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New study questions value of project-based learning for literacy

11/11/2016 Joanna

Project-based learning has been highlighted as an ineffective means of raising literacy standards among secondary school students in a new study.

Carried out by the Innovation Unit with support from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the research has indicated that using this teaching model runs the risk of leaving behind pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, reports TES.

Project-based learning requires pupils to work for an extended period of time on a single project across a range of subjects, rather than in separate lessons dedicated to specific subjects. The aim is to provide a more dynamic style of education that relies less on rote memorisation and more on the kind of active thinking pupils may require in real life.

To assess its benefits, the study enrolled 4,000 Year 7 pupils from 24 secondary schools between September 2014 and April 2016, with half given conventional, subject-specific lessons, while the other half undertook a syllabus where project-based learning comprised between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of the workload.

Over the course of the 20 months, it was shown that secondary pupils eligible for free school meals made three months' less progress in literacy in project-based classes than their counterparts receiving traditional subject-based tutelage.

Moreover, no clear positive impact on the literacy levels or general engagement of the rest of the pupils was seen either, raising broader questions about the benefits of this approach to teaching.

James Richardson, deputy chief executive of the EEF, said: "Project-based learning has implications on timetabling and staffing; it's very expensive and it involves whole-school change. Teachers should really think very carefully about committing to this."

Louise Thomas, head of education at the Innovation Unit, added: "We certainly wouldn't recommend that a school that needs to improve reading scores quickly should implement project-based learning."

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