EEF Blog: Review, revise and refresh

Danielle Mason, our Head of Research and Publications, introduces the latest updates to the Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

Today we have published the latest update to the EEF-Sutton Trust Teaching and Learning Toolkit, incorporating new evidence on 10 educational topics, including class size, performance pay and outdoor adventure learning.

The Teaching and Learning Toolkit (like its Early Years companion) is a live resource. The evidence on which educational approaches are effective (or not) in increasing students’ attainment is constantly growing, and so each strand is updated every 12 to 24 months to ensure that the Toolkit reflects the latest findings from EEF trials and other rigorous research. This means that schools and teachers can be confident when consulting the Toolkit that they are always working with the most up-to-date, high-quality evidence. This is important, given the Toolkit is used by up to two-thirds of schools in their decision-making, according to recent surveys.

In this update, we have found new studies which increase the average impact on students’ attainment of both teachers’ performance pay (from 0 months’ additional progress to +1 month) and outdoor adventure learning (from +3 months’ additional progress to +4). In both cases the new evidence has also increased the evidence security rating, reflecting the fact that there is now more high-quality evidence underpinning the months’ progress estimate.

We also identified some new studies on behaviour interventions, but in this case they show smaller impacts than previous studies, and so the average effect size has reduced slightly (from +4 months’ additional progress to +3).

Another interesting change is the reduction in the average cost rating for reducing class sizes. We have improved the method we use to calculate the cost per pupil of reducing class size and this has brought the estimate down to just below £1200, changing it from ‘very high’ cost to ‘high’. However, it is worth bearing in mind that, unlike other high-cost interventions, reductions in class size have to be applied to a whole class and cannot be targeted, so the total outlay required from a school for this intervention will still be substantial.

The changes included in this update are relatively minor. Even in the case of behaviour interventions, for which our estimate of average impact has decreased slightly, the impact is still rated as ‘moderate’ and there are no major implications for schools already investing in such approaches.

It is not a surprise that the changes resulting from any single Toolkit update are relatively small: we review the evidence regularly and so there is rarely a large backlog of new evidence which needs to be included. Our estimates of additional months’ progress are based on the average across all the relevant studies, so it would take a significant number of new studies, all with impacts that differ from the previous average, to result in a change of more than +/- 1 or 2 months’ progress. (For more detail on how the Toolkit estimates are calculated see the About the Toolkits section on our website).

The benefits of updating the Toolkit regularly become more apparent over time, as trends emerge. For example, a number of EEF-funded projects have evaluated the impact of deploying Teaching Assistants to deliver targeted programs, rather than as general classroom support. The inclusion of the evidence from these studies in the Toolkit increased the estimate of the impact that Teaching Assistants can have – from 0 months (in 2011) to +1 month additional progress (in 2015) – and it is likely to increase again once more new studies are included in the next update.

That’s why it’s so important that the Teaching and Learning Toolkit continues to be a live resource: so schools and teachers can adjust their practices as we find out more about what works to improve attainment, in particular for the most disadvantaged students.