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“It’s only plus two months – what’s the fuss?”

The EFA Ambassador Network will spread the message that it’s not just the extent of progress or even evidence strength that matters in evaluating formative assessment, but also the timing and the practicalities of implementation. Corinne Settle, SSAT senior education lead, reports.

Just last week in a call with a headteacher about Embedding Formative Assessment (EFA), the headteacher used the phrase: “But it’s only plus 2 months.”

As it says on the tin, the EFA programme is about schools being able to embed effective formative assessment techniques into a teacher’s practice, leading to improved teacher effectiveness in implementing the curriculum. This involves a sustained programme supporting teachers to change habits and become even better at eliciting, interpreting and responding to evidence in the classroom.

The EEF Toolkit makes useful reading, offering the ‘best bets’ of what has worked most effectively. However, I like many others start with the filter tool for additional months’ progress and look at the top scorers. At the top of the toolkit are:

What isn’t explicit in the toolkit if you are doing a whizz-stop busy teacher tour is the quality and source of the evidence. If you look at feedback and metacognition, as shown, they do have the potential fantastic gains of +7 and +8 months. This seems like a great place to start. However, if you dig deeper, you discover that although there is much potential, this research initially gives you the what, not the how to achieve it. These outcomes are mostly based on meta-analyses of research and not the reality of implementing this in our schools.

The EEF’s recent guidance reports on metacognition and self-regulated learning are starting to bridge this gap. If you have time to visit the completed projects section of the EEF website, you will see many of those at the top of list are ‘under best possible conditions’ rather than ‘under everyday conditions’.

In contrast to this, Embedding Formative Assessment (EFA) is the first large-scale EEF trial to have a positive impact on GCSE outcomes in less than two years.  In a recent SSAT Journal article, Dylan Wiliam suggested, based on estimated rates of learning (Bloom et al, 2008), that students in schools given the EFA materials made standard which suggests that the rate of learning in the EFA schools was 25% greater.

Over the last 20 years, Professor Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy have concentrated a relentless focus on the how. When we at SSAT started on the EEF trial’s two-year programme, the work was not only about the what, formative assessment, but also the how of effecting teacher change. The +2 months outcome is not  meta-analyses or paper-based review. The programme involved 140 schools across England that came from every context, from high-performing schools in prosperous areas to high-deprivation rural and coastal schools.

The project began with 70 schools in the experimental group and the same number in the control group. The experimental groups were provided a day training with Dylan and the support of an EFA mentor over the two years. The role of the mentor was to support schools to ensure the programme was implemented as intended. There were challenges for schools and not all of them completed the programme, for various reasons, e.g. change in leadership. The trial was undertaken under ‘the intention to treat’, which meant that these schools were still included in the final data, accurately portraying the reality of school life. In spite of this, we still found a significant result: schools that did the programme, compared with schools that didn’t, on average gained two additional months’ progress on attainment 8. This is a shift in GCSE results that has been known to be difficult to achieve.

It’s also vital to look at the security rating. At 5 padlocks, EFA shows the highest security rating, with very extensive evidence.

If we finally look at the cost, the project has the lowest rating – very low cost, which includes the resources and two-year support programme. So, why wouldn’t you?

Implementing it

Over the last four years, we have learnt so much about the effective implementation of the programme. We have listened, collaborated, gathered resources and developed a new programme to provide deep leadership support to schools. As we support schools, leaders and teachers to become even better, we are too.

Our vision is to reach and support as many schools as possible with the EFA programme, to help school leaders and teachers to become even better, And to have significant impact on the outcomes of students, ensuring we can meet the needs of all learners more fully than before.

We are delighted now to launch the EFA Ambassador Network. This is a growing network of schools across England that have completed the programme and are willing to collaborate, celebrate and share their expertise in the EFA programme. We would like to congratulate the first schools to join the network:

  • Ricards Lodge Girls School
  • Kingsford Community School
  • Finham Park
  • Helsby High School

Following the success of the EEF trial, we are also working to upscale the programme to be able to support more schools across the UK. If you are a school leader who has completed this programme, we would love to hear from you.

Want to see how the EFA programme has been helping schools? Read about one school’s experience here.

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