IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Embedding formative assessment leads to higher attainment

4 March 2022

Schools that embed formative assessment into their teaching see higher pupil attainment as a result, according to a paper – led by IOE academic Dr Jake Anders – published today in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.

Teacher talking to secondary school pupil about her work.

Formative assessment is when teachers employ activities to assess pupils and then use evidence from these assessments to shape their teaching to meet student needs and improve learning outcomes. However, improving such practice at scale has been found to be challenging. Embedding Formative Assessment (EFA) is a professional development programme that aims to support secondary school teachers to embed formative assessment strategies in their practice to improve pupil learning outcomes.

The research, designed by Dr Jake Anders (Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities), investigated whether the use of the EFA programme, designed by Professor Dylan Wiliam and delivered by the Schools, Students and Teachers network, had an effect on pupils’ grades. The research team, which also included Dr Francesca Foliano (Social Research Institute's Quantitative Social Science), found that schools that implemented EFA saw higher pupil attainment, equivalent to almost two months of pupil learning. The size of the effect was slightly larger among pupils with lower levels of prior attainment.

The study, which was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), involved carrying out a randomised controlled trial in 140 secondary schools across England. Seventy secondary schools participated in the EFA programme across two years, while the other 70 schools received a substitute payment, which they could use for any purpose except EFA. The allocation between these two was carried out at random, meaning there is no reason to expect differences in their outcomes other than the implementation of EFA.

By analysing schools’ GCSE results after two years, the researchers found there were benefits in implementing EFA. The size of the effect is encouraging, given the context of this as a light-touch, scalable programme. The EEF are currently funding further research into wider scale-up of EFA based on the positive findings and the security of the findings.

Dr Jake Anders said: “It’s great to find evidence of the positive effects on pupils’ GCSE outcomes of a highly-scalable programme that can be used to support learning in schools all across the country. I hope the publication of this work will encourage further uptake of high quality formative assessment strategies in classrooms.”



Phil Meech for IOE