Fresh Start (FS) is a catch-up literacy intervention for pupils at risk of falling behind their peers in early secondary schooling. It provides systematic and rigorous practice in phonics so that pupils are at an appropriate level to join the mainstream group after completion of the intervention. Pupils are assessed and then grouped according to their levels of reading ability. Teaching in these groups begins with recognition, practice and blending of sounds and graphemes, based on a set of module booklets.
This evaluation involved 433 pupils in Year 7, in ten secondary schools, who had failed to achieve a ‘secure’ National Curriculum Level 4 (4b and above) in their primary KS2 results for English. Of these, 212 within all schools were randomly allocated to receive the intervention for 22 weeks during their first year at secondary school. This shorter time period was partly justified because the pupils are at secondary school. The other 221 pupils were randomly allocated to a control group in phase one, and received the intervention the following year. The intervention was organised by taking pupils out of regular English lessons for one hour, three times per week.
This was a different kind of study to the trials usually funded by the EEF. In 2013, three secondary school clusters, consisting of 10 schools in total, applied independently to EEF for funding to set up a programme for FS, and simultaneously evaluate its impact in their own schools. Each application was deemed too small in scale to run a successful evaluation of the programme, but if the schools involved were to cooperate then the scale would be sufficient for an ‘aggregated’ efficacy trial. Efficacy trials seek to test evaluations in the best possible conditions to see if they hold promise.
Each school ran a small trial of FS in isolation, and made all of the relevant evaluation decisions such as randomly allocating pupils to the control or intervention group. Researchers at Durham University were assigned as independent evaluators for this trial. Their roles were to advise the school leads on the process of conducting research, randomisation and testing, and to aggregate the eventual results from all schools. There was no direct involvement from FS in the initial funding proposal to the EEF, but the developers were used by schools to provide training.