Education Endowment Fund report published today

blog | 04 Nov 2016

This EEF evaluation is an important contribution to the knowledge base about what it takes to implement new practices in English secondary schools.

Our response

Today the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) have published a report setting out the findings of research into Project Based Learning undertaken by Innovation Unit with Durham University.

Project Based Learning is an approach that is seen to have great success elsewhere and Innovation Unit has been keen to bring that learning here. Networks such as High Tech High, Expeditionary Learning and New Tech Network from the US use predominantly project based learning and consistently perform better than other schools locally and nationally.

This EEF evaluation is an important contribution to the knowledge base about what it takes to implement new practices in English secondary schools.

Although we are disappointed that the findings are inconclusive, we are not surprised. The schools we worked with were disproportionately facing challenging circumstances, including changes of leadership and academy sponsor, which makes implementing whole school change of this kind difficult if not impossible. The high number of schools that dropped out of the research reinforces our understanding of the challenges of innovating in schools, and of evaluating innovative approaches.

The headline findings, though inconclusive overall, indicate that Project Based Learning should not be a recommended strategy for all schools to secure rapid improvements in student reading performance. There are interventions out there designed to do just that, and the EEF toolkit is a great source for finding those.

We are encouraged by the positive effects of Project Based Learning reported in the process evaluation, for example on attainment, confidence, and learning skills. The report reflects the universally positive comments made by Ofsted about the practice and its impact on students in schools we have worked with.

Our advice to schools interested in delivering Project Based Learning is that it can be a powerful learning strategy if it is part of a whole school change process and you are ready and able to make the necessary time and staff available. Schools such as Stanley Park High and School 21 are clear examples of the positive impact that Project Based Learning can have when embedded in a wider strategy for innovative teaching and learning.

This research shows that Project Based Learning is clearly not a quick fix to improving reading test performance, particularly for schools facing challenging circumstances.

Schools embarking on the introduction of new practices need both strong leadership and the capacity to manage significant change which, in the case of Project Based Learning, means altering the curriculum, pedagogy, timetables, staffing structures, professional development and leadership structures.

Introducing new practices that require significant changes beyond the level of the classroom is hard: it is never as simple as training a teacher to change how they teach.

Innovation Unit is committed to learning about what it takes to transform education such that young people learn in education systems and institutions where every individual is engaged and achieves success.

Change of this depth requires strong, bold and committed leadership. It requires school leaders prepared to rethink some of the conventional norms in school culture, who are prepared to reimagine the structures that staff, students and parents have grown used to, and are prepared to change the way the timetable and the school year has governed people’s lives for many generations.