In these research-rich times, it is generally considered that the Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) is the gold-standard of evidence.
Today, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has confirmed that my colleagues at English Mastery have won their bid to have their own evidence-informed work trialled in such an RCT.
Naturally, they’re delighted: English Mastery has been built and refined by a small team of dedicated professionals over the past five years. It is a fully-resourced and coherent curriculum programme for English at key stage 3, effectively embedding the disciplinary learning young people will need to master demanding texts in English Literature. It will help them get their English Literature GCSEs, yes, but also to understand and enjoy the wide world of literature that they are entitled to.
The EEF funding will permit English Mastery to offer 55 schools access to the programme for much less than it costs to run (as well as paying a further 55 schools to be the control group) in addition to paying for an independent evaluation of the programme. English Mastery are rightly proud of what they’ve achieved and delighted to have the chance to test their effectiveness against the most rigorous evaluation standard available.
English Mastery and its partner programme, Mathematics Mastery, are part of the charitable offer of Ark. There is no “profit” anywhere in this process – schools inside and outside the Ark network who take advantage of these programmes contribute towards the costs of the programme and no more. These programmes, and any Ark creates and makes available to other schools in the future, are not just “resource sets” made up of worksheets and outline medium-term plans, but fully-realised professional development opportunities, with resources to anchor a coherent curriculum, building cumulatively across multiple years, all backed by subject-specific training and in-school coaching and support.
For example, Mathematics Mastery’s national conference brings in hundreds of teachers to discuss and learn about their subject; thousands more engage in the programme in their own schools. Yes, money is required from the schools which take part to sustain this system, but it is money to participate in a partnership of development, feedback, re-iteration and refinement.
Ark has been awarded some government money for some of our work in this area: in addition to the EEF’s contribution to the English Mastery RCT trial, we have recently won a portion of the government’s Curriculum Fund to develop a geography offer. That money will keep our geography programme free to all schools who use it for the duration of the trial; if after then schools want it kept going, they will collaboratively pay for the team of curriculum designers and subject knowledge trainers necessary to sustain and refine the offer.
Ark also raises philanthropic funding to add additional value and impact to our programmes: Science Mastery is currently in development, underpinned by a generous multi-year donation, whilst Ark’s music programme fundraises to keep as low as possible the cost to schools of an offer covering teacher professional development, instrumental lessons, choirs and orchestras for children – sustaining an extra-curricular arts provision beyond that possible with government funds alone. We are keen that schools beyond the Ark network become partners in these programmes, as they have Maths and English Mastery, at a cost as low as can be while keeping the programme running.
What unites all of these programmes, and others in development, is a conviction that it is in “the final foot”– the space between the teacher and their pupil – that education happens. No resource or programme, no matter how good, could ever substitute for the essential importance of that relationship, and Ark’s curriculum work would never seek that. In fact, we want to enhance and empower the teacher as the subject expert, and ensure they are always properly resourced and supported to do the job they came into the profession to do.
Ark makes no claim ours is the only way to build a curriculum – we are quite open about the choices we have made, and the evidence which supports them, and we need rigorous debate about those choices to build the subject communities in which our curricula live. Others will choose differently, and no one is obliged to take up what Ark offers.
Ark is proud of the network of curriculum designers, authors, trainers and assessors we have brought together, and like our English Mastery colleagues, we are all happy to see our work evaluated and debated. Let’s judge Ark’s offer on the impact it makes on the lives and learning of the young people we all joined the profession to serve.
John Blake is curriculum design lead for Ark, before which he was a school teacher for 10 years