Expert academic & co-author of “Toolkit” warns turning to evidence won’t always help disadvantaged pupils

“Nearly 1 in 4 teachers think pupil premium funds may not be targeted at poorest students,”  according to a new Sutton Trust poll released today. Since April 2011 schools have been receiving funding to help them raise the attainment of their poorest students. In September 2014 the total pupil premium funding will increase to £2.5bn. In primary schools this will mean £1,300 for each eligible pupil and £935 for secondary pupils. Here, Rob Coe, Professor in the School of Education at Durham University, who helped write the Sutton Trust EEF Toolkit, warns using evidence in schools is not the easy answer to helping disadvantaged pupils.

“The original hope behind the Toolkit was that if schools could easily reach information about the evidence for the likely impact of different spending choices, the education world would become evidence-based.

What is clear now is there is more to it than that. Some academics argue that evidence cannot tell you what will work for you. It can only tell you what has and hasn’t worked in the past elsewhere. At best, if certain conditions are met, it may give an indication of what’s likely to happen.

Toolkit interventions like ‘pupil feedback’ may be shown to work in research studies, but when schools say they are implementing a feedback intervention, it may or may not be the same as was examined in the study. Judging whether or not it is a faithful copy of something proven has turned out to be much harder than we first thought.

One thing we need to learn from this is that simplistic mapping of school spending choices against strategies supported by evidence may not help us much in predicting whether they will produce the benefits they appear to promise.

To get to that, we need wider and deeper understanding of the research, and for each school to evaluate their own methods to achieve their teaching and learning goals.”

Note to journalists: The academics referred to in the second paragraph are philosopher Nancy Cartwright & Jeremy Hardie (Cartwright and Hardie (2012) Evidence Based Policy: a practical guide to doing it better)


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