Jonathan Kay on the importance the EEF attaches to school-led projects.
Last month we announced the six projects funded in the Education and Neuroscience funding round, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. While the specific focus of this round meant that the vast majority of the applications we received were from Universities, we were especially pleased to announce Spaced Learning, a trial on whether delivering work interspersed with other activities can increase knowledge retention. What was particularly exciting about this project was that it will be led by the Hallam Teaching School alliance.
One of the concerns that teachers often express with the growing focus on evidence-based practice is that it will result in groups of university academics, with no experience of teaching, telling teachers what to do. We are proud to fund numerous examples of teachers and ex-teachers taking the lead on projects funded by the EEF. One of our most important findings came from the Calderdale Excellence Partnership, run by an ex-teacher in Rochdale. We are looking for school leaders that don’t just follow the evidence, but also seek to refine it; evaluating and adapting for the good of their students. In order to get this, we need to do everything we can to remove potential barriers to school led projects.
School-led projects and evidence
One of the challenges school led projects often face is gathering evidence. In order to fund projects effectively, we ask that applications present evidence to show that their intervention is likely to improve attainment. This often presents a challenge to applications with innovative ideas- If an intervention is genuinely new, what evidence can a school provide for its impact?
The first thing to consider is how projects relate to existing evidence. Even if a project is innovative, it will often have a relationship to other projects. Learning from what made them successful or unsuccessful can not only help in providing evidence, but also in refining your intervention. For example, a new way of encouraging parents and students to interact, will often relate broadly to the evidence gathered in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit on Parental Involvement. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit focuses on broad categories and each entry contains things to consider within each approach. Applications can gain a lot by learning from interventions with similar characteristics, even when they are not identical.
The second way of gathering evidence to support genuinely innovative interventions is through conducting evaluations within schools. Often teachers come to us with interventions that have great feedback from parents and teachers. In putting together school led applications, using our DIY Evaluation Guide to assess the impact on attainment can demonstrate to us that there is a measurable impact on students. The guide can be used to gather evidence for potential bids, but also as a wider resource for understanding and reacting to evidence within schools.
Having school led projects is important. We favour an approach of “informed innovation”, where we are guided by the existing evidence, but are always seeking to improve and innovate. Schools are best placed to react to evidence- trying things out in classrooms; spending time refining projects to see how to make them as effective as possible; and sharing best practice. The ideas that will improve education are likely to be born in classrooms. We need schools to take the lead.
Our current general funding round closes in April. Apply through our online process here.