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EEF Embedding Formative Assessment project – Are we nearly there yet?

Embedding Formative Assessment SSAT and Education Endowment Foundation

The Embedding Formative Assessment Project, launched with Dylan Wiliam in September 2015 and funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), is testing the Embedding Formative Assessment pack he wrote with Siobhan Leahy. The pack includes materials schools need to deliver workshops over 18 months, and the development of Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs). As well as providing many techniques for implementing formative assessment, films of classroom practice, and interviews with students and teachers, this pack probes into the issues surrounding teacher learning communities.

No, is the short answer. But there is good reason for optimism: SSAT Senior Education Lead Corinne Settle outlines the EEF Embedding Formative Assessment project’s aims, methods and developing outcomes.

Over 300 secondary schools initially expressed an interest in the EFA project and after a rigorous selection and interview process, 140 schools were shortlisted to participate, 70 of which are in the ‘control’ group.

External evaluation, by a team from the National Institute for Social and Economic Research, is via an effectiveness trial which aims to test whether an intervention can work at scale in a large number of schools. The trial includes a wide range of schools from across England, with differing attainment and socio-economic intakes.

The 70 schools in the experimental group have received the pack, attended the launch event and are being supported by a lead practitioner and an online forum. The lead practitioners work with their school’s EFA lead through visits and professional conversations at key points in the project.

Through the online forum, schools have access to additional resources shared by Dylan and Siobhan, as well as a forum for discussions and a place to blog about their learning journey.

Positive feedback

Feedback so far is very enthusiastic: ‘We’ve seen plenty of examples of techniques being tried, tested, refined and observed. No hands up, entrance and exit passes, learning logs and triangles of learning have been popular, along with no comments marking and peer assessment.

‘Teachers’ feedback on their progress has been insightful, and it’s really rewarding to see how much the students have risen to the challenge of taking more responsibility for their own learning.’ – Jenny Hopper, Associate Assistant Head, Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School

‘The fourth meetings were like putting on an old jumper that you know will be comfortable to wear and will do the job. That is not to say that they were unremarkable. The discussions about marking were, dare I say it, exciting. One member of staff entered the meeting effusive in her descriptions of her experiments in highlighting students’ work.

‘This had enabled her to categorise marking and, in turn, her students could determine the areas on which they needed to focus. The member of staff’s enthusiasm was infectious and other staff have shared this elsewhere as an idea to develop for good practice.’ – Greg Gilbey, CPD Co-ordinator, Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School

Enthusiastic? So am I.

I’m trying to find the words to describe how lucky I feel to be involved in this project. More importantly, how truly privileged I am to be part of this profession. I meet and talk with the most remarkable teachers. I came across an ex-student of mine just last week, now 23 (eek, when did that happen!) and he immediately began to recall the best moments he had in my lessons. We make a difference, we really do make lives.

We know that effective formative assessment – lesson by lesson, minute-by-minute – has a positive impact on our students’ learning. The difficulty lies in getting teachers to adopt the practice consistently and successfully. While as teachers we are often knowledge rich, we still need to ask the questions:

  • Are we actually doing it?
  • If not, should we be doing it?

The purpose of the EFA pack is to support teachers in acting their way into a new way of thinking, rather than thinking their way into a new way of acting. Changing teacher practice is complex; the training materials are designed to help schools address this challenge.

Being teachers, we learn in everything we do. Already, we’re seeing a wide range of approaches that our 70 schools are taking to maintain momentum and focus on improving formative assessment in the classroom, where it matters.

Learning so far

  • Make this the one thing that you (as a school) do really well.
  • Schedule a full two years of TLC meetings into your calendar; plan your use of the time.
  • Give this project high profile across the school and make everyone aware of its place in educational research.
  • Make it explicit that staff can choose which strategy and technique they wish to work on.
  • Be clear as to the positive impact of the project on workload and student gain. Plan time for the TLC leaders to meet to prepare; provide meeting agendas in advance.

What benefits are schools seeing, six months into their journey?

  • A real sense of community. We are in it together – teachers are encouraged to take risks in their classrooms and share their successes through peer observations.
  • Shared responsibility for development across the school – we rather than I.
  • Collaboration of staff across whole school – teachers sharing their action plans and resources with others through Google docs, Yammer etc.
  • Teachers talking with a focus on teaching and learning – this is initiated in the meetings but continues in the corridors and is kept high on the agenda as a result of the staff briefings, noticeboards, newsletters and celebrations.
  • Some schools are reporting seeing strong positive shifts in whole-school data, which they attribute to the project.
  • A developing culture of open-door ethos through peer observations that are the choice of the teacher being observed.
  • Students noticing teachers spending more time in other teachers’ lessons and engaging more with techniques trialled and refined.

So, are we nearly there yet? No. But as with life, this is about the journey, not the destination.

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