The NFER Education Trials Unit

Current trials

Learning of Counter-
intuitive Concepts

 

When learning new concepts in science and maths, pupils must be able to inhibit prior contradictory knowledge and misconceptions to acquire new knowledge successfully. This skill of “interference control” varies between pupils, with variation evident from an early age. Disadvantaged pupils seem to have weaker control skills than their wealthier peers.

The Centre for Educational Neuroscience, a collaboration between Birkbeck College, Institute of Education and University College London, will develop a computer game to train pupils’ ability to control such interferences. Following its development, pupils in up to 100 primary schools will undertake 15 minutes of exercises 3 times a week, at the beginning of maths or science lessons. In the game, a child-friendly character will try to solve problems with help from the player, providing prompts and suggestions. The aim is to train the pupil to inhibit their initial response, and instead give a more delayed and reflective answer. Exercises will relate to specific maths and science content. For example, exercises will help pupils to realise that mice and elephants have the same-sized cells, or that the world is round despite seeming flat. Teachers (or TAs) will receive a half-day training workshop to understand the context and background, but the hypothesis is that interference control improves best with practice, not through a change in pedagogy.

GraphoGame Rime

 

GraphoGame Rime is a computer game developed to teach pupils to read by developing their phonological awareness. Originally developed by a Finnish University, the GraphoGame group of programmes employ algorithms that analyse a child’s performance and constantly adjust the difficulty of the content so that the challenge matches the learner’s ability. The English version of GraphoGame Rime was developed by the lead grantee, the educational neuroscientist Usha Goswami, building on research into “rhyme analogy”. This is the notion that pupils learning to read in English learn not just through phonemes (“a”,”t”) but also rimes (“at”). Pupils sit at a computer, laptop or tablet with headphones on, and play the game for around 10 minutes a day. Instruction is focused on helping children to match auditory patterns with groups of letters (e.g. rimes) displayed on the screen. The game first focuses on rimes that are most common in English. But each child has a personal log-in, and the game offers increasingly challenging levels as they improve their skills.

More on the trial

Code Clubs

 

Code Club is a nationwide network of after-school clubs for children aged 9-11. Code Club nationally support volunteer programmers to work with schools in running clubs that teach children to code. The clubs are free for children to attend and for schools to host. Code Club produce materials and projects that support the teaching of Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python, and volunteers take these materials into their local club. The clubs usually run for one hour a week after school during term time and have around 15 children. A teacher is always there to help run the club, but sometimes a club is run by a teacher without a volunteer. The children learn to programme by making games, animations, websites and applications with expert guidance from the volunteer. Children gain skills that will be useful to them in their future hobbies, schooling and career. It is hoped that children are inspired to pursue programming and other digital making activities in the future.

More on the trial

Philosophy for Children

 

"Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to teaching in which pupils participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues. Dialogues are prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video) and are based around a concept such as 'truth', 'fairness' or 'bullying'. The aim of P4C is to help children become more willing and able to ask questions, construct arguments, and engage in reasoned discussion. P4C was originally developed in the 1970s by Professor Matthew Lipman. The Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE), a non-profit society, promotes the use of P4C in UK schools. SAPERE provide teaching resources, teacher training courses and an accredited programme. P4C is practised across all education age ranges and is usually delivered through weekly 45 minute sessions. Our research is evaluating P4C within the primary sector (KS2).

 

Catch Up Literacy (Effectiveness Trial)

 

Catch Up Literacy is a structured one-to-one literacy intervention for pupils between the ages of 6 and 14 who are struggling to learn to read. It teaches pupils to blend phonemes (combine letter sounds into words), segment phonemes (separate words into letter sounds), and memorise particular words so they can be understood without needing to use phonics strategies to decode them. The intervention matches books to pupils according to their reading ability, which pupils then read to a teaching assistant (TA), so is also intended to support the development of their comprehension skills.

Teach First Primary pilot RCT

 

Teach First seeks to reduce educational inequality by working in partnership with schools and others (e.g. universities, charities and businesses) to train and support outstanding graduates and experienced professionals to become highly successful classroom leaders in some of the country’s most deprived areas. Teach First participants attend a six-week summer institute before teaching in a school for two years. Participants complete the Leadership Development Programme culminating in a Postgraduate Diploma in Education and Qualified Teacher Status, some participating also complete a Master’s degree.

