EEF: Debate-style teaching boosts pupils’ progress

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has released the findings from four programmes aimed at improving pupil grades – with only one resulting in positive progress.

A project which encourages pupils to debate and discuss in class is the only trial found to have any impact on pupil learning out of the four.

One of the other schemes, Achieve Together, was backed by high-profile national training schemes including Teach First, but was found to have no effect on GCSE results.

However, academics have questioned the reliability of the one successful project, called Dialogic Teaching, over its randomising methodology.


Debate-style teaching improves pupils in key subjects

This pilot saw teachers delivering lessons which help pupils’s thinking abilities not through rote or reciting, but through a structured, questioning discussion within the classroom.

Robin Alexander, a professor of education with Cambridge University who devised the Dialogic Teaching method throughout the 2000s, has said in previous publications that the “dominant pattern” of communication in schools usually involves teachers talking most with pupils contributing only occasionally – often around a “guess what the teacher is thinking” basis.

In this trial across 76 schools, teachers were trained to lead the lesson with “purposeful questioning” of their pupils, and for pupils to question each other in an attempt to think critically about the material in the lesson.

Pupils in year 5 made an extra two months’ progress in English and science, including free school meal pupils, Sheffield Hallam University evaluators found.

Meanwhile, maths results were boosted by one month overall, and even more for free school meal pupils, who made an extra two months’ progress.

Some 76 schools were involved in the trial, which was developed by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and University of York.

But Stephen Gorard, professor of education at Durham University, who has previously led research into the similar Philosophy 4 Children project, said the loss of the data from seven schools in the treatment group, which amounts to more than 21 per cent data in the trial missing, means “there is huge potential for bias in this trial.”

He added: “I think encouraging primary pupils to think more in this way is a good and promising idea – just not supported by these results.”

It comes after an evaluation of the other “discursive” model of teaching, Philosophy 4 Children, came under fire for its methodology this time last year.

The EEF, which gave a grant of £499,485 to the project, will now make the approach available to more schools.

It is expected to cost £52 per pupil per year, where delivered to two classes of 30 pupils, according to the EEF.


Major training charities’ scheme fails to boost pupil attainment

A programme which joined together three major training charities to deliver leadership development for schools in poorer areas has been found to have no impact at all.

Achieve Together was backed by graduate trainee programme Teach First, as well as Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders, both of which have now merged under the new name Ambition School Leadership. It will not be trialled more widely by the EEF.

An evaluation by the Institute for Fiscal Studies carried out across 14 schools on 2,379 pupils, found “no evidence that pupils’ GCSE outcomes improved” in participating schools compared to a control group of schools.

Some teachers found the project needed a lot of resources, and said they didn’t know how to deliver the aims of the programme.

Other teachers said it helped them reflect on their own practice.

But the initiative, which was handed a £437,831 grant, will not be trialled further by EEF, although the organisation might consider trialling the impact of the programmes in other ways aside from on GCSE results in the future.


Collaboration project and literacy programme don’t make sufficient impact

A project called Challenging the Gap, which helped schools to collaborate with each other to help poorer pupils achieve as highly as their more affluent peers, had no impact.

There was no evidence the project, which many teachers said they enjoyed, helped primary or secondary school pupils. Free school meal pupils appeared to benefit more, but the pool of these pupils was too small to be sure.

Another programme called Success for All was also found not to have sufficient impact on the literacy of its pupils as it had intended.

Year 1 pupils made one months’ additional progress after two years with the project, compared to pupils in other schools. Again, free school meal pupils seemed to benefit more, but the pool was too small to be sure, evaluators found.

The EEF has no plans to continue either trial.

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