Primary pupils’ science results improved by 3 months with creative thinking

Asking Year 5 pupils ‘big questions’, such as how do we know the earth is a sphere or the person next to us is alive, can boost their knowledge and understanding of science. This is according to the results of a new evaluation report of Thinking, Doing, Talking Science published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today.

Pupils participating in the trial saw their science scores increase by three additional months and the positive effects of the programme look to be particularly pronounced for disadvantaged students. Attitudes towards science improved too with half of pupils reporting they found science lessons interesting, compared with 37% of pupils who were not involved in the intervention.

Funded by the EEF and delivered by Science Oxford and Oxford Brookes University, the randomised controlled trial involved 1,500 Year 5 pupils across 42 schools in the UK and was independently conducted by the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York.

Over a year, the programme provides five professional development sessions to two teachers from each school. The training sessions help the teachers to deliver lessons that include more creative investigations and class discussions in order to develop their pupils’ higher order thinking.

At a cost of just £26 per pupil, today’s results show that Thinking, Doing, Talking Science could be a promising and effective way for schools to spend their pupil premium and improve science results, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.

Also published today are the results of Improving Numeracy and Literacy, another EEF funded trial focused on effective teaching. This programme of teacher training and teaching materials is accompanied by a series of computer games designed to help engage the pupils with their learning. It focuses on promoting children’s mathematical reasoning and the EEF evaluation found it to have a positive impact on primary pupils’ numeracy skills, with their attainment in this area improved by three months.

These new results are from two of 10 evaluation reports published by the EEF today. All the results will be used to inform the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, a resource used by nearly half of all school leaders.

Other new findings include:

  • Changing Mindsets, a programme run by the University of Portsmouththat seeks to improve attainment by helping children to believe that intelligence is not a fixed characteristic and can be increased through effort, showed promise.
  • Oracy Curriculum, Culture and Assessment Toolkit (School 21 and the University of Cambridge), a programme to develop oracy skills, showed some potential promise. The evaluators reported it has strengths in supporting pupils with persuasive talk and in giving presentations.
  • A trial comparing music and drama workshops, Act, Sing, Play, found that the different types of arts tuition did not appear to have different effects in terms of raising maths and English attainment.
  • PATHS, a school-based social and emotional learning primary school curriculum that aims to help children to manage their behaviour, understand their emotions and work well with others, was found to have no impact upon children’s academic attainment. However, it may have an impact on other, non-cognitive outcomes.

Also published today are results from trials of SHINE in Secondaries, Team Alphie, Quest and Physically Active Lessons.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation said today:

“These new reports highlight the importance of EEF trialling programmes to test their impact. All of today’s reports will add to the EEF’s growing source of robust and reliable evidence that teachers and school leaders can use to help close the attainment gap.”

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

“It’s great to see that our trial of Thinking, Doing, Talking Science had a positive impact on results and attitudes by getting pupils to think more creatively. This approach looks to be particularly effective for disadvantaged pupils too and could be a low-cost way for schools to boost their pupils’ science results.”


  1. The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £57 million to 100 projects working with over 620,000 pupils in over 4,900 schools across England.
  2. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible summary 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 expanded Toolkit covers 34 topics and summarises research from over 10,000 studies. The Toolkit is a live resource which is regularly updated as new findings are published.