A key issue around using evidence is how to apply existing research evidence to a specific policy issue or question. To address this, the conference included a session on ‘Using an evidence informed toolkit to raise literacy standards in schools’. Using literacy as an example, the session introduced a Toolkit for teachers and practitioners. This toolkit is based on the review, appraisal and summary of robust research evidence such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
European Commission policy on literacy
Raising literacy levels is a key strategic objective for the European Commission. Indeed, one of the benchmarks set for 2020 is to reduce the share of 15-year olds with insufficient abilities in reading, mathematics and science to less than 15%. Daphne De Wit from the European Commission introduced the problem of low literacy levels across Europe and spoke about one of the core approaches to addressing this issue that the European Commission has taken through its ‘High Level Group on Literacy’.
Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit
Robbie Coleman from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) introduced the Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning toolkit. The Toolkit is an independent and accessible summary of educational research which helps teachers and schools identify the most promising and cost-effective ways to support their pupils. It provides guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The Toolkit currently covers 30 topics, each summarised in terms of their average impact on attainment, the strength of the research evidence supporting them and their cost.
Discussions of relevance of the Toolkit to the policy
The aim of the session was not so much to assess the value of the toolkit or to evaluate European Commission or a country policy on this issue. Rather, the aim was to explore, discuss and share understanding about the process of using research knowledge to address policy and practice questions. Participants explored the relevance of the Toolkit across different European countries where levels of teacher autonomy differ. They also highlighted the importance of analysing and reflecting on the specific context that such a toolkit might be used for example, the nature of specific issues and problems in specific classrooms.
Feedback via Twitter
In parallel groups containing a mixture of countries and roles (i.e. researcher, policymaker, knowledge broker), participants reported key points from their discussion using the live conference twitter feed #EIPPEE2013. Participants highlighted many points including:
- The need to combine the knowledge from the Toolkit with teachers’ own experiential and practice-based knowledge.
- The importance for teachers to evaluate any change in practice/methods in their own classroom and not just assume that if an approach is supported by good research evidence it will work.
- The need for a toolkit to support implementation of approaches to ensure fidelity. There was a strong feeling that educational practice should learn from medical practice and adopt the ‘do no harm’ principle in education.