The impact of dialogic teaching on English and maths progress

Dialogic interventions in teaching English and maths (and science) could improve learner progress. The dialogic approach emphasises the use of dialogue in the classroom to help learners to reason, discuss, argue, and explain in order to develop their higher order thinking and their articulacy. Dialogic interventions were developed, delivered and evaluated by a team from the Cambridge Primary Review Trust (CPRT) and the University of York.

The interventions focused on raising levels of engagement and attainment across English, maths, and science in primary schools by improving the quality of teacher and learner talk in the classroom. Following the interventions, learners were tested in English, mathematics, and science. This efficacy trial compared the 38 schools (2,492 learners) in which the intervention took place with 38 control schools (2,466 learners).

The key findings of the research include:

  • two additional months’ progress in English and science, and one additional month’s progress in maths, compared to children in control schools, on average
  • children eligible for free school meals (FSM) made two additional months’ progress in English, science, and maths compared to FSM children in control schools.

This research was conducted with primary learners and was a short-term intervention. However, research into the use of questions and structured discussion from Key Stage 3 onwards to support the development of higher-level thinking skills also informs the cognitive acceleration programme, Let’s Think in English, developed by Laurie Smith at Kings College London (Let’s Think in English, 2019). Therefore, a dialogic approach can have an impact with older learners.

It is worth considering whether a structured dialogic approach would benefit post-16 learners. It may be a valuable approach to developing the higher-level thinking skills and the problem-solving skills required for GCSE English and maths high level passes, in supporting progression, and building the confidence of learners. Discussion, for example, is a valuable tool for rehearsal, a process which can be used to increase learners’ expressive vocabulary. Research shows that low economic status is linked to a limited vocabulary, and in combination they have a significant impact on children achieving A*–C in maths, English Literature and English Language G.C.S.E. at school (Spencer et. al., 2017). It can be argued that the learners most likely to resit English and maths post-16 are those who would benefit from developing both their thinking skills and their vocabulary to support their educational success and social and economic mobility. So, perhaps we should consider how we could use structured dialogue with post-16 learners, and how we develop learners thinking skills and vocabulary over time to improve their progress?

Click here to read the Education Endowment Foundation Dialogic Teaching Evaluation report and executive summary.

Sonia Thomas
ETF Regional Specialist Lead (London)


  1. Education and Endowment Foundation (2017) Dialogic Teaching: Evaluation report and executive summary. (Accessed: 26 April 2019)
  2. Let’s Think in English (2019) Available at: (Accessed: 26 April 2019)
  3. Spencer, S, Clegg, J., & Rush, R. (2017). ‘Contribution of spoken language and socio-economic background to adolescents’ educational achievement at aged 16 years.’ International Journal of Language Disorders, 52:184-196. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-6984.2001.00104x.
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