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Research School Network: Back to school! How evidence can support decision making in the tricky year ahead

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Back to school!

How evidence can support decision making in the tricky year ahead

by Blackpool Research School
on the

Schools are anything but back to normal’, but the relaxing of restrictions and the success of the vaccination programme make us all hopeful for an academic year approaching normality beginning in September.

When considering our plans for the year ahead, it is useful to consider the evidence base to ensure we are able to provide sustained support for pupils along with addressing future school improvement priorities.

With this in mind, EEF have published a new School Improvement Planning website, designed around the Tiered Model already used as part of the Pupil Premium guide in 2019. This focuses attention in three areas, which are explored in further detail below.

High-quality teaching


The best available evidence indicates that great teaching is the most important lever schools have to improve pupil attainment. By considering how pupils learn, how they develop knowledge and skills, and how they can be supported to lay firm foundations for later learning, schools can help to maximise this learning. This is likely to involve considering common misconceptions, cognitive and metacognitive strategies, explicit instruction, and use of scaffolding where appropriate.

Diagnostic assessment – rather than the use of past papers which are usually designed for purely summative purposes – will also be critical, and will help identify those pupils in need of extra support. Schools might also consider adaptations to the curriculum, having shifted some topics to avoid teaching them remotely, or wishing to revisit some topics where misconceptions are most likely to have developed.

Targeted academic support


Some pupils may require additional support alongside high-quality teaching in order to make good progress. We know from existing evidence that tutoring – whether one-to-one or in small groups – is one high-impact way to achieve this.

With this in mind, the National Tutoring Programme continues to offer support for tutoring through tuition partners and academic mentors, and is offered at a considerable discount compared to pre-pandemic costs. But those schools looking to offer a more bespoke in-house offer might consider using the EEF’s list of Promising Projects – interventions which have been through a rigorous EEF trial and which have shown promise in real schools with real pupils and real teachers – often at considerable scale.

Wider strategies


Support for transition between key stages is crucial this year – remembering that the children starting Year 7 in September have not had a year without disruption since Year 4. This new transition tool offers key questions for schools at this important time.

In addition, considering social and emotional skills, well-being, and mental health – and the critical role of parents in supporting learning are likely to be beneficial.

Simon Cox - Director of Blackpool Research School

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