(Re-)Introducing the Teaching and Learning Toolkit

A decade of learning has led to a major update of the EEF toolkit, writes Jonathan Kay, and now it's ready for the next ten years

A decade of learning has led to a major update of the EEF toolkit, writes Jonathan Kay, and now it's ready for the next ten years

30 Sep 2021, 5:00

Over the past decade, our Teaching and Learning Toolkit has become one of the most popular educational resources used by teachers and school leaders. Practitioners across the globe have drawn on the Toolkit’s findings to complement their professional expertise and identify approaches that might help accelerate pupil progress.

It’s come a long way in those ten years. The EEF was founded in the same year its first iteration was published, and since then we have hosted the Toolkit on our website ever since, supporting its development from a printed evidence summary to an interactive evidence portal.

Its key function is to summarise existing reviews of research and communicate the average cost and impact of an array of teaching practices, as well as the security of the evidence base that underpins them. Up until now, it has provided an overview of the research and a great starting point for schools considering effective strategies for the use of pupil premium funding.

But research doesn’t stand still, and neither do the uses we want to put it to, so the toolkit has to keep moving with the times. To this end, we’ve been working with a team at Durham University for the past three years.

Research doesn’t stand still, and neither do the uses we want to put it to

Our aim was to gives schools more insights into the nuance in the evidence base behind the overall average impact. To achieve this, the team went through the 2,500 underlying studies that make up the Toolkit to extract information on the context, pedagogy, implementation, and methodology of each one.

The result is an updated toolkit that offers several new features:

  • a “behind the average” section that discusses the differential impacts of approaches for different ages or in different subjects
  • new “applications and approaches” in certain topics – for example, information on the different impact between oral and written feedback
  • a more detailed section on implementing different approaches
  • a new section focusing on closing the disadvantage gap

The new focus on individual studies has also led to several changes to the headlines within the Toolkit. For example, one of the topics that has seen the biggest change in the past ten years is the entry on teaching assistants (TAs).

The first iteration of the toolkit reported that, while TAs bring value to school communities in myriad other ways, their impact on pupil attainment was zero overall. However, the evidence base has developed in the intervening years and this measure has increased accordingly. At the time of the last update, the impact measure stood at +1 month. But in the newly re-launched toolkit, the impact has increased again to +4 months.

And the great thing about the new toolkit is that the added detail it provides allows us to note important variation within the entry. The positive impact comes from a large number of studies in which the TAs are trained to provide targeted interventions, rather than generic classroom support.

Another substantial change pertains to digital technology. The evolution of that field means it no longer makes sense to treat it as an independent strand. So, rather than discussing the average impact of providing children with iPads and of using of intelligent tutoring systems as though they are the same intervention, the updated toolkit describes the impact of using digital technology in specific areas of teaching practice. For example, homework has a higher impact on average when delivered using digital technology, while feedback has a lower impact than when delivered by a teacher.

Despite these changes, most of the impact measures remain consistent, and the key messages on how to use it also stay the same. Even with this additional detail, the Toolkit does not tell teachers what they should do and can’t predict the impact an approach will have in any given classroom. Instead, it hopes to make the lessons from the evidence accessible, bringing research out from behind paywalls for practitioners to combine with their professional expertise.

Its popularity shows teachers and school leaders have valued its help to maximise their effectiveness over the past decade, and it is ready to do it again for the next one.

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