Supporting schools with evidence – EEF timeline
The EEF is a unique organisation. Its messages are driven by evidence – synthesizing existing educational research, generating new knowledge through trials – but it also has a clear moral purpose: to support teachers and senior leaders in closing the attainment gap. We believe that is best done by using evidence as the foundation for school improvement activity; to inform planning, investment and decision making.
Since 2011, we have developed our knowledge and understanding of what it takes to support teachers to use evidence effectively, by testing different ways of passive dissemination mechanisms as well as more proactive training and support activity.
In 2012, the first full year of the EEF, we organised three ‘Evidence in Action’ events, bringing together teachers, researchers, and other key figures, to explore how evidence and knowledge of effective practice can make an impact on educational outcomes.
To inform discussion at these events, the EEF commissioned a paper by two leading researchers in the field. Positively, this highlighted that England ‘is a front-runner in demands to make research more useful and usable for education practice and policy’. However, it also noted the challenge that remained: ‘more attention has been paid to research production than to a systemic approach embedded in routines, behaviours and practices within and across education organisations’.
We funded four projects to test ways of schools using research to improve attainment:
- ‘Challenge the Gap’. A school-to-school improvement programme aiming to break the link between disadvantage and attainment through collaboration and the sharing of best practice between schools.
- ‘Hampshire Hundreds’. Creating a learning community focused on raising the attainment of disadvantaged children.
- ‘Anglican Schools Partnership’. A pilot project developing a way of improving feedback led by schools.
- ‘Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme’. A whole-school training programme to help teachers in challenging schools become more effective.
We funded a pilot of ‘Evidence for the Frontline’ - a brokerage service linking schools with academics and teachers who can support them to use evidence effectively.
We co-funded a £1.5m ‘Research Use in Schools’ grant-funding round with the Department for Education and the Greater London Authority on the most effective ways of translating research findings into changes in the classroom
Five projects were funded:
- Research Champions;
- Research into Practice – evidence-informed CPD in Rochdale;
- The RISE Project – evidence-informed school improvement;
- Research Learning Communities; and
- The Literacy Octopus: Communicating and Engaging with Research
Building on the evidence generated from the first three years of EEF knowledge mobilisation grants, a more intensive ‘campaign’ model was developed, focusing on primary schools in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. EEF worked with seven local advocate-partners to provide support and training to up to 1,000 primary schools in the ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants Campaign’.
The backbone of this approach was our first guidance report, ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants, distilling the evidence into seven actionable recommendations.
We also launched an excellence fund with Suffolk County Council for its schools to bid to implement programmes trialled by the EEF with promising findings. More than one-third of the county’s schools were awarded funding to train a total of more than 600 school staff.
We developed further our campaign approach with the ‘North East Primary Literacy Campaign’ launched, aiming to reach all 800+ primary schools in the region through a combination of guidance reports, training and support, and high-potential projects.
We partnered with the TES to produce an online course, Making best use of teaching assistants in the classroom, designed for school leaders, taking them through this guidance report’s recommendations.
Drawing from the lessons we learned in our early campaigns on the importance of having teachers demonstrating how evidence can be used in practice, we established the Research Schools Network in September 2016. Launched in partnership with the Institute for Effective Education, aiming to lead the way in the use of evidence-based teaching, building affiliations with large numbers of schools in their region, and supporting the use of evidence at scale.
In 2017 the Research SChools network expanded from an initial 11 schools to 22, with additional funding from the DfE to launch them in the Opportunity Areas, government-designated social mobility cold-spots.
The EEF provided support to hundreds of school and system leaders thinking of applying to the Government’s £140m Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) on how to develop evidence-informed projects. Our Research Schools Network was also heavily involved, both in leading successful bids and assisting neighbouring schools in their applications.
The network began with 5 pioneering schools, expanding in 2017 to include 22 schools in total, including a Research School in 11 of the 12 Opportunity Areas. In 2019, the network grew again to 32 and now also incorporates 7 Associate Research Schools, located in areas typically with low levels of engagement with EEF, where they support the network to amplify our key messages.
Developing professional development materials from our guidance reports became a major focus for the Research School Network. New training course in maths and science (based on EEF guidance reports) for 220 schools developed through a co-funded initiative by EEF and Kusuma Trust UK. This was supported by a new Guidance Report, ‘Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation’, a guidance report to support schools in the process of managing change well.
In addition, other new guidance reports were published: Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning; Preparing for Literacy; Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning; and Improving Secondary Science.
Ten lessons learned from EEF’s knowledge mobilization work
The work of the Research Schools, in conjunction with the projects, trials and research documented here has provided us with a nuanced understanding of the challenges of knowledge mobilization. The key lessons can be summarized as follows:
- Passive dissemination strategies (publishing reports, Toolkit summaries, blogs, tweets and press reports) are necessary but not sufficient for changing teacher’s practice.
- Evidence-based guidance, detailed and specific enough for teachers to act upon, is essential for changing practice. The development of evidence-based guidance is most credible and useful when it is co-created by researchers and practitioners
- Exemplification is required to bring the evidence to life for teachers. Case studies, videos, tools and resources all have a role to play.
- To apply the lessons of evidence in the classroom, active implementation support is required. Professional development programmes, learning clusters, coaching, and light-touch support mechanisms are important for embedding evidence in practice.
- Schools listen to other schools. Senior leaders and teachers talking about the value of evidence are the most credible advocates for evidence use. Working with practitioners as partners in mobilising knowledge and integrating evidence into local contexts.
- An understanding of implementation processes is as important as the understanding of the evidence itself.
- For evidence to gain traction in schools in a sustained manner, a multi-stranded approach is required, working at different levels of change (e.g. practitioner, school, regional and national policy levels)
- Building capacity (knowledge, understanding, skills related to evidence use) in the system to support the appetite for engaging with evidence is a bigger challenge than anticipated.
- Aligning evidence with the school system helps to create opportunities for it to be discussed more widely.
- Framing evidence around practical school priorities such as behaviour, numeracy, parental engagement etc. helps school leaders to see research as integral to the work of school improvement not as an optional extra.
The first evaluation of the Research Schools Network has been published. The report assesses the evidence of promise, feasibility and scalability of the network based on the experiences of the first five Research Schools over their initial three years.