What do teachers in effective primary schools do? It’s a question teachers, teacher trainers, school leaders and policymakers alike would like a clear answer to. Now, research from the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project, can help to answer it.
EPPSE is the UK’s first major study to focus on the effectiveness of early-years education. Now, it has turned its attention to the primary phase. By combining quantitative data on school performance with information from a range of school and classroom observations, our research detected 11 teaching strategies that were common in classrooms in more effective schools.
These strategies were teased out by comparing what teachers did in more effective (excellent), moderately effective (good) and less effective (poor) schools. Our categories were determined by a variety of instruments selected for their high validity and reliability – a combination of English and maths national assessment residual scores, observations framed by the Instructional Environment Observation Scale and the Classroom Observation System, and researchers’ field notes.
What we saw, from observing lessons in 125 Year 5 classrooms, is brought to life in a new book from the EPPSE team, which brings together academics from UCL’s Institute of Education, Oxford University and Birkbeck College, University of London.
In summary, the 11 strategies we found in highly effective schools are as follows:
1. Organisation: well-organised classrooms where no time is wasted. Lessons were well paced and classroom routines understood by children who achieve high levels of self-reliance.
2. Classroom climate: positive teacher-child and child-child interactions, with lots of humour and affection, modelled by teachers with in-depth knowledge of, enthusiasm for, and confidence in the subjects they are teaching.
3. Clear objectives and shared goals: clear lesson objectives are shared with pupils alongside specific guidance on how to achieve them.
4. Behaviour management: (including careful management of sensitive interventions) focused on learning and often carried out through humour.
We observed observing lessons in 125 year 5 classrooms
5. Collaborative learning: while not commonly seen, achieved in many classrooms through deliberate groupings on specific projects and use of peer tutoring.
6. Personalised learning: appropriate and considered differentiated work and carefully constructed scaffolding for learning, supported by varied and rich resources.
7. Dialogic teaching and learning: open-ended questions to develop deeper understanding, rather than summative evaluation, to encourage analytical thought and sustained shared thinking in lively classrooms where children’s talk is encouraged and moderated.
8. Assessment for learning: summative assessment used sparingly, and formative assessment used regularly, both “for learning” and “as learning”, with lots of feedback to pupils on how to improve their performance.
9. The plenary: consistent use of end-of-lesson plenary activities to review and consolidate learning achieved better results in the core subjects.
10. Clear curriculum links: explicitly building on prior pupil knowledge across curriculum subjects (by, for example, applying maths to history), linking learning to real life situations outside of the classroom, and reinforcing knowledge by applying it to practical problem-solving situations.
11. Homework: setting homework as a requirement appears consistently less effective than setting more meaningful homework which is directly linked to what children are learning.
The book acknowledges that classrooms are dynamic environments and that studying classroom practice is complicated. Whilst the researchers detail what they saw in classrooms in effective schools, they acknowledge the limitations in trying to apply “what works” in one context to other schools in very different circumstances.
Nevertheless, this research gives practical insights into the pedagogical strategies used by teachers in effective primary schools. It hopes to stimulate teachers’ reflective practice and offers school leaders an opportunity to consider practices at a classroom level that might raise achievement for an entire school.
Teaching in Effective Primary Schools: Research into Pedagogy and Children’s Learning by Iram Siraj, Brenda Taggart,
Pam Sammons, Edward Melhuish, Kathy Sylva and Donna-Lynn Shepherd (2019) is published by UCL IOE Press.