Project Based Learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach that seeks to provide Year 7 pupils with independent and group learning skills to meet both the needs of the Year 7 curriculum as well as support their learning in future stages of their education. It particularly aims to improve their engagement in learning as well as practical literacy skills. This trial evaluates a specific type of PBL known as ‘Learning through REAL Projects’, developed by the Innovation Unit — an independent social enterprise that aims to improve public sector services.
A year long pilot project in 2013/2014 with eight schools (763 pupils) established the feasibility of a main trial. It provided the opportunity to develop the intervention and test the research procedures. The results contained in this report relate to a randomised controlled trial that took place between September 2014 and April 2016. Twelve intervention schools (2,101 pupils) and 12 control schools (1,973 pupils) were involved in the trial.
REAL projects was delivered by teachers, supported in many instances by teaching assistants (TAs), with further support from senior leadership colleagues. It was delivered for a year in the intervention schools with a relatively large proportion of timetabled teaching (varying between 20% and 50%). In almost all cases it was delivered to mixed-ability Year 7 classes.
The intervention used structured cross-subject ‘REAL Projects’ planned by the delivery teachers who were supported by Classroom Coaches from the Innovation Unit. Schools were also supported by Leadership Coaches. REAL Projects are driven by an essential question which has significant educational content. The projects encouraged pupils to create an ‘excellent’ product through drafting and redrafting and then to exhibit their work to an ‘authentic’ audience.
Visits were made to intervention schools at two time points and consisted of lesson observations, interviews, and focus groups with school leadership, project leads, class teachers, and pupils. Two case studies were also conducted in schools that it was agreed delivered the intervention well.