New EEF reports, including +2 months’ attainment boost from programme supporting teachers to use regular, informal assessments

Getting teachers to use real-time knowledge of their pupils’ strengths and weaknesses to adapt their teaching can boost Year 11 students’ progress by two additional months, according to new research published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today.

140 English schools and 25,000 Year 10 and 11 pupils took part in the randomised controlled trial of Embedding Formative Assessment, a professional development programme that supports teachers to use regular, informal assessments to identify their individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. Delivered by SSAT, the Schools, Students and Teachers network (SSAT) and based on the work of Professor Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy, the trial ran from September 2015 – July 2017. 

Evidence from the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests that high-quality feedback can be one of the most cost-effective ways of boosting pupil attainment. But while many schools already use formative assessment strategies – where teachers make decisions, minute-by-minute and day-by-day, about how best to improve their pupils’ learning – they can be challenging to implement.

One example of a formative assessment technique is checking on pupils' understanding by asking all students to show their response to a question at the same time, perhaps by holding up their answers on a mini-whiteboard or slate. The teacher can decide whether they need to review the material with the whole class, to identify a small number of pupils needing individual help, or ask the pupils to discuss their answers with their peers.

In this trial of Embedding Formative Assessment, schools received detailed resource packs to run highly-structured monthly workshops, known as Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs). All teaching staff were involved and split into groups of 8-14 people. In these sessions, teachers discussed different formative assessment strategies and received support to change their practice and embed their use in the classroom. In-between workshop sessions, teachers were expected to observe their peer’s lessons and provide feedback to each other. 

The independent evaluators from NIESR found that students whose teachers were trained in this approach made two months more progress than a similar group of pupils whose teachers did not receive the intervention. The findings have a very high level of security as it was a large and well-run trial, which means we can be confident in the results.

According to the report, teachers appeared to implement these techniques more with younger pupils, so the effects of the intervention may be greater over the long-term. The evaluators also found some tentative results that pupils with lower prior attainment made more progress than their classmates.

The teachers that took part were largely positive about the programme. They felt that they improved their teaching by sharing knowledge with their colleagues and experimenting with different strategies.

The EEF will now explore ways to support more schools to use the programme.

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

We know that feedback can be one of the most effective ways of improving outcomes for pupils – but integrating feedback approaches in ways which result in better outcome for students is notoriously difficult.

So the results of this trial are hugely encouraging and provide very practical ways for teachers to realise the promise of feedback in the classroom. The fact there is some tentative evidence that the approach particularly benefits poorer students is especially promising, as we look for more ways to galvanise the evidence base to narrow the attainment gap.

NIESR researcher Johnny Runge, co-author of the report, added:

One feature of this programme was monthly workshops where teachers discussed the approaches they had tried and found to have worked well.

Teachers valued the opportunity to share good practice, and it is likely that this was an important factor in the programme’s success.

Also published today are independent evaluations of three other EEF trials:

-1stClass@Number, a small-group intervention delivered by teaching assistants (TAs) and intended to support pupils struggling with numeracy in Year 2. The programme – which was evaluated by a team from the University of Oxford - was delivered 3 times a week for 10 weeks in addition to normal mathematics instruction.

-Maths Champions, a programme where senior staff who are responsible for the quality of maths learning in their early years setting are trained to build the confidence and skills of the practitioners working with children. The trial was evaluated by teams from Durham University and the York Trials Unit.

-Good Behaviour Game, an intervention evaluated by researchers from the University of Manchester that aimed to improve children’s behaviour and social skills through intensive teacher training. 

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Notes to editors

  1. 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 £96 million to test the impact of 160 projects working with over 1,000,000 pupils in over 10,000 schools across England.
  2. NIESR aims to promote, through quantitative and qualitative research, a deeper understanding of the interaction of economic and social forces that affect people's lives, and the ways in which policies can improve them.