Using Research Evidence To Inform Timetabling

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Beth Hartwell

Beth writes for the Teacher Toolkit site from a secondary perspective. She is currently a Lead Practitioner of Teaching and Learning at a school in York with a specialism of teaching secondary Science. She is currently teaching in a iPad school and is interested sharing...
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Which four pieces of research will help to improve student progress?

This time of the year always promotes reflection. You look back on the year and analyse which successes you are going to take forward and refine next year. As well as what’s going on within your own setting, there are studies which highlight good practices across education globally.

Evidence should inform our daily teaching but sometimes we can ignore what works and follow what doesn’t. This post explores four recent studies which have highlighted effective whole school timetabling strategies to increase pupil progress. These low cost methods potentially could have a large impact.

1. Thinking critically about setting and streaming

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) highlight that setting can have a negative impact on progress, especially the progress of disadvantage students.

Studies show that higher attaining pupils benefit from setting to the detriment of middle and lower ability pupils. Confidence, attitudes towards a subject and engagement all decrease within these lower ability groups.

Mixed ability grouping enhances collaborative learning. This increases talk between different abilities and promotes modelling of outstanding use of subject knowledge.

University College London are currently analysing the best practises in grouping students with a recent study published about student voice surrounding mixed ability setting within Maths.

Within mixed ability classes a balance is needed for allowing higher ability pupils to be challenged whilst still nurturing the confidence of low ability pupils.

2. Looping

“I had watched my students’ skills emerge and solidify. I was able to reinforce those skills in a style that was consistent over two years.” (Jacoby, 1994)

When teachers stay with the same class for more than one year, positive impact can be made because they know them better. There is no doubt that long term teacher-student relationships increases outcomes.

‘Looping’ or continuous learning has been put into practice under various titles. Evidence clearly shows that if teachers know the pupils well, the pupils perform better.

Recent studies highlighted that assigning a teacher for a the same class at a later age showed small but significant increases in the test scores. Hill and Jones (2018) said their “findings indicate that there may be potential low-cost gains from the policy of ‘looping’ in which students and teachers progress through early school grades together.”

Do you use looping within your school?

3. Assigning time for NQT mentoring

We recognise the importance of mentoring for early career teachers, and we want to ensure that all schools have access to high-quality training for their NQT mentors – Department for Education 2018

Mentoring has the most impact for retaining teachers within their first year of teaching.

Studies show these are conversations about pressure and workload (emotional wellbeing), as opposed to teaching in the classroom. We need to encourage these conversations; conversations which are based on trust and mutual respect to nurture and empower teachers.

Studies have shown that the success of mentoring can vary, as leaders we must ensure that not only the most appropriate mentors are chosen, we give them time within the timetable to carry out this critical role.

4. The importance of arts within the curriculum

The arts has shown to have a positive impact within attainment in Maths, English and Science.

Ensuring that core subjects have sufficient teaching time is important within the timetable. But we mustn’t forget that other subjects play a valuable part too. What about putting the Arts into STEM? The arts make a massive contribution to the lives of students and it is essential the arts get top billing as well.

We also much consider that creative activities have shown to have therapeutic effectiveness on mental well-being. We are seeing increased mental health problems within our schools, we must encourage the creation of “stress-free zones” where our pupils are truly creative and take risks without an end judgement.

And finally…

There are strategies that ‘work’ and increase attainment within schools. However, we must remember that evidence does have its limitations because ‘effectiveness’ depends considerably on context and school settings.

We know that effective teaching increases outcomes. The more conversations about what effective teaching looks like will allow us to move towards classrooms which truly promote learning.

Taking evidence on face value is problematic. We must therefore ensure that we reflect on the effectiveness of the strategies that we use. This will ensure that we truly use strategies which are effective and stray away from those fads, tricks and flicks.

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