Words for All, delivered by Whole Education, trains teachers to deliver vocabulary-focused educational enrichment programmes to improve the attainment of pupils who have or have had a social worker. The intervention consisted of bespoke enrichment activities developed by Whole Education and groups of three teachers (known as a ‘triad’) in schools. It was delivered to eligible pupils, either by withdrawing them from class in groups, or via one-to-one support.
This research builds on a report WWCSC released in February 2020 which revisited 63 trials funded by the Education Endowment Foundation to determine ‘what works’ in education for children who have had social workers. Words for All is a development of one of ten interventions (the Vocabulary Enrichment Programme), which the research identified as showing signs of potential for children’s social care experienced children, and which warranted further research.
The programme was launched in Term 1 of the 2020/21 school year. At this time, it was anticipated that Words for All would be a year-long programme, with the intervention delivered to pupils throughout the spring term. However, largely due to COVID-19, this timeline had to be adjusted, with the pupil-facing element of the intervention reduced to six weeks in the first half of the summer term (May-June 2021).
King’s College London evaluated Words for All in the 2020/21 academic year. The evaluation included an impact evaluation, an implementation and process evaluation (IPE), and a cost analysis.
Although there were initially four research questions set for the impact evaluation due to the small number of complete cases available for endline analysis, this was reduced to the following question:
What is the impact of Words for All on the average reading skills (as measured by the New Group Reading Test) of Year 7 to 11 pupils who have been considered to be Children in Need, subject to a Child Protection Plan, and/or Looked After in the past six years?
The implementation and process evaluation had the following aims:
- To evaluate the factors that facilitate and hinder the implementation of Words for All, including the extent to which fidelity is maintained and, indeed, what constitutes fidelity
- To assess the confidence of teachers and other school-based professionals in the programme
- To understand the response of pupils to the programme.
The aim of the cost analysis was to estimate the cost per school of implementing Words for All, as well as estimate a cost per pupil beneficiary.
The pilot evaluation adopted a mixed methods approach to address the research questions, which involved:
- Case study interviews with staff from local authorities
- Surveys with pupils and teachers
- Analysis of administrative and monitoring data.
The RCT found no evidence that receiving Words for All improved pupils’ reading skills. Substantial issues with data collection and quality mean that this finding is presented with low confidence. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic had a substantial impact on the ability of schools to engage with and deliver Words for All. By March 2021, approximately one third of participating schools had dropped out of the programme; this increased to almost half of schools by the end of the trial. Many of the schools that did implement the intervention reported significant difficulties due to COVID restrictions and capacity problems.
If Words for All is to be evaluated again the success of the evaluation will likely depend on the buy-in of participating schools. In this trial, low buy-in from schools was a key barrier to accessing data. Though the unique difficulties caused by COVID were clearly a factor, it is likely other concerns about the intervention and the research affected schools’ willingness to participate.