New evidence on maths teaching

A new review of evidence, commissioned by the EEF and the Nuffield Foundation, analyses the best available international research on teaching maths to children aged 9–14 to find out what the evidence says about effective maths teaching. It highlights some areas of maths teaching – like feedback, collaborative learning and different types of textbooks – and considers what the evidence says, and how much evidence there is.

One area where there is strong evidence is using calculators to support learning. The report suggests that pupils’ maths skills may not be harmed by using calculators as previously thought. In fact, using them in maths lessons can boost puipils’ calculation and problem-solving skills if they are used in a thoughtful and considered way.

Other findings include:

  • Maths homework tends to benefit older pupils, but not those in primary school
  • Teacher subject knowledge is crucial for realising the potential of maths resources and interventions to raise attainment
  • High-quality feedback tends to have a large effect on learning, but it should be used sparingly and mainly for more complex tasks

Source: Evidence for review of mathematics teaching: Improving mathematics in Key Stages two and three: Evidence review (March 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

New guidance to support schools to put evidence to work in their classrooms

A new guidance report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) aims to give schools the support they need to put evidence to work in their classrooms and implement new programmes and approaches effectively.

The report highlights how good and thoughtful implementation is crucial to the success of any teaching and learning strategy, yet creating the right conditions for implementation – let alone the structured process of planning, delivering and sustaining change – is hard.

The authors offer six recommendations to help schools give their innovations the very best chance by working carefully through the who, why, where, when and how of managing change. These recommendations can be applied to any school improvement decision: programmes or practices, whole-school or targeted approach, internally or externally generated ideas.

The report frames implementation in four stages: explore, prepare, deliver and sustain. It also provides guidance on how schools can create the right environment for change, from supporting staff to getting leadership on board.

Source: Putting evidence to work: a school’s guide to implementation. EEF Guidance Report (February 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

New analysis of the attainment gap

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a new analysis of the state of the attainment gap in the UK. Using data from Key Stage 2 to predict how the attainment gap is likely to shift in the next five years, it reveals that there will be little or no headway in closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates in the next five years.

Improvements in primary schools over the past few years mean that the gap between the proportion of disadvantaged pupils with at least a good pass at GCSE in English and maths and all other pupils is set to reduce from 24 percentage points (ppts) to 21.5 between 2017 and 2021. However, there will be little change in Attainment 8 (which measures average achievement in GCSE across eight subjects) and Progress 8 (which measures students’ progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 across eight subjects) gaps. The Attainment 8 score gap of 11 points in 2017 will remain in 2021, while for Progress 8 the attainment gap is set to increase a little: from 14.8 ppts in 2017 to 15.6 ppts in 2021.

The analysis emphasises that even small improvements – just one or two GCSE passes compared to no qualifications – can have significant increases on a young person’s lifetime productivity returns and in national wealth. This highlights the importance of continuing to focus on improving results for currently low-attaining pupils.

The report also contains 15 key lessons from the first six years of the EEF on closing the attainment gap.

Source: The attainment gap: 2017 (January 2018), The Education Endowment Foundation

Impact of Research Learning Communities on pupil achievement in reading

An evaluation led by Jo Rose at the University of Bristol and published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) looks at the impact of Research Learning Communities (RLC) on pupil achievement in reading at Key Stage 2 and teachers’ awareness, understanding, and use of research.

As part of a randomised controlled trial involving 199 schools, 60 primary schools were allocated to the treatment condition for the RLC intervention delivered by a team of academics from the Institute of Education at University College London. Two teachers from each of the schools involved in the trial were designated “Evidence Champions”. They attended four RLC workshops in which they discussed research with academic experts and colleagues from other schools. The Evidence Champions were then required to develop school improvement strategies using their learnings from the workshops, and to support other teachers in their schools to engage with research.

While the results of the evaluation showed some evidence that being in an RLC increased teachers’ engagement with research, there appeared to be no evidence that the RLC intervention led to improvements in reading outcomes for 10- and 11-year-olds, compared with the control group (effect size =+0.02). However, there was evidence that there may be some relationship between how engaged teachers are with research and the achievement of their students, regardless of any involvement in the RLC.

Source: Research Learning Communities (December 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Disseminating research to make a difference in classrooms

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the results of its Literacy Octopus trials – named after their multi-armed design – which looked at the impact of research dissemination on achievement in schools.

More than 13,000 primary schools across England were involved in the trials (823 schools in the first trial and 12,500 in the second trial), which drew on a wide range of evidence-based resources and events designed to support the teaching and learning of literacy at Key Stage 2. These included printed and online research summaries (including this Best Evidence in Brief e-newsletter), evidence-based practice guides, webinars, face-to-face professional development events and access to online tools.

The first trial tested whether sending schools high-quality evidence-based resources in a range of different formats would have an impact on pupil outcomes. The second trial tested whether combining the provision of resources with “light-touch” support on how to use them would have greater impact. Some schools were simply sent evidence-based resources, while others received the resources along with simple additional support, such as invitations to seminars on applying the resources in the classroom. As well as pupil outcomes, this trial also measured teachers’ use of research to measure the impact on teacher behaviour.

Neither of the Literacy Octopus trials found evidence of improved literacy achievement at Key Stage 2 for pupils whose teachers took part in the trials compared with the control group. The second trial found no increase in teachers’ use of, or engagement with, research. The results suggest that, in general, light-touch interventions and resources alone are unlikely to make a difference.

Source: The Literacy Octopus: Communicating and engaging with research (December 2017), The Education Endowment Foundation

An evaluation of a Learner Response System

An evaluation published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) tested a trial of a Learner Response System (LRS) using Promethean handsets to assess whether it could improve pupil outcomes by increasing the speed and quality of teacher and pupil feedback. An LRS is a classroom feedback tool. Teachers and pupils used electronic handheld devices to provide immediate feedback during lessons.

A team from Edge Hill University developed the intervention and trained teachers to deliver it to pupils in Years 5 and 6. The trial involved 6,572 pupils in 97 primary schools from the north west of England and West Yorkshire with higher-than-average proportions of children eligible for free school meals (35% compared to the national average of 18%). A cluster randomised controlled trial was used to evaluate the impact of the intervention on Year 6 maths and reading outcomes. Randomisation was at the school level, with 49 schools allocated to the intervention group (3,062 pupils), and 48 schools to the control group (3,510 pupils). The intervention was delivered over two school years (cohort B), or for only one school year (cohort A). The devices were used in at least three lessons a week for between 25 and 32 weeks each year.

The main finding was that the LRS intervention did little to improve pupils’ Key Stage 2 test scores (maths and reading standardised assessment tests at the end of Year 6), regardless of whether it was delivered over one or two years (effect sizes ranged from -0.09 to 0.00). However, teachers and pupils were generally positive about the LRS. Teachers welcomed the ability to quickly assess pupil responses and give instant feedback, and felt that the LRS helped to engage pupils and allowed different pupils to work at their own pace.

Source: Learner Response System: Evaluation report and executive summary (November 2017), Education Endowment Foundation