Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: How the pandemic has affected ongoing education research, and how we’ve responded

EEF blog: How the pandemic has affected ongoing education research, and how we’ve responded

Our Director of Research Emily Yeomans explains how the pandemic has impacted EEF trials.
Emily Yeomans
Emily Yeomans
Director of Research (currently on maternity leave)

Our Director of Research Emily Yeomans explains how the pandemic has impacted EEF trials.

Blog •3 minutes •

Covid has caused disruption to all areas of education, to which the sector as a whole has responded impressively with nimbleness and resourcefulness. The clear priority for schools and the wider sector in this period has been in ensuring all young people have been able to continue their learning.

One consequence of the disruptions to learning is that many ongoing pieces of education research – including EEF trials – have been affected. First by the direct impact of school closures which has affected recruitment to trials and the implementation of different programmes. Second by the cancellation of national exams and standardised tests, and the associated difficulties of collecting impact data to make a robust assessment of the effect of particular programmes and approaches.

We’ve been working with programme developers, schools and researchers to make sure that all of our trials that have been impacted by the pandemic produce meaningful messages and findings, whilst not placing undue burdens on the schools taking part in the studies at a time of extreme challenge.

For some of our trials, we’re focusing on what we can learn from process evaluations, which give us useful messages about how schools implemented a specific programme or intervention. For others, we’ve extended delivery or re-started disrupted trials to allow us to collect meaningful impact data.

Our priority is to balance the competing pressures of schools priorities and ensuring useful findings from our research.

  • One example is our trial Thinking Doing Talking Science, where we extended preparation and planning, so that the project could start delivery later and in a context that would enable good implementation.
  • Another is PALS-UK, where we have taken the decision to re-run the trial, due to the low security of the findings of the original Covid-affected evaluation. Due to the pandemic, a high proportion of the pupils who started this trial were not included in the final analysis and outcome testing was delayed by several months, taking place in the context of significant disruption to children’s learning brought about by the pandemic. As a result, we have low confidence in the impact results from this evaluation and plan to run a new efficacy trial of PALS-UK, as part of the evidence-generation work funded through the Department for Education’s Accelerator Fund, to secure a robust estimate of the impact of the programme
  • The delivery of Read Write Inc. Phonics, funded as part of the DfE Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund (TLIF), was disrupted twice due to school closures. We took the decision to re-plan the trial to continue delivery in this school year, which means the report will be published in 2023 alongside another study of the approach which was delivered prior to the pandemic and is currently going through the EEF’s rigorous reporting process.

In the case of Read Write Inc. Phonics, the decision to continue to publish these two studies together reflects our priority of ensuring findings from our trials – including those that have been disrupted by the pandemic – are as useful and robust as possible (and contribute to the wider evidence base). Publishing the findings from the first RCT while the second trial is still ongoing could result in schools changing how they choose to implement the programme – possibly by making its implementation a higher priority, or by choosing to change the way that they deliver the different elements of it. This would make the results of the trial more difficult to interpret.

We know that the English school system is one of the most evidence-informed in the world and teachers and researchers are keen to see the results of projects and use them to inform their work. This is – in part – down to the wealth of evidence already available to inform teaching and learning strategies. Evidence synthesis – including the summaries of different approaches provided in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit – is a great starting place and gives the best picture of whether a particular approach is likely to have an impact in your setting and with your pupils.

We’ll continue to work with all of our partners to ensure our trials – including those that have been affected by the pandemic –produce meaningful findings that contribute to the wider evidence base.