The EPPI website is an excellent resource for informing your decision making, says David Leat.

You might like to bookmark this website: http://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/EPPIWeb/home.aspx?page=/reel/reviews.htm.

Why? Because it is a mine of well digested information from large numbers of research papers to inform teaching and policy. You may be aware that the government has been keen on finding answers to the question: ‘What works?’ This has applied strongly in medicine and more lately the same approach has been evident in education. This reflects the demand that research is useful and relevant to practice.

In the health sector, however, it is clear that much of what doctors and other professionals do is not based on reliable evidence, and that sometimes may even be not only ineffective but also actually harmful. In education we might take setting as an example, where it is seen as a ‘common sense’ approach to dealing with mixed-ability intakes, but there is little evidence to support setting as a strategy and some evidence that low achieving students do better in mixed-ability groupings. As a consequence there is a centre which commissions reviews of the research evidence in relation to important educational topics – the EPPI centre. Below is a sample of the review reports, which systematically identify, locate, analyse and synthesise papers which meet stringent criteria for relevance and research methods. The titles can be readily downloaded from the website above.

Examples of EPPI reviews

  • A systematic review of strategies to raise pupils motivational effort in Key Stage 4 mathematics
  • Teaching argumentative non-fiction writing to 7- to 14-year-olds: a systematic review of the evidence of successful practice
  • A systematic review of the evidence of the impact on students, teachers and the curriculum of the process of using assessment by teachers for summative purposes
  • A systematic review of the impact of citizenship education on the provision of schooling
  • The impact of paid adult support on the participation and learning of pupils in mainstream schools
  • Conflict resolution, peer mediation and young people’s relationships
  • Thinking skills approaches to effective teaching and learning – what is the evidence for impact on learners?

If you are not a little curious then your senses may have been dulled recently. Happily there is a summary in each report which can help you judge whether you want to invest more time in reading it. There are also sections you may readily skip, such as the process of filtering out those papers that did not meet the criteria for inclusion.

Sometimes the results are disappointing for a general reader. In the review on grammar teaching, the introduction raises expectations by stating that ‘This perennial question has haunted the teaching of English for over a century’. Sadly so few papers were found of sufficient quality that the review is a little thin, but the conclusion is reached that ‘there is no high quality evidence to counter the prevailing belief that the teaching of the principles underlying and informing word order or syntax has virtually no influence on the writing quality or accuracy of 5- to 16-year-olds.’ In other words the direct teaching of syntactical grammar has no impact on the quality of written English – as far as we know. This does not, however, amount to saying that there is no value in doing it.

A Systematic Review of What Pupils, Aged 11-16, Believe Impacts on their Motivation to Learn in the Classroom is arguably more enlightening.

Some of these findings are in line with ‘common sense’, others are more counter-intuitive and might spur you to read more of the detail, but they do provide food for thought. What are authentic learning tasks? How do pupils define relevance and can we influence the way they construct it? Why do pupils lack the motivation to go beyond task requirements (and does this still apply to authentic tasks done in groups)? The findings are not recipes, they still need interpretation and application to context, but the reviews are an invaluable resource, for challenging, stimulating and informing decision making. Check out the website.

Summary points from A Systematic Review of What Pupils, Aged 11-16, Believe Impacts on their Motivation to Learn in the Classroom

  • Some pupils perceive school work as boring and repetitive.
  • Pupils perceive that a teacher’s approach, attitude and enthusiasm influence their engagement.
  • Pupils appear to be more engaged with lessons that they perceive to be fun.
  • Pupils express a preference for collaborative work.
  • Being perceived as clever appears to be socially acceptable and a source of social respect amongst peers. However, if ‘cleverness’ is combined with other characteristics that transgress peer-group norms and values, then it is perceived to be less acceptable.
  • Pupils frequently expressed the importance of not being made to appear foolish in front of their peer group.
  • Students appear to be more motivated by activities that they perceive as useful or relevant.
  • Even where students perceive a task to be useful, they are not necessarily motivated to go beyond the requirements of the specified learning task.
  • Pupils believe that effort is important and can make a difference.
  • Pupil effort appears to be influenced by the expectations of the teacher and expectations of the wider community.