Closing the Gap: issues, challenges and impact of the implementation of a national experiment in educational research

During 2012, the National College for Teaching and Leadership, working in collaboration with a number of partners, designed a major research and development initiative entitled Closing the Gap – Test and Learn. The contract to run the project was awarded to CfBT who worked in partnership with CUREE and the Universities of Durham and Oxford to deliver the scheme from 2012-2015.

They invited lead teaching schools in teaching school alliances to apply to take part in a national trial of seven particular intervention programmes, each of which had been identified as having significant potential in ‘closing the attainment gap’. That is, they were programmes designed to improve the attainment of children who were low achievers. A total of more than 700 Schools joined the programme in its first year and bid to work with one or more of the interventions. Half of the schools went into the trial group and commenced the programme during 2014. The other half of the schools went into a control group and waited until the next academic year to undertake the programme. In all schools a sample of pupils was identified for participation in the scheme and were given pre- and post-tests before and at the end of the Year 1 trial period. The scheme was thus designated as a form of Randomised Control Trial.

In this seminar the Oxford team offer an analysis of the project as a whole, drawing not only on data gathered during its implementation but also on additional data derived from interviews with a number of participants.

In particular we look at: * the ‘policy origins’ of the entire scheme, the ways in which it emerged out of: the development of teaching schools, the ‘closing the gap’ objective of the Coalition government; the desire to increase research capacity within the teaching workforce; as well as other elements; * the extent to which the overall methodology can indeed be described as a Randomised Control Trial. Although this was a very large scale initiative, the actual interventions were each carried out with relatively small numbers of pupils in a very diverse range of contexts; * the extent to which evidence emerged from the project to suggest that teachers in schools were becoming increasingly research-literate and that the ‘school-led system’ was developing research capacity through engagement in a scheme such as this; * the research ethics issues raised by such a large scale randomised controlled trial, and in particular the decisions around which interventions to include and continue, which leads on to an argument for a principle of educational equipoise.