Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: How we’re supporting schools to put evidence to use across England: A refreshed approach to regional partnerships

EEF blog: How we’re supporting schools to put evidence to use across England: A refreshed approach to regional partnerships

Lizzie Swaffield
Lizzie Swaffield
National Delivery Manager

Lizzie Swaffield, our National Delivery Manager, gives an overview of how our new regional strategy is providing direct support for schools through local partnerships and advocacy.

Blog •4 minutes •

Last September we launched our new regional strategy, which is focused on supporting schools and settings to access and use research evidence. Our overarching aim is to work in partnership to mobilise evidence in a way that leads to sustained practice change and ultimately improved outcomes for socio-economically disadvantaged pupils.

To make this aim a reality, we’re focused on three key strands of work, which we’re putting into action in partnership with the Research Schools Network:

1. Communicate, exemplify, and advocate for evidence

We work with local and regional networks to showcase evidence in action across a range of settings and contexts. Together with our Research Schools, we advocate for leaders making and acting on evidence-informed decisions, and are intentional about building capacity and developing evidence advocates who represent the diverse communities we serve.

2. Direct, bespoke support for groups of schools through co-constructed partnerships

Our place and multi-academy-trust-based partnerships are designed to be evidence-informed, aligned to the local system and sustained, to achieve both school and system change.

3. Targeted support for organisations working with schools to integrate evidence use into their work

We pilot and develop work with a range of organisations that support schools and educators, including local authorities and multi-academy trusts. This work aims to build their capacity and expertise around evidence use, and share the tools, resources and learning developed with the wider system.

A partnerships approach to evidence-informed school improvement

Partnerships have been, and continue to be, a major part of our regional work. As we transitioned to our new strategy we took the opportunity with the Research Schools Network to reflect, review and capture lessons learned.

Between 2019 and 2023, our regional partnerships achieved fantastic reach. Through over 150 partnerships that provided evidence-based training and follow-on support, we engaged over 6,000 schools. We also reached a higher proportion of schools serving high numbers of disadvantaged pupils.

In collaboration with the Research Schools Network, we’ve played a significant role in increasing awareness and evidence use amongst school leaders, shifting perceptions of effective professional development to emphasise sustained input with support for implementation.

However, the main challenge of brokering partnerships at scale is building the capacity required to maintain the quality of evidence-informed implementation that’s needed to effect change in classrooms and in local school systems.

The education system also changed in this time, and we saw a welcome shift towards a higher profile for evidence-use, for example through the revised National Professional Qualifications.

As a result, we’ve adapted our partnerships approach to support fewer but more in-depth partnerships. Our aim is to maximise the potential for behaviour change and build local system capacity in areas where there are more children facing disadvantage and their outcomes are lower. We continue to support the wider system – and meet the challenge of scale- through the other strands of the strategy that enable greater breadth through work with other organisations working with schools, great exemplification of evidence in practice, and local, regional and national communication and advocacy.

Take time to effectively establish the partnership, build relationships and agree shared priorities

A consistent reflection from our previous partnership work was that more impactful and sustainable partnerships took the time to build a shared understanding of the purpose of the partnership and co-construct shared goals. The process of collectively exploring the needs of schools to identify the focus of the collaboration built collective ownership and helped to secure the commitment of system and school leaders towards long term change, rather than a quick fix.’

Our new approach recognises this learning and begins with an Evidence Exploration Partnership. This is a structured collaborative process to gather and analyse data, identify a common challenge and co-construct an evidence-informed solution to collectively address it.

Our first phase of Evidence Exploration Partnerships are underway in twenty local authorities and multi-academy trusts across England. The time and space to work through this process together has been warmly welcomed by partners.

Partnerships are most effective when they combine a focus on local need and effective implementation of evidence-based solutions

Both our learning and the wider evidence around knowledge mobilisation shows that context matters. The most effective partnerships were those that carefully tailored evidence-based content in a way that is relevant to meet local needs and aligned with the local school improvement system.

We have built this into our new partnership approach so that bespoke support is developed based on the needs identified through the Evidence Exploration process, and is underpinned by effective implementation, professional development and building a good understanding disadvantage. We will work to embed this over a more extended time period with an emphasis on building capacity to support evidence use on an ongoing basis, through two-year Evidence into Action partnerships.

This is the first blog in a series on our regional work. The next will explore our key learnings through partnership case studies. Find out more about regional partnerships.