The Key’s events are always a good place to talk to our members and hear leading voices. I came away from our pupil premium conference at the British Library feeling inspired by the different approaches schools are taking to closing the attainment gap.
In amongst the range of strategies and interventions discussed, one common theme was summed up by Professor Steve Higgins from Durham University: “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. At the risk of oversimplifying, he’s saying that school leaders have to really understand their context. What works in one school may not work in the school down the road.
It’s an interesting point coming from one of the creators of the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which summarises research on intervention strategies and rates them by their average impact on attainment and their cost. As a research nerd, I loved hearing about the complexity behind this very practical tool. For example, the availability and quality of research (shown by stars on the toolkit’s main page) varies between strategies. And different studies can find different effects – an intervention works or doesn’t work, or has a big or small effect. Some subtlety is lost when all this is turned into average months of progress.
So, what does this mean for school leaders? Professor Higgins says the toolkit shows ‘good bets’, but your own professional enquiry is important. Read the research and think about your context. If something isn’t having an impact, stop and try something else.
Feedback and ‘learning to learn’ continue to be the ‘best buys’ for a big impact at low cost, so I was particularly interested to hear Beverly Gardner of Trinitas Academy Trust talk about the school’s research on using effective feedback to raise standards. It’s already made a difference, particularly for pupils eligible for FSM.
Beverley’s reflective, practical suggestions are just the kind we know gets school leaders talking. It was great to see them linking up over coffee to plan next steps in tackling some shared challenges.