Families and Schools Together

 

Families and Schools Together (FAST) is a parental engagement programme that has been run in a number of countries over the last 25 years. It aims to support parenting, improve children’s behaviour, and enhance links between families, school and the community. Families attend eight weekly 2.5-hour group sessions, delivered by local partners who are trained by accredited FAST trainers. Save the Children UK (SCUK) delivers FAST in UK primary schools.

Previous evaluations show that FAST supports children’s behaviour and parents’ confidence. This will be the first trial in the UK that evaluates FAST for its impact on children’s attainment.

More on the trial

University of Bristol Teacher Peer Observation

 

This research is evaluating the impact of a teacher peer observation intervention, which uses bespoke software, being delivered by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), University of Bristol in maths and English departments in secondary schools for year 10 and 11. Teachers in intervention schools are going to be randomly allocated to either be observers, observees or both. Finally, maths and English departments will be randomly allocated to either a ‘high’ or ‘low’ dose of the observation.

Evaluation of best practice in grouping students in secondary schools for the Education Endowment Foundation

 

Ability grouping in schools is widely acknowledged to be associated with negative outcomes for students overall. However, the picture is complex. Whilst the overall net effect may be negative or nil, the evidence shows that ability grouping can be beneficial for high ability pupils and detrimental for low ability pupils; or as Slavin (1990) puts it, high achievers gain from ability grouping at the expense of low achievers. This trial consists of 120 schools (60 intervention schools; 60 control schools).

There will also be a further mini pilot RCT of mixed ability teaching in secondary schools which could lead to a main trial in the future.

The Literacy Octopus for the Education Endowment Foundation

 

The Literacy Octopus trial is the largest that NFER are running at the moment and is due to start recruiting in September 2014. The trial is made up of two parts and examines ways of improving Key Stage 2 literacy using different approaches to disseminating research evidence to teachers. The first ‘active’ trial will involve examining four organisations’ methods of providing evidence based materials which will be compared to a large control group. There will also be a second ‘passive’ trial which will involve primary schools being sent evidence based materials.

 

Completed Trials

EEF Transitions for the Education Endowment Foundation

 

This research evaluates five interventions designed to assist pupils entering Year 7 with below average reading/literacy abilities. Each is being evaluated using a pupil randomised trial in conjunction with a process evaluation to help discern how viable the programmes are for wider roll-out. The reports for Rhythm for Reading, Chatterbooks, Vocabulary Enrichment Intervention Programme, Talk for Literacy and the Perry Beeches Coaching Programme have now all been published.

Evaluation of the Improving Numeracy and Literacy Programme for the Education Endowment Foundation

 

This project evaluated the impact on student outcomes of two initiatives: ‘Mathematics and Reasoning’ and ‘Literacy and Morphemes’. The former is a numeracy intervention that develops children’s understanding of the logical principles underlying mathematics. The latter is a literacy intervention that sees children being taught about morphemic spelling rules; this aids children’s spelling and also their reading comprehension. Each of the two programmes required teachers to be trained for one day in the approaches prior to the intervention starting, and last for 12 weeks. The lessons were all delivered through electronic resources, including PowerPoints and online games that the children accessed at school and at home. Please see the full report here.

Evaluation of the Catch Up® numeracy intervention

 

A one-to-one intervention for primary school children who are struggling with numeracy. It consists of two 15-minute lessons per week for up to 30 weeks, usually delivered by teaching assistants. The intervention is aimed at primary aged children struggling with mathematics. The project ran from September 2012 to July 2013 and was delivered by Catch Up®, and Dr Ann Dowker of Oxford University. NFER were responsible for a number of trial activities including the production of the final report.

Within this trial, one-to-one support by teaching assistants led to a significant gain in numeracy skills. Please see the full report here.

Evaluation of the Catch Up® literacy intervention

 

This project will evaluate the impact of the Catch Up® Literacy intervention for children entering Year 7 with below average literacy abilities. The impact evaluation is in the form of a pupil-randomised controlled trial (RCT), where pupils have been randomly allocated to either an intervention group (receiving Catch Up® support from teaching assistants, TAs) or a control group (‘business as usual’). The analysis will also investigate whether the impact of the intervention varies according to pupil IQ, reading ability or attitude. A process evaluation will be conducted alongside the impact evaluation to determine the scalability of the programme.

Trial evaluation of In:tuition programme for Alcohol Research UK

 

This research will examine the impact of the In:tuition programme of alcohol education and life skills on primary and secondary students’ attitudes, knowledge and drinking behaviour (secondary students only). The research will track students in primary school from the end of year 5 to the end of year 6, and students in secondary school from the end of year 7 to the end of year 8. .