This post is very important indeed.
The EEF actively undermines the work and conclusions of those involved in the parliamentary and independent inquiries into the teaching of reading in England (2003 to 2006), the Minister of State for Schools Standards the rt hon Nick Gibb, the Government’s Department for Education and Ofsted – the schools’ inspectorate.
Is the Government being duped by this organisation? The EEF projects, online content and guidance seem designed for obfuscation.
And the Government continues to fund the EEF with hundreds of millions of pounds of public money in (what one can only assume) is naivety – ignorant bliss.
Or is it more sinister?
How worried should the teaching profession and the general public be? Very.
The 2020 ‘National Tutoring Programme’ has resulted in hundreds of millions of pounds being handed over to the EEF for perhaps our most needy children’s education in light of the disruption to education of Covid-19.
The EEF guidance, recommendations, and commentary in its accompanying text online, for teachers and parents, however, is the opposite to the Department for Education’s and Minister Nick Gibb’s.
It is also opposite to Ofsted’s direction of travel. It is transparently clear to everyone, teachers and parents, that in the 2019 Ofsted Inspection Handbook, inspectors are to observe whether the staff in early years and infants have great expertise in the systematic synthetic phonics teaching principles with accompanying quality SSP provision for all children.
An observer of this unacceptable set of circumstances has kindly sent me a document illustrating one (currently relevant) evidence trail. Please take a look at this document and note the yellow highlighted parts. A number of such evidence trails could be provided to illustrate that the EEF is arguably not the high-standard research organisation that its corporate image, its professional associations, and recipient of vast amounts of public funding would lead one to believe. I’m not the only one to consider that at least some of the work and guidance of the Education Endowment Foundation for raising standards of literacy is very questionable indeed.
Susan Godsland’s site includes numerous examples of educationalists who are critical of the Education Endowment Foundation.
The government states on its site for the ‘National Tutoring Programme’:
Use of funds
Schools should use this funding for specific activities to support their pupils to catch up for lost teaching over the previous months, in line with the guidance on curriculum expectations for the next academic year.
We can show, however, that the EEF guidance, comments and recommended programmes and projects are not ‘in line with the guidance on curriculum expectations’ – in fact, they are the opposite.
Notable by their absence, for example, the ‘DfE validated’ systematic synthetic phonics programmes are not on the EEF’s ‘Promising Projects List‘ for intervention.
You will find the EEF recommended programmes for intervention on the ‘evidence trail’ document that was sent to me.
[In the event of any doubt, the ‘DfE validated’ systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programmes are for all children, not just mainstream and able children. They are also for intervention.]
Further, the EEF actively promotes the Reading Recovery intervention programme. This is not surprising really as Sir Kevan Collins (CEO of the EEF for a number of years and still in the organisation) is Reading Recovery trained. Kevan presided over the National Literacy Strategy ‘Searchlights’ multi-cueing reading strategies (1998 to 2006) that were discredited and discontinued when the, then, government accepted Sir Jim Rose’s recommendations in his ‘Independent Review of the Teaching of Reading, Final Report’ (2006) following the House of Commons parliamentary inquiry ‘Teaching Children to Read’ (2005). Others in the EEF also have very strong Reading Recovery current links and/or histories.
The EEF blurb states:
The resources in Box 9 are a good place to assess the evidence of programmes. Reading Recovery, an intensive teacher-led 1:1 reading programme for KS1 pupils, is highlighted by the EIF guidebook for the positive impacts found in several high-quality evaluations conducted in America.
It’s very important to know that the Education and Skills select committee as long ago as 2009 lambasted the, then, government for rolling out (and funding with public money) the Reading Recovery programme under the ‘Every Child a Reader’ (ECaR) initiative when the recommendations of Sir Jim Rose had already been accepted by the government (in 2006). At that time, it was Nick Gibb who was instrumental in so many of the gains made (cross party) to replace the Reading Recovery-esque ‘Searchlights’ multi-cueing reading strategies.
I wrote about this here:
‘UK Government unaccountable when Reading Recovery rolled-out’
With regard to efficacy in the international context (as the EEF refers to ‘several high-quality evaluations conducted in America’), this thread at the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction provides academic reviews of the research of Reading Recovery and describes grave worries about the RR consequences for many children – particularly those with the greatest needs:
‘The Reading Wars and Reading Recovery: What Educators, Families and Taxpayers Should Know’
Susan Godsland notes the following about Kevan Collins and his links to the ‘Searchlights’ reading strategies and Reading Recovery via her heavily-referenced and acclaimed site dyslexics.org.uk .
Reading instruction in the National Literacy Strategy (NLS.1998->2006) was based on multi-cueing word-guessing strategies called ‘Searchlights’. NLS directors John Stannard and Laura Huxford suggested that, ”More extreme recommendations from phonics evangelists to teach children not to use other reading strategies alongside phonics, should be treated with great caution” (Stannard/Huxford. The Literacy Game 2007. p189). Sir Kevan Collins was deputy national director of the NLS, having been a Reading Recovery tutor earlier in his career (TES. 09/19). When giving evidence to the Education & Skills Committee in 2004, Collins was asked who designed the Searchlights model. He responded that the Searchlights model was ”something that three or four of [them] did…drawn from the work of [Reading Recovery author] Marie Clay” (Teaching Children to Read.Ev49.Q196) ”The human mind is not a bucket waiting to be filled with facts…The mind is better likened to a searchlight that is constantly expecting, guessing, predicting…” (Stannard/Huxford p25) When the NLS ended in 2006, Laura Huxford went on to co-author the DfE’s synthetic phonics programme ‘Letters and Sounds’. Sir Kevan Collins went on to lead the Education Endowment Foundation until 2019.
