Times Christmas Appeal in partnership with EEF top £1 million Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: What does research say about the application of cognitive science approaches in the classroom? Download PDF get_app

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Review of evidence on cognitive science approaches (closed) Download PDF get_app

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Digital technology (2019) Download PDF get_app

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EEF partners with The Sunday Times on its Christmas appeal 2019 Download PDF get_app

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New £1.5 million partnership to help scale up EEF Promising Projects Download PDF get_app

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Behaviour Download PDF get_app

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Two new EEF evaluation reports published Download PDF get_app

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EEF statement: re-publication of the evaluation of school breakfast clubs Download PDF get_app

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Foreign language learning and its impact on wider academic outcomes: a rapid evidence assessment Download PDF get_app

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Regional Lead (East Midlands and East) (closed) Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: Does research on ‘retrieval practice’ translate into classroom practice? Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: Teacher Choices needs Teacher Voices! Download PDF get_app

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New EEF podcast: ‘Exit Interview’ with Sir Kevan Collins – is teaching becoming more evidence informed? Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: How can schools manage change and make it stick? Download PDF get_app

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Putting Evidence to Work - A School’s Guide to Implementation Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: Is quick, cost-effective and robust evaluation of education interventions possible? Download PDF get_app

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EEF partners with The Sunday Times Christmas appeal to support schools serving disadvantaged families Download PDF get_app

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Embedding Formative Assessment (re-grant) Download PDF get_app

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Improving teacher and pupil feedback - EEF scales up Embedding Formative Assessment programme Download PDF get_app

IIT: A systematic review of attainment measures (closed)

IIT: A systematic review of attainment measures (closed) Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: Randomised controlled trials - 3 good things, 3 bad things, and 5 top tips Download PDF get_app

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Funding for research teams to test how the different choices schools make lead to different outcomes for pupils

School Choices: EEF funding round 2 (closed) Download PDF get_app

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​Changes to early learning goals reduce teacher workload, but mixed views on whether they leave children better prepared

EEF publishes new evaluation report on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) Download PDF get_app

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Foundations for implementation - implementation climate Download PDF get_app

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Foundations for implementation - structured process Download PDF get_app

School’s Guide to Implementation online course

An interactive online course, which guides you through some key activities in the guidance report. The course contains two video case studies of schools that have used the guide to support changes in practice.

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New EEF research points way to closing disadvantage gap by 38% in primary schools Download PDF get_app

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Guest Blog: What is the best way to tackle maths at the primary/secondary transition? Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: ​Teacher choices - can we make complex findings actionable? Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: ​The Pupil Premium – focusing on what matters Download PDF get_app

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EEF announces Prof. Becky Francis as new Chief Executive Download PDF get_app

Three new EEF trials announced, including focus on improving outcomes for children with SEND

Three new EEF trials announced, including focus on improving outcomes for children with SEND Download PDF get_app

Children’s University (re-grant)

Children’s University (re-grant) Download PDF get_app

Headsprout Early Reading Evaluation in Special Schools

Headsprout Early Reading Evaluation in Special Schools Download PDF get_app

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EEF Blog: When is a word not a word? Download PDF get_app

The EEF report, The Attainment Gap, found that the attainment gap between children who live in disadvantage and those who do not starts early. By 5 years old, when most children are starting school, there was already a 4.3 month gap in attainment in literacy and mathematics between disadvantaged children and their classmates. Once the gap has started, unless targeted and addressed, the report shows that it grows and grows, doubling by the end of primary school.

So wouldn’t it be better, if the gap didn’t exist, at all – if we ensured that all children received the teaching and learning they needed, as early as possible, before they decide that the world is a place they will never understand, like Anna.

Preparing for Literacy, the EEF’s latest Guidance Report, gives us the starting point for this challenge. It is not intended to be a definitive guide – instead it highlights what the consensus of research evidence suggests are places to begin.

The seven recommendations emphasise the importance of the ensuring that each small building block of learning to read and write are firmly in place. They underline the need to ensure children can see properly and hear well. It reminds us to teach the children not only what letters look like, but the correct sequence of movements to write them. It stresses the fundamental role oral language development plays in all aspects of early literacy acquisition and challenges us to ensure we give this essential foundation the respect and attention it demands. It suggests we pay close and careful attention not only to what children can do, but the processes they use when they do these things and quickly respond to difficulties.

It reminds us to sweat the small stuff, to attend to the finer details of literacy learning in a systematic and robust way, ensuring that no stone is left unturned. It reminds us that often the answers are in front of us, already known. If we attend to this, just maybe, we can begin to close the gap, before it starts.