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Durham University

Durham University News


Helping busy head teachers

(14 December 2016)

Two-thirds of head teachers in England now use the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, developed by Durham University and the Sutton Trust, to inform how best to spend their pupil premium funding, according to a recent survey.

Professor Steve Higgins from the School of Education led the team of researchers who produced the toolkit, which has helped ensure that billions of pounds worth of education spending is used effectively to support disadvantaged pupils.

Since its introduction in England in 2011, the Toolkit has been adopted by authorities in Australia, recommended by Learning Wales, and is now in the process of being translated into Spanish and Portuguese for schools in Latin America. There is now also a version aimed at Early Years education, such as nurseries.

Toolkit development

The Toolkits are free online summaries of research to guide teaching professionals on how to use their resources to improve learning outcomes for disadvantaged children. Together, they cover 46 topics, each summarised in terms of the average impact on learning, the strength of the supporting evidence, and the cost.

Originally developed by the Sutton Trust and Durham’s research team in 2011, the Teaching and Learning Toolkit has been adopted by the Education Endowment Foundation, endorsed by the National Association of Head Teachers and OFSTED, and has directly influenced Government spending and policy. A survey by the National Audit Office, taken earlier this year, showed that two-thirds of head teachers in England are now using the Teaching and Learning Toolkit to guide their decisions.

It’s not what you spend, but the way you spend it

Professor Steve Higgins said: “Our goal was to produce a toolkit in an easily accessible format, designed specifically with busy head teachers in mind, which provided clear information about what has worked – and, just as importantly, what has not – in England and around the world.

“We analysed a wide range of global research on classroom techniques and interventions, and assessed them for their level of improvement and the cost of implementation.

“When it was first launched, the toolkit caused quite a stir as it demonstrated that there isn’t a simple link between more spending and better learning.

“It’s not what you spend, but the way you spend it.”

As an example, it is often thought that simply reducing the number of children in a class can help the progress of the poorest pupils. However, research, as shown in the Toolkit, shows this is unlikely to be cost-effective, something teachers can consider when deciding on what approach to adopt. On the other hand, research shows that “effective feedback” can typically improve learning by an extra nine months in a school year, and approaches like mastery learning or effective peer collaboration can boost reading and maths levels.

A model for ‘What Works’

Pupil premium funding is a government funding stream which gives each school an extra £1,000 to improve the attainment of each disadvantaged child. 

In 2013 the Toolkit was identified as a model for the ‘What Works’ network for social policy, which has informed over £200 billion of Government spending and was cited as an exemplary model of the presentation of clear, high-quality evidence.

In addition to being endorsed by English Local Authorities which link the Toolkit through their websites and online support for schools, it is also recommended on the Welsh Government’s ‘Learning Wales’ website for effective allocation of funds from the Pupil Deprivation Grant.

International reach

The Toolkit uses international research and can therefore be applied by teachers regardless of where they are in the world. In Australia, Evidence for Learning (E4L), which works nationally across all sectors of the Australian education system, has hosted the toolkit since 2015. 

Earlier this year Professor Higgins and his team were invited by the Education Endowment Foundation to develop and update the toolkit for use by teachers in Latin American. They are currently developing partnerships with Chilean educational organisations and a Spanish and Portuguese language version of the toolkit is in progress.

Success based on solid evidence

Professor Higgins believes that the success of the Toolkit is due to its reliance on solid evidence presented in a clear and accessible style. He said: “The Toolkit is a constantly evolving piece of work as it is continuously updated with the latest education evidence.

“The key driver for our work has always remained the same. By providing evidence in an accessible format, we hope it will continue to inform schools’ decisions and ultimately the pupils will benefit.”

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