New EEF trial: Will simplifying marking help improve teacher retention?

A new study will find out if reducing teacher workload by getting rid of tasks like time-consuming marking practices and unproductive lesson observations can improve retention, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Wellcome announced today.

140 secondary schools across England will take part in the four-year trial of Leadership Lite, developed by the Carmel Education Trust, a Multi-Academy Trust and Teaching School in the North East. The whole-school programme aims to reduce teacher workload by eliminating practices that are common in schools, but unsupported by any good evidence.

Science teachers, senior leaders and governors at schools taking part in the trial will each have access to three different training sessions. The training will focus on a broad range of strategies in four strands: leadership of change, quality assurance, marking and assessment, and planning and classroom practice. Examples of strategies that schools might implement include replacing most formal observations with alternative approaches, or focusing lesson planning on the most important elements.

An independent team from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) will evaluate the four-year trial to find out what impact the programme has on teacher retention and job satisfaction. This is the first time that an EEF evaluation has focused beyond pupil attainment and essential life skills.

The trial will be funded through a partnership between the EEF and Wellcome to test different ways of improving the retention of science teachers. There is currently a shortage of science teachers in secondary schools in England and the latest Government data showed that recruitment targets continue to be missed for physics, chemistry and maths teachers. Research by Education Datalab has found science teachers are more likely to leave the profession within their first five years of teaching than non-science teachers.

The EEF has announced another new study also funded through this partnership:

80 teachers will take part in the pilot study Mentoring for Early Career Chemistry Teachers. Delivered by a team from the Royal Society of Chemistry, the one-year mentoring programme is designed to improve retention of chemistry teachers with between one and five years of teaching experience by pairing them with an experienced chemistry teacher that has been trained as a mentor. 40 mentees will be recruited from around the Midlands and East of England and carefully matched with a mentor based on personal and professional qualities.

A third trial will be announced in the coming weeks.

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

Getting teachers, especially those at the early stages of their career, to stay in the profession is one of the biggest challenge our schools face today. We know that science teachers are more likely to leave within five years than their colleagues in other subjects. But we know little about what we can do to help them to stay.

Our new trials will give us much needed insight about schools and policymakers can do to get more science teachers to stay in the profession.

Teacher workload is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors affecting wellbeing. So we’ll look at whether reducing workload can help improve teacher wellbeing and retention. Teachers spend hours each week on time-consuming marking, but there’s little evidence to tell us whether these strategies have any impact on pupil attainment.

The EEF has launched six new trials today, in addition to the two science teacher retention projects:

  • 120 secondary schools will take part in a ‘naturalistic study called the Student Grouping Study. Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education will compare the difference in outcomes between schools that set pupils by prior attainment and those that teach pupils in mixed ability classes. 40 schools that currently practiced mixed attainment grouping will be recruited to the study. A pool of comparison schools that practice attainment setting will be identified and matched to schools in the setting pool to provide a comparison group of schools. This new project follows earlier research by the EEF that found it can be difficult to test the impact of different types of attainment grouping through randomised controlled trials.

Five trials funded as part of a round to improve science education, also co-funded with the Wellcome Trust:

  • Focus4TAPS, developed by Bath Spa University, will test a professional development programme designed to improve science assessment in primary school.
  • Primary Science Quality Mark, developed by the University of Hertfordshire, will find out if a whole-school accreditation programme can improve attainment in and attitudes towards science.
  • ASCENTS one-to-one support for science, developed by the University of Lincoln, will test if science tutoring delivered by undergraduates can improve GCSE attainment for disadvantaged students.
  • Science Self-Testing Toolkit, developed by Kingsbridge Academy, this is a suite of approaches to help pupils in their Key Stage 4 science learning by increasing the amount of self-testing that they do
  • Deeper Thinking, developed by Carmel Education Trust, will test a teacher training programme to increase the amount of metacognitive strategies that pupils use when answering GCSE questions.