Putting high-quality teaching at the heart of a pupil premium strategy
A focus on high-quality teaching as part of a pupil premium strategy, or any strategy, almost feels too obvious, doesn’t it? Of course, high-quality teaching is important in a school, it goes without saying! Perhaps it goes without saying to the extent that it isn’t said enough. Is it so obvious it can slip under the radar when it comes to strategies and improvement plans?
Recently, more so than ever, it seems all too easy for a focus on high-quality teaching to have taken a back seat. Almost two years of dealing with COVID – remote teaching, testing, bubbles, PPE, isolation, staff shortages – has, understandably, dragged people left, right, down, backwards, and round and round. COVID has derailed the plans of many schools throughout the land. Is it time to refocus on what matters most?
The quality of teaching matters more to student achievement and equity than anything else in our control
Raising the quality of teaching within schools is likely the single most effective method we have for improving student attainment and equity. While many personal, family, and cultural factors contribute to students’ outcomes, a large body of research indicates that what teachers do, know and believe matters more to the achievement of students than anything else we can influence.
Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling, so high-quality teaching should be at the heart of a pupil premium strategy (or any other strategy for that matter) for the benefit of all pupils.
‘Ensuring an effective teacher is in front of every class, and that every teacher is supported to keep improving, is the key ingredient of a successful school and should rightly be a top priority for pupil premium spending.’ Education Endowment Foundation Pupil Premium guidance report.
Evidence, evidence, evidence
As reported in School Week, Schools in England now face checks to demonstrate how their pupil premium spending is “backed by evidence” under new requirements announced by the Department for Education (DfE). Fear not, evidence to support your decision to focus on high-quality teaching is not hard to come by!
The impact of effective teachers is quite staggering. Dylan Wiliam (2020) has explored the research evidence on the correlation between teacher quality and student achievement and made the following calculation; If a group of 50 teachers all taught the same subject, students taught by the most effective teacher in that group of 50 would learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher would learn in a year. Students taught by the least effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers will take two years to achieve the same learning.
There is abundant evidence that, of all the things schools can influence, “what teachers know, do, and care about” (Hattie 2003) has the biggest impact on student outcomes, by some margin (e.g. Chetty et al. 2014; Rivkin et al. 2005; Rockoff 2004), and that high-quality teaching narrows the attainment gap (Slater et al. 2012).
We also know that ‘bolt-on’ interventions, while they can be very effective as a short-term boost for targeted groups, generally have effects that are small on average (Lortie-Forgues and Inglis 2019), especially when scaled up (Cheung and Slavin 2016), are unpredictably variable across contexts (Bryan et al 2021), depend on how they are implemented (Sharples et al. 2019 ), and fade fairly quickly if not supported by routine high-quality teaching (Jacob et al. 2010). High-quality teaching is not a fixed or given quantity: it varies widely across classrooms and can be learnt, supported and nurtured (Coe et al. 2020).
The evidence is there to support a pupil premium strategy focused on raising the quality of teaching (references below).
The elements of effective teaching practice that are ‘best bets’ for focusing your efforts is neatly summarised in the Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review and backed by evidence. The Model for Great Teaching within the review summarises these practices on one A4 page and helps structure and guide conversations and decisions around high-quality teaching. This framework (others are available) enables a common language and forms the basis of a curriculum for teacher development.
A framework such as the Model for Great Teaching is for leaders as well as teachers. In his blog, Nick hart argues that leaders need a well connected mental model of great teaching and should be able to articulate a coherent response to the question: what makes great teaching? Knowing what makes great teaching is a starting point but it is the strategic direction of the school, the vision for great teaching, that must set the tone for influencing teachers’ behaviours.
The marginal gains of effectiveness from every teacher in every classroom is what matters most to improving outcomes. It requires a focused, purposeful, sustained, and coherent effort over time. But the evidence is there to justify a focus on teaching quality as part of a pupil premium strategy.
For professional development courses and feedback tools aligned to the Model for Great Teaching, check out the Great Teaching Toolkit.
Bryan, C.J., Tipton, E. & Yeager, D.S. (2021) Behavioural science is unlikely to change the world without a heterogeneity revolution. Nature Human Behaviour 5, 980–989.
Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., & Rockoff, J. E. (2014). Measuring the impacts of teachers II: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood. American Economic Review, 104(9), 2633–2679.
Cheung, A. C., & Slavin, R. E. (2016). How methodological features affect effect sizes in education. Educational Researcher, 45(5), 283-292.
Coe, R., Rauch, C.J., Kime, S. and Singleton, D. (2020) Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review. Evidence Based Education, in partnership with Cambridge Assessment International Education. www.greatteaching.com
Hattie, J.A.C. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Building Teacher Quality: What does the research tell us ACER Research Conference, Melbourne, Australia, October 2003. Retrieved from http://research.acer.edu.au/research_conference_2003/4/
Jacob, B. A., Lefgren, L., & Sims, D. P. (2010). The persistence of teacher-induced learning. Journal of Human Resources, 45(4), 915-943.
Lortie-Forgues, H., & Inglis, M. (2019). Rigorous large-scale educational RCTs are often uninformative: Should we be concerned?. Educational Researcher, 48(3), 158-166.
Rivkin, S., Hanushek, E., & Kain, J. (2005). Teachers, schools, and academic achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417–458.
Rockoff, J. (2004). The impact of individual teachers on student achievement: Evidence from panel data. The American Economic Review, 94(2), 247–252.
Sharples, J., Albers, B., Fraser, S., & Kime, S. (2019). Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation. Guidance Report. Education Endowment Foundation. Retrieved from https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/guidance-reports/implementation
Slater, H., Davies, N. M., & Burgess, S. (2012) Do teachers matter? Measuring the variation in teacher effectiveness in England. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 74(5), 629-645. Pre-print available at https://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmpo/migrated/documents/wp212.pdf