Education Researchers

How the EEF helps to improve literacy education standards

By Oliver Shrouder

05 Dec 2022

Students in the classroom improving literacy

Who is the Education Endowment Foundation?

Established in 2011 by the Sutton Trust, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity which supports teachers and senior leaders directly, with the aim of raising attainment and closing the disadvantage gap. The EEF supports the development of those aged between two and nineteen, especially those who are currently in difficult situations, and provides resources to prepare them for the world of work and further study.

To achieve this, the EEF works with a network of 36 research schools to analyse and summarise the strongest, most up-to-date evidence available to support learners. This information is then provided to teachers and senior leaders through the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which is used by 70% of secondary schools across the United Kingdom.

Additionally, the EEF funds independent evaluations of high-level projects to discover the strongest methods of teaching within the classroom. The charity has tested over 190 programmes so far, working alongside partners and funders to break the link between income and achievement and close the disadvantage gap.

Why do the Education Endowment Foundation focus so strongly on literacy?

Language and literacy are foundational skills for learners’ progress throughout their education. Literacy not only provides the building blocks for academic success, but it also leads to more rewarding career opportunities during a learner’s adult life. This has led to the EEF placing a significant amount of focus into the areas of literacy and language. To date, the EEF has funded 24 literacy projects for younger and struggling readers, as well as an ongoing Primary Literacy Campaign in the North-East of England.

It is vital that each student has a strong understanding of reading comprehension throughout their lives, not just for success in English but to thrive in every subject across the curriculum. The EEF’s science literature review discovered that the reading capability of a student was the best predictor of later achievement in science, which reveals how crucial a learner’s knowledge of language and literacy is during their development: progress in literacy boosts attainment in every discipline.

The EEF has found that learners improve most consistently when the approach to reading and literacy is balanced, combining a focus on reading comprehension and the decoding of words. As a child progresses through their education, what they learn in the classroom will shift according to their needs and priorities. The EEF has already begun to see promising results from this balanced approach. For example, oral language interventions provide a space for spoken interaction within a classroom; this focus has already shown an improvement in younger children from disadvantaged backgrounds. For learners between four and seven, evidence from the EEF has shown that learning phonics - establishing a relationship between sounds and symbols - markedly improves a learner’s understanding of the written word.

The EEF also employs reading comprehension strategies, which focus on a learner’s understanding of any given text. These strategies teach a range of techniques that allow students to infer meaning from context, identify key information, develop ways of questioning a text, and give students the ability to identify the areas they find the most difficult.

Schools should first focus on developing core strategies within the classroom which improve the literacy ability of the whole class, decreasing the need for additional support. Once this is established, a teacher can identify the students who need further help with literacy, and this can be provided through high-quality targeted interventions. This ensures that every student, regardless of their ability, can gain a deeper understanding of literacy and language.

What do the Education Endowment Foundation do to improve literacy instruction?


The EEF commissions literature reviews to investigate specific areas of interest in the greatest possible depth. These reviews provide a basis on which to identify issues in the classroom, and test approaches against them to discover the best methods to make a difference for each learner.

Each of these reviews focuses on a specific area of issue and seeks to ensure the best possible methods are employed within the classroom to ensure each student can learn to the best of their ability. One systematic review into English as an additional language (EAL) discovered that identifying the degree of support an EAL student requires, then directing funding towards the needs of the learner, leads to a noticeable improvement in each student’s ability and achievement.

Another review, focusing on literacy development in secondary schools, discovered that environmental factors such as family and home literacy indirectly influence a student’s literacy development. Children who have limited access to printed text (such as books and newspapers) at home, for example, are found to have more difficulty understanding text within the context of a classroom. However, the EEF’s review also found that, if high quality literacy education is embedded within a rich literacy environment, many of these challenges can be overcome.

These reviews commissioned by the EEF are essential to understanding how students learn, and how their life outside of the classroom can impact their reading comprehension and writing composition. Each branch of literacy demands the use of different underlying skills and, as a result, students can find some aspects of literacy more difficult than others.

To ensure every student reaches their full potential, the EEF takes every area of literacy development into careful consideration to help teachers identify the next best steps to make their teaching most effective for every student.


The EEF Toolkits are accessible summaries of a range of approaches to improve teaching and learning. There is an enormous amount of evidence online which explores what works best in the classroom; when researching how to ensure your students get the best education, the wealth of research available can be overwhelming and hard to navigate. The Toolkits provided by the EEF filter through the research available and collate the studies which matter most to the way teachers teach. These are designed for teachers who are making decisions about improving learning outcomes, especially for disadvantaged students.

In total, the Toolkits present over 40 approaches to improving teaching and learning, underpinned by an analysis of the highest quality studies. Each of these strands is summarised through graphics, which represent its impact in the classroom and its possible cost. Each Toolkit presents a padlock rating from one to five, and this represents the quality of the evidence in each study. The quality is dependent on the recency of the contained information, as well as the number of schools which took part in the study. Each Toolkit presents a complete summary of what has worked for classrooms in the past and provides more information on promising approaches which develop every day.

