Scale-up evaluation of Switch-on disappoints

An independent evaluation for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) of the Switch-on intervention has found no evidence that it improves the reading outcomes of pupils struggling with literacy at Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7 years) compared to schools’ usual practices.

Switch-on is an intensive, targeted literacy intervention that aims to improve the reading skills of pupils who are struggling with literacy. There are two versions of the intervention: Switch-on Reading and Switch-on Reading and Writing. Both involve specially trained Teaching Assistants (TAs) delivering a tailored programme of literacy support in daily 20-minute sessions over a ten-week period.

Schools selected pupils in Year 3 who were working below age-related expectations at the end of Key Stage 1 and who did not have a high level of special needs. Each of the 184 participating schools was then randomly assigned to receive either Switch-on Reading, Switch-on Reading and Writing, or to continue their usual practices of supporting pupils with reading difficulties. In total, 999 pupils were involved in the trial.

Estimated effect sizes were zero and not statistically significant. The intervention also showed no effect on pupils eligible for free school meals. These findings contradict a previous, smaller EEF-funded evaluation of Switch-on which had shown signs of promise in raising reading outcomes for Year 7 pupils.

Source: Switch-on – effectiveness trial (May 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Research is vital, but isn’t always straightforward

The EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) is funding a series of randomised controlled trials, with the aim of increasing the research base on various educational interventions. The first six reports have now been published. Three of the reports provide clear guidance as to the effectiveness of the interventions they evaluate.

  • Switch-on Reading is an intensive ten-week literacy intervention, delivered on a one-to-one basis by teaching assistants to struggling Year 7 pupils. The EEF evaluation found an overall effect size of +0.24, meaning that the programme made a noticeable positive impact.
  • Catch Up® Numeracy is a one-to-one intervention delivered by teaching assistants to primary children who are struggling with numeracy. The EEF evaluation found that although the Catch-Up children made significant gains, there was little evidence that this was over and above gains made from one-to-one teaching with teaching assistants not using Catch-Up.
  • Grammar for Writing is a literacy intervention that aims to improve the writing skills of Year 6 pupils by providing contextualised grammar teaching. The EEF evaluation found it was not effective when delivered as a whole-class intervention over four weeks, and only modestly effective as a small-group intervention (although this is likely to be a result of small-group teaching, rather than an intrinsic benefit of Grammar for Writing itself).

The other three reports illustrate the challenges of conducting robust research. None were able to draw decisive conclusions because of problems with implementation fidelity (Anglican Schools Partnership Effective Feedback); difficulties in recruiting pupils and preventing dropout (Future Foundations Summer School); and unreliable data (Response to Intervention).