I have been approached for some time by knowledgeable teachers, headteachers, advisors and special needs teachers with their concerns about the prevalence of Reading Recovery in their local authorities. Reading Recovery is still entrenched in the Institute of Education (UCL) – the prior domain of the current CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, Becky Francis. Is it any wonder, then, that the EEF continues to promote the Reading Recovery intervention programme?
Is this what Nick Gibb, Amanda Spielman, and others in the DfE, think is right for the weakest readers for national tutoring?
I highlight what the combination of SSP plus Reading Recovery (‘mixed methods’) looks like here:
‘BBC documentary on reading: ‘B is for Book’. Why is this worrying?’
Meanwhile, as mentioned, we had parliamentary inquiries and Sir Jim Rose’s independent national review in England’s context in the period 2003 to 2006 – with the conclusion that the systematic synthetic phonics teaching principles were advisable for all teaching – mainstream and intervention. Sir Jim Rose himself pointed out that it is the ‘same’ alphabetic code and phonics skills that ALL children need – and that intervention should be in line with mainstream teaching, not contradictory. In England’s context since then, we have made considerable inroads regarding guidance for Initial Teacher Training, various government-generated and publicly funded phonics and early reading instruction initiatives including the latest ‘English Hubs’ initiative. Please note that Sir Jim Rose and his team used not only the research findings at the point of his review, but also what Jim and his team of inspectors observed with their own eyes across a number of schools using different SSP programmes and approaches compared to the NLS ‘Searchlights’ multi-cueing approach.
Sir Jim Rose had this to say about their observations:
We spent a huge amount of time observing practice and noting the spectacular success of systematic synthetic phonics when we found it, sometimes in classes where a significant number of beginners were learning English as an additional language.
Meanwhile, look at what the EEF is saying about ‘phonics’to this day (see the evidence trail document). When providing guidance for any phonics provision there is notable reference to ‘systematic phonics’ and avoidance of promoting ‘systematic SYNTHETIC phonics’ – and the EEF text undermines, that is casts doubt upon, ‘synthetic’ phonics as distinct from other forms of phonics provision – in great contrast to the DfE curriculum guidance and Ofsted guidance for inspection.
The EEF blurb states:
However, in the UK there are currently only a small number of phonics programmes that have been rigorously evaluated.
A further consideration is that there are several approaches to teaching phonics systematically this includes the analytic approach (which uses word groups e.g. ‘pet’, ‘park’ and ‘push’), the analogy approach (which uses rimes e.g. ‘night’, ‘flight’ and ‘bright’) and the highly popular synthetic phonics approach described above. Only a few studies have compared these approaches, and there is not yet enough evidence to make a confident recommendation to use one approach rather than the other.
The prevalence of synthetic phonics in English schools makes studies comparing different types of systematic phonics approaches difficult.
It seems to me, and surely any other sensible person, that this is a blatant step to undermine the government’s curriculum guidance and the DfE validated phonics programmes – indeed, the notion of ‘systematic synthetic phonics’ generally.
And this is at a time when one would hope that ALL tutors, for any children with weak literacy where the alphabetic code knowledge and phonics skills for reading and spelling is required, would be knowledgeable about high-quality systematic synthetic phonics provision.
And then consider this, the EEF is a RESEARCH organisation. There is nothing stopping them evaluating SSP programmes. In any event, surely in England’s context, every control group for any ‘other’ literacy programmes the EEF decides to evaluate should arguably be reputable SSP provision if there was a genuine aspiration to move this country forwards?
Their statement above beggars belief.
The modus operandi of the EEF suggests that the decision makers avoid finding out whether systematic synthetic phonics provision matches or exceeds the EEF recommended programmes and projects?
What also beggars belief, quite frankly, is the Government’s apparent faith in this organisation, and the investing of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.
I suggest that the offer of public funding should be urgently withdrawn pending a full investigation into the Education Endowment Foundation.
You see, whatever one’s views, beliefs, biases, prejudices, experiences, knowledge with regard to the teaching of reading, the issue here is whether the EEF guidance and recommended programmes are in line with Government curriculum guidance and Ofsted guidance – or not.
And whether the government should be donating vast sums of public money to an organisation which can be shown to undermine the Government’s guidance for the teaching of reading (which is based on parliamentary and independent inquiries), undermine the guidance for Ofsted inspections, and confuse the teaching profession – and confuse those who ‘tutor’ children often with the greatest needs in this unprecedented pandemic.
I have started a thread on this topic via the forum of the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction. This thread includes critical reviews of the evidence which the Education Endowment Foundation flags up to support the EEF promotion of the Reading Recovery intervention programme. These and many other critical reviews of Reading Recovery research indicate that people should be very wary indeed about the efficacy of the RR programme. It is very clear, however, that the people in the EEF organisation are not at all wary and, indeed, they promote Reading Recovery and other literacy intervention programmes instead of programmes which uphold the official guidance for systematic synthetic phonics provision with no multi-cueing word-guessing in England. Thus, the Education Endowment Foundation, without a doubt, leads teachers and others away from the official guidance – guidance which is underpinned by major parliamentary and national reviews in England’s context: