The approaches in our Toolkit which relate to school structures and organisation have a lower impact, on average, than those that specifically aim to improve the quality of teaching and learning. In broad terms, then, the evidence is clear that changing organisational factors will have limited impact on academic attainment unless the change leads to improved teaching.
For example, reducing class size does not appear to have a big effect on attainment unless it enables the teacher to change the way that they teach. This typically requires a substantial change in class size (e.g., from 30 down to 20 or even 15).
Similarly, digital technology tends to have a much greater impact when it is used to supplement and improve, rather than replace, teaching. The EEF-funded project, Accelerated Reader – one of our Promising Projects – provides a good example of this principle in action. Accelerated Reader uses an online assessment of pupils’ reading ability to match pupils to books that provide the right level of challenge required to improve their reading. Teachers and pupils set goals for the pupils to achieve in independent reading time. It is designed to make pupils’ private reading more efficient for improving their reading skills, and is integrated into normal teaching. The EEF’s trial suggested that the programme had a positive impact on pupils’ reading. More guidance on the effective use of technology can be found in the guidance report, Using digital technology to improve learning.
Some approaches, such as summer schools and extended school time are also relatively expensive, on average, compared to other approaches in the Toolkit which have similar impacts. The key message here is to use students’ existing time in school better, before deciding to increase the amount of time they’re there.
Schools should therefore consider the cost as well as the impact of these approaches when deciding whether to adopt or continue with them. For example, two EEF summer school projects – Discover Summer School and Future Foundations Summer School – both concluded that the relatively high cost of the programmes made it likely that other approaches to raising attainment would be more cost-effective.
The evidence for this theme often challenges ideas about approaches – such as reducing class sizes, setting and streaming, and school uniform – which might intuitively appear likely to have a positive impact, but which the evidence suggests have limited (or even negative) effect. For example, while requiring pupils who haven’t passed their exams to repeat a year of schooling might be expected to improve their grades, the evidence suggests that it is very expensive and, on average, has a negative impact on outcomes.