Are ministers’ views on effective teaching upheld by evidence? The EEF toolkit suggests not.

Roger Titcombe's picture

Co-authored by Roger Titcombe and Janet Downs

The government increasingly involves itself in what should be taught and how it should be taught.  Schools minister Nick Gibb, for example, claims his preferred teaching methods have been proven to work and implies these are more likely to be found in academies.

But teaching shouldn’t be hobbled by ministerial prejudices however sincerely held.  Parents and taxpayers should be able to trust that those in control of schools are aware of the evidence about which approaches are effective. This is especially important now the government wants all English state funded schools to be academies - preferably within a multi-academy trust (MAT).

The EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit summarises the known evidence about teaching methods.  Its website includes the logos of the Department for Education (DfE) and the Sutton Trust.   It can’t, therefore, be dismissed as Marxist-inspired polemic from the Blob.

The toolkit rates methods according to 'months of learning impact'.   Roger has used this as an indicator of effectiveness - the higher the number, the more effective the intervention.   The cost appears as £ symbols - the greater the number the higher the expense.    Finally, the toolkit shows the strength of evidence using 'padlock' symbols.    Stars have replaced padlocks: the greater the number of *** the stronger the evidence.

Roger has listed the interventions in groups in order of effectiveness: very effective (score above 5), fairly effective (4-5), less effective (1-3), ineffective (zero) and damages learning (-1 to -4).   Within each group they are listed in rank order of effectiveness, cost and strength of evidence, in that priority.

Very Effective

1= Metacognition and self-regulation (8)£****

1= Feedback (8)£***

Fairly Effective

3= Collaborative learning (5)£****

3= Oral language interventions (5)£****

3= Peer tutoring (5)£****

3= Reading comprehension strategies (5)£****

7= Homework (secondary) (5)£***

7= Mastery learning (5)£***

9   One to one tuition (5)££££****

10 Early years intervention (5)£££££****

11 Phonics (4) £*****

12= Behaviour intervention (4)£££****

12= Digital technology (4) £££****

12= Social and emotional learning (4)£££****

15   Small group tuition (4)£££**

Less Effective

16 Parental involvement (3)£££***

17 Outdoor adventure learning (3)£££**

18 Reducing class size (3)£££££***

19 Individualised instruction (2)£***

20 Learning styles (2)£**

21 Homework (primary) (2)£**

22 Arts participation (2)££***

23 Summer schools (2)£££****

24 Extending school time (2)£££***

25 Sports participation (2)£££**

26 Mentoring (1)£££***

27 Teaching Assistants (1)££££**

Ineffective (in order of least waste of money)

28 School uniform (0)£*

29 Block scheduling (0)£**

30 Physical environment (0)££*

31 Performance pay (0)££*

32 Aspiration interventions (0)£££*

Damages learning (in order of least amount of damage and misspent money)

33 Setting or streaming (-1)£***

34 Repeating a year (-4)£££££****

Ministers increasingly seek to impose their views about what constitutes ‘good’ teaching.  And they imply this ‘good’ practice is more likely in academies.  But the key question is to what extent the English education system and ministers’ views reflect the research evidence and conclusions of the EEF.

There can never be a definitive answer to this because individual schools differ greatly. There is, however, far more convergence between MATs and statements about teaching methods and school culture made by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and schools minister Nick Gibb.

Ministers publicly praise what they view as 'good practice' in MATs and academies.   Favoured ministerial interventions with their EEF ranking are here:

Setting or streaming (-1) £*** - Damaging to learning, 33rd

Performance pay (0) ££* - Ineffective, 31st (See my article)

School uniform (0) £*- Ineffective, 28th

Extending school time (2) £££*** - 24th

Homework (primary) (2) £** - 21st

Behaviour interventions (4) £££**** - 12th=

Digital technology (4) £££**** - 12th=

This rather thin list comprises moderately effective, ineffective and damaging interventions.  It’s significant that neither Morgan nor Gibb mention any intervention that the EEF found to be most effective. 

Why would schools pursue ineffective educational practices?  The answer is they can still be good for exam results. The explanation of this paradox lies in the marketisation of the school system.

Competition between schools is a central tenet of a marketised school system.  Schools must compete to attract the most able pupils.  They must, therefore, have 'market appeal'.  This manifests itself in posh uniforms, streaming and 'strict' discipline irrespective of any supporting evidence base.   These, together with tweaking admission criteria, can deter applications from parents of children who might lower a school’s league table position.

Roger’s book, 'Learning Matters', confirms, explains and supports most of the EEF research, especially regarding the most effective interventions.  Some examples are as follows.

1= Metacognition and self-regulation (8) £**** 

1= Feedback (8) £*** 

3= Collaborative learning (5) £****

3= Oral language interventions (5) £****

3= Peer tutoring (5) £****

These are not the approaches Morgan and Gibb are promoting. 

Ministerial interference about effective teaching undermines teacher professionalism.   It also potentially removes any intellectual engagement with education theories by trainee teachers.   It’s being proposed that teacher training be removed from our best University Schools of Education, where trainee teachers could expect to meet and discuss such ideas, and replace them with 'training on the job'.

 If all schools become academies then all teacher training would be under the control of MAT trustees. These all-powerful, usually non-teaching school bosses would decide which trainees would be given 'Qualified Teacher' status and which would not. This would encourage trainees to enthuse about teaching approaches used in their 'training schools' irrespective of whether these approaches were underpinned by research from EEF and other respected organisations.   

Some MATs may allow heads and teachers professional autonomy.  But it’s important to remember this isn’t guaranteed.  It is in their gift and can be withdrawn as trustees change or if the academy transfers to another MAT with a different ‘brand’. 

Unless teachers conform to whatever is imposed from MAT head office, they could damage their careers.  Nothing could be worse for the professional collegiality, self-respect and morale of teachers.  And nothing could be worse for the quality of education in English schools.

A longer, more detailed version of the above written by Roger is available here.  


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Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 06/04/2016 - 20:36

See a very informative comment on the longer version of the article here

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