EEF Blog: What happens next? Generating evidence is a start, helping teachers use it is the real challenge

EEF trials which generate evidence are valuable, but they're only really useful if this leads to improvements in teaching and learning. Here, senior programme manager, Emily Yeomans, discusses how the EEF helps to ensure that teachers and senior leaders can put to good use our findings.

New research in education makes for interesting reading. But ultimately, commissioning and conducting it is only worthwhile if it is useful to teachers and can inspire helpful changes in their everyday practice – either leading to new practices being adopted, tweaks to what they currently do, or a reduction in the time spent on ineffective approaches.

The EEF has funded 139 projects to date, all of them designed to generate useful evidence so that teachers and senior leaders can make the best possible decisions about the teaching and learning in their context. We specifically hope that this will help schools (and nurseries and colleges) decide the best way to commit their limited resources, of both time and funding, to improve the attainment of disadvantaged students.

Communicating findings to teachers, is therefore, crucially important and the EEF works to ensure that our findings are as accessible as possible. In addition to publishing all of the independent evaluation reports of EEF-funded projects, we also keep up-to-date our Teaching and Learning Toolkit, a synthesis of the best available international research, and produce guidance reports on key topics which include actionable and well-evidenced recommendations.

Getting research findings into schools is only one part of the story, though. We also have to make sure that any promising approaches or programmes we identify are available to the schools that want them. 

Many of the projects that we fund trials of have only been delivered in a limited number of schools, nurseries and colleges -- although we also test some larger programmes that are popular across the sector -- so the delivery organisation is often bound by certain geographies or organisational capacity issues.

Knowing something has worked when trialled is, therefore, only partial progress. We also need to help delivery organisations grow so that evidence-informed approaches and programmes can be delivered more widely and benefit more children and young people.

The exact approach to this will vary according to the needs of the project, but can include (for example) the EEF funding projects to be delivered in areas with significant proportions of disadvantaged children and young people, growing the capacity of an organisation, or supporting their plans to scale up.

Magic Breakfast is the first project to reach the end of the EEF’s evidence generation pipeline, with a large-scale trial showing that Year 2 children in schools that offered breakfast clubs made the equivalent of two months’ additional progress in reading, writing and Mathematics when compared to children in 'control' schools.

We now want to ensure that more schools can access it. To do this, we are currently working with Impetus-PEF, one of our founding partners, to support Magic Breakfast. Together, we will help them to develop a three-year business plan and prepare for growth. This support may prove to be timely, with the Conservative manifesto pledging that the party would ensure all primary pupils are offered a free school breakfast.

For education to become evidence-informed, therefore, the EEF has two important roles to play. The first as an evidence generator; and the second, supporting teachers to use evidence and help it reach real scale. 

And, as more EFF-funded projects reach the end of our pipeline, we’ll be taking an increasing role in ensuring that evidence-informed approaches and programmes are available to teachers and senior leaders across the country.