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From the editor

Written by: Becky Francis
5 min read
Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation, UK

There’s no doubt that schools today are in a much better position to judge what is most likely to work in their classrooms than they were 10 years ago. We have access to more robust evidence than ever, which gives us valuable information about which pedagogical approaches have been shown to be effective in the past, and, just as importantly, which have not. As the evidence base has grown, so too have teachers’ appetites for it (The Sutton Trust, 2022).

But generating evidence can only get us so far. An educational idea or intervention might have worked well under lab conditions and might be based on strong evidence and a robust theory of change; but what really matters for pupil outcomes is how it manifests itself in the day-to-day reality of the classroom. In fact, one of the key characteristics that distinguishes effective and less-effective pedagogical approaches is how they’re implemented (Sharples et al., 2019).

One common reason that apparently well-evidenced programmes fail to prove success at scale is lack of fidelity, or the lack of subscription to the core components of an intervention or approach. Of course, this may also tell us that they were never practical propositions for the school system! This reinforces the need for research to be developed with close attention to the needs and environments of practitioners and their pupils.

It is this overarching theme of the application of research in practice that unites the collection of articles in this Autumn edition of Impact. The authors cover many different territories, from engaging with parents, to implementing effective tutoring, and supporting learning for Ukrainian refugees. But what unites them is a focus on how we can – and should – use evidence to move practice forward and promote positive outcomes for all children and young people, particularly those that are the most vulnerable.

Reflecting on the articles, I noted four key threads that run across and between them.

First is the importance of a clear focus on the implementation and monitoring of professional development opportunities. We know that having a well-planned, well-executed and well-resourced programme of professional development is one of the most important things a school can do to enhance the quality of teaching, and in turn, improve pupil learning (Education Policy Institute, 2020). Teachers cannot move their practice forward without it. But realising authentic and sustained change can be difficult to achieve.

Careful implementation is exemplified in Mark Leswell’s case study of how Swale Academies Trust adopted a large-scale professional development programme to support their staff and pupils. Starting with the evidence, they considered how to put the mechanisms of effective professional development into practice, whilst prioritising teacher motivation to support the longevity of changes made.

Similarly, Nicki Sullivan and Claire Smith explore the importance of providing tailored professional learning experiences for teaching assistants, while Patrick MacDonald and William Gray explain how they applied cognitive science approaches in their primary school through a professional development programme for staff.

Underpinning all these case studies is a clear focus on the importance of providing a balanced approach to professional development; one that focuses on building practitioner knowledge, boosting motivation, developing pedagogical techniques, and embedding effective practice through ongoing monitoring and reflection (EEF, 2021a).

A second thread is how the wider school community can be galvanised to support learning outcomes. While schools can do a lot, they cannot do it alone. There are several other actors that we can and should draw on to support the learning and development of children and young people.

A child’s first teacher is their parent or carer, and we know that effective parental engagement approaches can be particularly beneficial for children and young people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds (EEF, 2021b). But, such approaches tend to prove very hard in practice, for a range of reasons. In their article, Karen Boardman, Charlotte Hindley and Silvia Cont emphasize the importance of collaborating with families to support communication, language, and literacy development in the early years.

Suzanne Sargeant and David Egan get to the heart of the challenge of mobilising parental engagement for closing the socio-economic attainment gap. Their case study of a Welsh initiative to promote community-focused schools aims to create partnerships with parents and others in the system to promote positive learning outcomes. Harriet Ratty’s article draws on our rapid evidence review to discuss strategies for engaging parents to support attendance.

Thirdly, there is a strong theme of encouraging pupil voice, and using oracy to understand, assess and empower pupils over the course of their journey through education. Oracy is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of approaches that emphasise the importance of spoken language and verbal interaction in the classroom.

Katie Jump explores how the four core elements of teacher communication can intersect to support effective practice, explaining how teachers should analyse and understand their own communication approaches so that they can support trainees effectively. Meanwhile, Angela Schofield highlights the importance of language approaches in supporting socio-economically disadvantaged pupils, with a focus on bridging the gap between the language of school and the language of home and community.

It is this focus on disadvantaged learners that is the fourth thread, specifically how we can put the most effective approaches to use for the benefit of the most vulnerable.

Luke Donnelly focuses on supporting looked after children in secondary schools, illustrating the specific circumstances that these pupils may be facing. Carl Luke et al. draw on personal experience to detail how they have helped Ukrainian refugees, by focusing on understanding these pupils’ prior knowledge and contexts for learning.

In their summary of their work evaluating the National Tutoring Programme, Roland Marden and Pippa Lord bring a strong focus on implementation to support socio-economically disadvantaged learners. We know what effective tutoring looks like, and we know that it is one of the most well-evidenced interventions for pupils who have fallen behind (EEF, 2021c). Their article explores what they’ve learned about how to make tutoring work for schools and pupils, including group size, tutor identification, and alignment with the wider curriculum.

It has been inspiring to read so many insights into how schools are working to use evidence to move practice forward. This is a mission that is closely aligned to our work at the Education Endowment Foundation. Implementing effective pedagogy is fundamental to yielding the promise that our increased access to evidence affords. It is by no means an easy or straightforward task, but it is one that is well worth the effort. After all, there is a great prize on offer: a consistent, well-led, and empowered teaching profession providing better outcomes for all children and young people, particularly those who need our support the most.

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    Impact Articles on the same themes

    Author(s): Bill Lucas