The Toolkits are a live resource and are updated frequently to ensure all information is accurate. The Toolkit does not aim to make definitive claims about what will work in every classroom; instead, the Toolkit presents a range of information for each strand, which includes further reading as well as relevant resources and EEF projects.

Each Toolkit functions as a starting point to allow teachers to make decisions about improving teaching and learning in their schools. The findings each Toolkit presents are based on real life data from approaches used in schools and, as such, they do not provide definitive answers. It is important to employ professional judgement when deciding what will work best in your classroom.

Guidance reports

EEF guidance reports summarise the best available evidence on a particular aspect of teaching and learning. The reports then present methods to employ the findings in the classroom. These guidance reports explore a wide range of topics, from literacy to effective professional development, and offer direct paths of action from evidence-based guidance to practise within schools. Each recommendation provides useful evidence about language and literacy which can be used to make a significant difference to the learning of each pupil.

The Key Stage 1 guidance report marks the transition from decoding words into sounds, to emerging readers who can comprehend words on sight. As such, the EEF guidance report for improving literacy in Key Stage 1 aims to provide effective approaches for improving literacy during this period of a learner’s development, supporting those who are making rapid progress and older pupils who have fallen behind their peers. The report contains eight recommendations by the EEF to ensure that every student can reach their literacy potential in the classroom, and advises active engagements with different media, as well as asking learners questions throughout discussions to ensure a complete understanding of a given text.

The Key Stage 2 guidance report offers practical recommendations relevant to all learners, developed from the review of the best international research. The report aims to provide key principles for effective literacy teaching, corroborated by consulted experts and current studies. This report highlights seven effective methods to improve literacy for Key Stage 2, such as introducing collaborative learning activities where pupils can share their thought processes, and guided oral reading to increase fluency. Each of these strategies aims to support pupils in their reading comprehension, with less and less prompting from a teacher.

For Key Stage 3 and 4, the EEF has compiled a guidance report to help secondary schools improve literacy in all subject areas. The report contains seven recommendations relating to the development of reading and vocabulary to emphasise the importance of disciplinary literacy. This approach recognises literacy skills as subject specific as well as general, making sure that teachers of every subject support students in their reading and their communications within the classroom. These methods vary from helping learners make connections between words across each subject, to reading strategies (such as prediction and questioning) that engage students with complex academic texts.

The EEF aims to break the link between family income and educational attainment using the evidence from what has worked within classrooms in the past. Each guidance report presents teachers with actionable advice that is relevant to all pupils, especially those who are struggling with literacy and language. Each guidance report uses the most up to date evidence to ensure every child receives the best resources to aid in their day-to-day learning.


Alongside the guidance reports and the EEF Toolkit, the EEF has produced a series of resources which explore unique aspects of the school and the classroom in depth. These resources vary in topic from teaching assistants to mathematics, and each of them is updated frequently to ensure the most up to date information is presented.

One resource presents a planning guide for schools during the academic year to support schools and their planning efforts. The guide presents a model which helps schools balance approaches to improving teaching through investment in professional development, targeted academic support for individual students, and wider strategies to improve attendance and behaviour. Each of these approaches is supported by the latest evidence available. The EEF can also provide Pupil Premium, which gives additional funding for schools to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students and supports the development of effective classroom strategies.

Each of these guides, alongside the Toolkits and guidance reports, creates a comprehensive evidence-based resource which is essential for any classroom seeking to boost student learning. The EEF presents an accessible summary of international evidence to ensure every student receives the best resources and education for them.

How schools can embed EEF guidance into their teaching

Every school aims to provide the best possible education for their children and young people. To ensure this, schools explore new methods in the classroom, learning from each experience to embed the practices which work best. Implementation of these new methods is a key aspect in the improvement of schools, and it is important to monitor each change to maximise the chance of success.

The EEF aims to demystify the process of implementation and documents the steps that previous schools have implemented to manage change and ensure success for their students. This models successful implementation of new educational theories for teachers, resulting in a stronger learning experience for students.

It is vital to treat implementation as a process, rather than an event. The benefits of methods outlined in the guidance reports do not develop overnight, and effects are rarely seen immediately. Instead, each method should be executed in stages, and enough time should be given to ensure effective implementation through routine changes, policy, or practices. Each decision made should be informed by evidence first, and this evidence should be examined in relation to the context of the school. Once the issue in the classroom is defined, the appropriate practices and programmes identified and implemented.

Finally, it is important to plan how to sustain and scale an intervention from the beginning, so it can be continually acknowledged and nurtured. This attentiveness will ensure the guidance can be fully implemented during its use in the classroom, and any changes that occur can be analysed in real time as they occur.

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