Metacognition in the refreshed EEF Toolkit

Blog Post - Alisdair Wade, CEO Thinking Matters

The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) Toolkit, used by 70% of school leaders to inform their teaching and learning decisions, has recently been updated to take account of latest research. The findings, ranked by impact, shows ‘metacognition and self regulation’ to be the stand out performer.

This type of meta analysis does however require caveats. One of those, as flagged by Professors Lee Elliot Major and Steve Higgins (founders of the EEF Toolkit) in their excellent book ‘What Works?’ is something that will resonate with lovers of 80’s pop. They flag the ‘Bananarama’ principle based on the band’s lyrics ‘It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it’’ as something to watch out for. Namely, just because a meta analysis of a large group of studies suggests an average impact ‘score’, that doesn’t mean that doing that ‘thing’ will result in your setting achieving the same impact. For example, at a generic level ‘Feedback’ scores highly but as we all know, feedback done badly can have very damaging effects on our learners.

EEF ranking sorted by impact.

It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it… That’s what gets results.

Of course, impact is one thing, but at what cost? School leaders also need to balance impact with constrained budgets.

With the caveat of ‘if done in the right way’, the chart above is an interesting visualisation of where schools will get their best ‘bang for buck’.

Broadly (and unsurprisingly for any educator who probably doesn’t need research to tell them that what makes the biggest difference to learners is the quality of teaching), it suggests that investing in initiatives that improve pedagogy is a sensible use of funding (basically the initiatives in the top left of the chart). Spending money on more administrative areas has a more questionable impact (pink shading). Doing things that negatively label learners such as ‘setting’ and ‘repeating a year’ are a no-no.

So – metacognition and self regulation – high impact, low cost but how do you do it? Research from the team at Exeter University would suggest that a whole school approach, taken by accredited ‘Thinking Schools’ (see where this ranks in blue on the chart), is the most likely route not only towards pupil progress in its narrowest, improved grade score sense, but also in developing future proofed learners.

EEF Toolkit
What Works – Research and evidence for successful teaching. Lee Elliot Major,  Steve Higgins.

When students use metacognition they become tremendously empowered as learners because they begin to be able to teach themselves..

To find out more about how to implement that whole school approach to developing metacognition in your own setting, whether you are an individual school, MAT or school cluster leader –


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