children in classroom

Researchers have uncovered broad differences in the achievement of disadvantaged children

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has updated its popular “A School’s Guide to Implementation” with new research from experts at the University of Exeter, the University of Plymouth and Cardiff University.

The study provides recommendations to help ensure new approaches or practices introduced by schools have the biggest possible impact on children and young people’s educational achievements.

While there are many promising approaches to improve student well-being, behaviour, and attainment, selecting and implementing the most effective ones for a school’s specific needs can be challenging.

Implementation in schools is therefore complex and there was a need to know more about how to do implementation in schools well. There have been few reviews of research to date that take a holistic view of implementation across multiple intervention and school types. This new research provides practical guidance to help schools overcome these challenges and ensure new initiatives have a lasting impact.

Academics carried out a realist review of around 300 existing studies and surveyed, interviewed, and held focus groups with school leaders. One hundred and two surveys were completed by school leaders and 22 interviews and focus groups were carried out.

The research findings emphasise that effective implementation is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. It therefore involves making, and acting on, evidence-informed decisions. The research shows that quality implementation amplifies the effectiveness of a range of school-based approaches.

The report of the research and the guidance it informs both highlight the importance of schools using strategies that help to engage and bring together those involved in putting in place new approaches and encouraging reflection on needs throughout the process.

The research estimated that over half of interventions introduced in school settings are not maintained after two years. This represents significant resources, both financial and time-related, that are not improving pupil outcomes in the medium term.

The realist review produced a “programme theory” that identifies key evidence-based conditions and underpinning drivers of implementation that improve outcomes. Researchers appraised evidence for 34 implementation strategies (e.g. needs assessments, create an implementation team, monitor fidelity) that schools can use to support the implementation of a new approach in their setting. This evidence is the first of its kind that focuses as much on when schools might use these tools and how they might use them to their greatest effect.

The research was carried out by Darren Moore, Rachel Proctor, Simon Benham-Clarke, Hayley Gains, G. J. Melendez-Torres, Morwenna Rogers, Rob Anderson, Dave Hall, Vashti Berry, Camilla Forbes and Jenny Lloyd from the University of Exeter along with Nick Axford, from the University of Plymouth, and Jemma Hawkins from Cardiff University.

Dr Moore said: “Our research shows that schools should view implementation as an ongoing process of adaptation and inquiry, not just a set of steps to follow. This includes revisiting aspects like staff buy-in and data collection throughout the process to ensure successful implementation.

The research and the corresponding guidance report helps empower schools to put in place conditions that can support implementation and select actions that encourage all individuals involved to engage, reflect, and unite throughout the process.”

Download the research report and access the updated “A School’s Guide to Implementation” and free resources to support successful implementation.