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Research School Network: Three key messages from the ​‘Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’ guidance report The latest EEF guidance report is another valuable addition to the literature

Three key messages from the ​‘Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’ guidance report

The latest EEF guidance report is another valuable addition to the literature

The EEF have just published their Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’ guidance report. Like the other guidance reports, it distills the evidence into a series of useful recommendations. We love how the guidance explores the nuance of the evidence to provide you with everything you need to make the best decisions for your context.

Here are three key ideas that we think are worth highlighting.

1: Principles first

Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, says in the introduction that we have focussed as a profession too much on the feedback methods see-saw’, the back-and-forth between whether written or verbal feedback is best. She goes on to say: This guidance report aims to move beyond this see-saw’ and focus on what really matters: the principles of good feedback rather than the written or verbal methods of feedback delivery.‘

And the first three recommendations act as guiding principles that underpin every message in the guidance:

  1. lay the foundations for effective feedback;
  2. deliver appropriately timed feedback, that focuses on moving learning forward;
  3. plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback

Each of these sections explores the evidence further, and wrestles with the challenges of such a wide body of evidence. Sections start with a vignette of classroom practice, and pose questions that will be familiar to us all. While you won’t always get a definitive answer, the guidance presents what we can be confident in assuming, and areas where we might be more cautious.

2: There is a lack of evidence of specific strategies

We suspect that the words may’ and might’ appear almost as frequently as feedback’ in the guidance. We see questions like the following:

  • What might appropriately timed feedback look like in the classroom?
  • What might the content of effective feedback look like in the classroom?

In his guest foreword, Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, Institute of Education, UCL, acknowledges the challenges of the evidence.

The existing research does not tell teachers how to guarantee the feedback they give their students will be effective, and probably never will; teaching is just far too complex for this ever to be likely. What this report does do, in my view, is to provide the best advice that we currently have on how teachers can spend their time in the ways that are most likely to benefit students.

Shute (2007) calls this the tangle of evidence’, and the guidance report is good at untangling the evidence, while still emphasising that many practical recommendations can only be inferred from the evidence base. And while there are no quick fix strategies that the guidance report say will definitely work, reading it and exploring the tangle’ certainly puts teachers and school leaders in a better position to understand the mechanisms that might make a particular approach effective. And there are a range of practical suggestions explored nonetheless, provided by the expert panel, and aligned with the evidence – but always with a might’ or a may’!

3: We always come back to implementation

Recommendation 6 of the guidance is to Design a school feedback policy that prioritises and exemplifies the principles of effective feedback’, and it builds on themes that you will find in the Implementation guidance report. There’s also a really useful implementation pack’ for senior leaders which accompanies the recommendation. 

In keeping with the messages from the report, there is no specific feedback policy recommended, but suggestions for how to approach things are given, such as the Alphabet Model’, which runs from A‑F. See A‑C in the image below, and read the rest in the guidance:


And there are useful questions as part of the supplementary pack that can steer your discussions:

  • Are you clear on the purpose of your feedback policy and is it designed with pupil learning in mind, rather than teacher observation or parental expectations?
  • Is your feedback policy designed to promote and exemplify the principles of effective feedback? (see recommendations 1 – 3)
  • Is your policy overly specific about features such as the frequency or method of feedback?
  • Have you considered the opportunity cost’ of your feedback policy? Will teachers spend excessive time delivering feedback (which may prevent them from improving other areas of practice, such as planning)?
  • How can you effectively manage the expectations of pupils and parents in terms of the frequency and quantity of written marking?
  • Are teachers clear on the principles of effective feedback, and on how your policy aligns with these? Will training be needed to support this understanding?

As ever, the guidance report is not an end in itself, but is another welcome addition to the resources that can help school leaders in making some of these challenging decisions in schools.

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