This is a guest post by Shaun Allison, deputy headteacher at Durrington High School, one of 22 schools in the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Research Schools Network.
The Network is committed to spreading benefits to schools in their region by promoting evidence-informed approaches like those in the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit.
In my job as deputy headteacher of Durrington High School, I am concerned not only with the learning and wellbeing of our pupils, but also the wellbeing and effectiveness of our teachers. The two are not mutually exclusive: happy teachers with reasonable workloads have more time and energy to devote to high-quality teaching.
Manageable workloads also make the teaching profession more appealing, something that the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb MP, has acknowledged, and Education Secretary Damian Hinds pledged to tackle earlier this year.
With this in mind, at Durrington we have been asking what we can do to reduce workloads for our teachers. As a Research School, we’re committed to doing this through evidence-based approaches, like those evaluated by the EEF, which have been shown to be truly effective.
Using evidence to reduce teacher workloads
We have started by trying to understand what our teachers are spending their time doing – in and out of lessons – and asking:
- How much of this is based on robust evidence, and therefore likely to make a difference to student learning?
- Are there particular activities that use up teacher time, but are not supported by evidence and so could be reviewed?
When it comes to teacher workload, there are a number of practices with strong evidence of improving pupil outcomes at the same time as reducing the amount of work teachers are doing. In other words, robust evidence, well implemented, offers us the chance to create a win-win situation for teachers and students.
Reducing the marking workload
Research undertaken by the EEF and Oxford University in 2016 found that there is little evidence that written marking, including grading and correcting work, makes a significant difference to pupil attainment.
Bearing in mind the considerable effort that teachers invest in written marking, it prompted us to ask if there are less resource-intensive ways of giving feedback to pupils, which evidence suggests remains an effective way of boosting pupil attainment.
As a result, at Durrington High School we have adopted a ‘feedback policy’ rather than a ‘marking policy’, meaning we value all types of feedback – verbal, written, teacher, peer, and self-assessment.
This reflects recent changes to Ofsted’s school marking guidelines, which were influenced by EEF evidence – asking inspectors not to make judgments based on the frequency, type, or volume of marking and feedback.
Accordingly, we are not prescriptive about the feedback we expect teachers to give, and prefer that they focus instead on approaches which have convincingly demonstrated that they are effective.
Effective teaching approaches
As we understand more about how students learn, we should become more confident about rejecting gimmicky and labour-intensive teaching strategies, and focus on effective and time-efficient approaches.
These range from using proven strategies from cognitive science – such as simply asking 3 questions about the last lesson, 3 from the last month and 3 from last term – to ‘elaborative interrogation’, which involves asking a question, getting the response from a student, and then asking a follow-up question to make them explain their initial response and link it to other ideas.
Approaches like these have been tried and tested through robust scientific trials, giving us the confidence to roll them out across the school.
From evidence to practice
While the evidence around effective teaching approaches is often quite clear, it is not always easy to turn it into good practice. At Durrington, we’ve encouraged teachers to make use of evidence by adopting 6 simple, evidence-informed pedagogical principles.
Our teachers are simply asked to implement these principles – essentially a set of evidence-based ‘active ingredients’ of effective teaching – in their classroom, in a way that suits them as a teacher, their subject, and the students they are teaching.
Admittedly, simply telling staff this is not enough. They then need to be given the time to discuss and reflect on what use of the principles looks like in their subject.
Ultimately, though, I believe that this is a key step on the journey towards a more evidence-informed approach to teaching, allowing school staff to focus on their core purpose – thinking about, planning, and delivering great lessons, and helping their pupils to reap the benefits.
If you would like support with implementing any of the ideas in this article in your school, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.