EEF publishes new evaluation reports, including pilot of early years app and school improvement programme

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published two new evaluation reports today, including a pilot of an early years assessment app and a large trial of a school improvement programme.

134 schools took part in the trial of Achievement for All (AfA), a whole-school improvement programme that aims to improve the academic and social outcomes of pupils. Trained AfA coaches deliver a bespoke two-year programme to schools through monthly coaching sessions with emphasis on leadership, learning, parental engagement and wider outcomes, in addition to focusing on improving outcomes for a target group of children (which largely consists of the lowest 20% of attainers).

The independent evaluation, conducted between 2016 and 2018 by a team from Manchester University, found that children in the schools using AfA, who began the programme in year 5, made 2 months’ less progress in Key Stage 2 reading and maths, compared to children in control schools. The same negative impact was found for children eligible for free school meals. The findings have a very high security rating, 5 out of 5 on the EEF padlock scale.

One factor that may have contributed to the negative impact on pupils is the flexibility of the programme. While some schools commented that they found this beneficial, others would have preferred a more defined and structured approach. It may also have been the case that other school priorities began to compete with, and overshadow, the priorities set by the Achievement for All action plan at the outset of the programme.

The EEF has also published the independent evaluation of a pilot of Early Years Toolbox today, a suite of iPad-based assessments suitable for use with young children by early years settings. This evaluation piloted three short, engaging and game-like assessment apps that aim to measure abilities that research has shown to be the most predictive of later academic, social, emotional, cognitive and life outcomes. Early years staff are also given training to use the apps and support to integrate them into their practice

The independent evaluation, which was co-funded by the Department for Education, found some evidence that the intervention had the potential to positively change practitioners’ practices. The EEF is currently discussing next steps to evaluate the Early Years Toolbox across a larger number of early years settings. 

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: 

Schools in England are currently going through one of the most challenging periods in living memory. With evidence suggesting that school closures will have widened the attainment gap, many schools will likely look for programmes to mitigate the impact on disadvantaged pupils.

But with resources tight, heads and senior leaders will have to make difficult decisions about what is likely to have the biggest possible impact on their pupils, in their school.

Today’s findings from our evaluation of Achievement for All throw into sharp focus how important evidence is in helping us to make those difficult decisions.

Education research can help schools to decide which programmes and approaches hold the most promise for their pupils and staff, maximising scarce time and money for the greatest benefit.