East Cambs and Fenland Evidence Based Fund

12 June 2018

It is positive news that the first round of Evidence Based Funding for East Cambridgeshire and Fenland has successfully allocated funding to schools who submitted bids.

This is a strong step forward for the opportunity area, allowing schools direct access to funds to investigate and implement evidence informed improvement strategies in their schools. A second round of bids has been submitted and the opportunity area are keen to support schools with their bids, either directly, or by signposting to support such as the Research School (see the end of the article for further details).

We asked Kate Bonney, Headteacher at Robert Arkenstall Primary School, Haddenham, to share a summary of her bid. Many thanks to Kate for sharing this thoughtful summary with us.

What is your project?

Our project on conversational turn taking, aims to give children transitioning from nursery to school different language opportunities in order to be ready to learn. We need adults in school to talk to children and give them conversational feedback to develop their cognitive processes and provide them with rich language experiences.

We want the ‘unlucky’ children, whose parents are time and/or resource poor to have the chance to catch up their language development so they can go on to learn well in EYFS. We are working with our main PVI to identify and prepare a schedule for children as soon as they start school.

We want to work to reduce the impact of transition by working collaboratively with the PVI before the children join.

We want to address an issue of isolation and poor adult literacy in the OA by exploring an approach which does rely on the purchase of or access to books.

We want to pilot an approach which any adult could deliver whether trained staff, volunteers, or members of wider family. We would like it to spill out into healthcare and family workers.

What led you to develop this idea?

At its simplest our EYFS lead, Emma Vardy, said to me one day, “I think I just need to ask my volunteers to talk to the children. They don’t know how to have conversations.” That set a hare running.

We had a problem we knew we wanted to solve. Professional practice had led us to a real concern about children’s social and emotional readiness for school and their poorer language skills than previous cohorts recently. Throughout our current KS1 and EYFS we notice children concentrate less, don’t answer questions with sufficient relevance and often don’t have the language to express themselves.

Our professional reading and networking meant we were aware of a wider expression of concern around these issues.

What documents or articles did you read to support your bid?

We scoured the corpus of work on language acquisition. We already collectively read from a range of commentators and publications and this meant that when a report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which dealt with the very concerns we were grappling with, was published we were ready to think about acting on it. The MIT paper ‘Beyond the 30 Million Word Gap’ March 2018, identified what they described as very actionable insights in to how cognitive brain function develops to support learning readiness. It was very exciting to note that financial disadvantage was not a barrier to the insights of the study and that in replicating the positive findings we were likely to be able to test a very cost efficient way forward.

We also read the EEF and Public Health England report: Early Language Development: Needs, provision, and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Oct 2017, to look for evidence that others had tried what MIT suggested. Nothing in the corpus of work from EEF identified a similar project which in sustainability terms would not require resources and their expense, nor which attempted to replicate missed developmental conversations.

In writing the bid we were clear that we were attempting to test in practice a lab based finding which we believed is actionable to achieve good learning outcomes. We hope to test with sufficient rigour that we can pass on good data which can be scaled up. We could see the next steps right from the start. We used existing EEF research to check our own methodology was robust and discussed it with other professionals to gain their input on method.

What are you hoping to do following your project, how can you make it sustainable if it is a success?

Our research pilot will use a test and control randomised model that maximises the insights and assessments from the PVI prior to transition so no time is lost. Assessment will be carried out before and after intervention across settings with common assessment tools.

Following the initial pilot, we have a number of ways to test our findings and scale up.

·         We can use a second stage intervention called ‘wait-list control’ where we reverse the test and control groups.

·         We can scale up the trial to PVI so they start the pilot with younger children.

·         We can scale up to more schools and settings so that we see can test wider impact.

We intend to review the practice and produce guidance once we have sufficient evidence to enable us to articulate and train others with guidance. The test relies on easily accessible and frequently used existing assessments and we should be able to identify which children at entry benefit most and over what period of time. Will this be an intervention or a shift in general practice?

Kate Bonney

The Evidence Based Fund is for projects costing up to £25,000 which aim to support the Opportunity Area priority to “Accelerate the progress of disadvantaged children and young people in the acquisition and development of communication, language and reading.”

If you would like to consider applying to the evidence based fund, please download the application form available from the OA newsletter within this link.

If you would like further information on the criteria or how these applications will be reviewed please email OpportunityAreas.East@education.gov.uk.

The research school is available to support in accessing suitable guidance for evidence gathering to support your application. For further advice please contact Rebecca Pentney, Research School lead on lead.ecambsresearchschool@gmail.com.


Posted on 12 June 2018
Posted in: Blog

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