New EEF trial results: ‘light-touch’ approaches to research unlikely to impact pupil outcomes

Three independent evaluations of randomised controlled trials published today by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggest that providing light-touch support for teachers to engage with research is not an effective way to improve pupil outcomes.

The EEF funded these trials – called the Literacy Octopus - and Research Learning Communities - to find out more about how academic research can have an impact on classroom practice and pupil outcomes. They are published after earlier EEF research found that many teachers struggle to interpret and act on findings from academic research, despite there being a growing appetite to do so.

In the two ‘Literacy Octopus’ trials - named after their multi-armed design – 13,323 English primary schools were involved in testing commonly used ways of disseminating evidence like online research summaries, magazines, webinars and conferences. The resources were designed to support literacy teaching in primary schools and were provided by four delivery partners – the Institute for Effective Education, Campaign for Learning, the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, and NatCen Social Research with ResearchEd - all with extensive expertise in education research.

The first Literacy Octopus trial - which ran across 12,500 schools - tested whether sending schools high-quality evidence-based resources in a range of formats could have an impact on pupil outcomes. The second trial - which involved 823 schools - tested whether combining the resources with light-touch support on how to use them would have greater impact. Some schools were just sent evidence-based resources, while others received the resources with simple, additional support, such as invitations to seminars on using the resources in the classroom.

 The independent evaluators from the National Foundation for Educational Research found that neither of the approaches in the ‘Literacy Octopus’ trials had an impact on attainment for the ten and eleven year olds whose teachers took part in the trials. The trials tested a wide range of approaches in a large number of schools. The findings from these two trials – which achieved the maximum EEF security rating of ‘5 padlocks’ - tells us that, in general, light-touch interventions to get teachers to engage with research are unlikely to have an impact on pupil attainment.

119 primary schools took part in a trial of Research Learning Communities, delivered by the UCL Institute of Education. The intervention aimed to improve teaching quality and learning outcomes by raising teachers’ awareness, understanding, and use of educational research in their teaching practice.

Two teachers from each school were designated ‘Evidence Champions’. They attended workshops that examined research in specific areas of interest to the school like phonics teaching or metacognition. The Evidence Champions were then required to develop school improvement strategies using their learnings from the workshops; and to support other teachers in their schools to engage with research.

 While the evaluators from the University of Bristol found no evidence that the programme led to improvements in reading outcomes for ten and eleven year olds, the findings suggests that there may be a relationship between how engaged teachers are with research, and the attainment of their pupils. There was also some evidence that being in a Research Learning Community increased teachers’ engagement with research.

To address the challenge of how to support teachers to use evidence effectively, the EEF is already taking a more substantial approach to disseminating evidence. This includes two campaigns to promote effective use of evidence - focusing on primary-age literacy in the North East and better use by schools of teaching assistants in up to 1,000 schools in Yorkshire – and the Research Schools Network, a national network of schools to support the use of evidence to improve teaching practice.

 Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today: 

Teachers and school leaders now have access to a significant and growing body of academic research with enormous potential to improve pupil attainment and save schools money. But to do this, we need to make sure that research findings get into the hands of teachers in ways that are most likely to have an impact.

We know how challenging this can be. Today’s reports tell us that light-touch interventions are unlikely to have an impact on pupil attainment and getting teachers to engage with research is far from straightforward. We need to focus our efforts on more targeted and structured approaches to disseminate evidence and support teachers.

Notes to editors

1. The full evaluation report will be available here, at 0001 on Friday 1st December 2017. The EEF will also publish an evaluation of Children’s University on Friday.

2. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £87 million to test the impact of 142 projects reaching more than 960,000 children and young people in over 9,200 schools, nurseries and colleges across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.

3. These projects were funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the Department for Education and the Mayor’s London Schools Excellence Fund as part of a round of funding exploring Research Use in Schools

4. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit and its Early Years companion are accessible summaries of educational research developed by the EEF in collaboration with the Sutton Trust and a team of academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The Toolkits cover 46 topics and summarises research from over 11,500 studies. The Toolkits are a live resource which are regularly updated.