Shaun Allison, Director of Durrington Research School, introduces the EEF’s latest guidance report, ‘Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation’…
Today the EEF publishes its long-awaited guide to implementation for schools, called Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation.
This document will become a valuable resource for school leaders.
One of the key roles of a school leader is to reflect on how they are doing, identify gaps in the performance of their team, and think about what to do about it. We do this because we are all striving to do the best for our students, so we try new things, seek to learn from those experiences, and work to adopt and embed the practices that work best.
Implementation is what schools do to improve: to change and be more effective.
So why is school improvement so hard and so inconsistent?
The key to this is almost certainly linked to how school leaders think about implementation.
Having identified a problem they want to solve, they will come up with an idea of ‘what’ they want to implement to address it – some kind of intervention to address under-performance. Unfortunately, they often don’t think about the evidence base behind those choices. Is there strong evidence to suggest that your proposed intervention is likely to work? Is it feasible within our context? Without addressing the rationale behind the choice of approach, implementation will struggle before it has begun.
It gets worse though.
Even a very well thought through and evidence-informed intervention will fail if it is not implemented well.
As well as not thinking about the what of implementation, we often don’t think about the ‘how’. Even a very well thought through and evidence-informed intervention will fail if it is not implemented well.
The EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit signposts school leaders to evidence-informed interventions that have the best chance of improving student progress. This should be used to help think about the ‘what’ of implementation.
Once implemented, the EEF’s DIY Evaluation Guide shows school leaders how to evaluate if the intervention has had an impact. This is important, as without it, how do we know if the intervention is worth pursuing?
Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation sits between these two steps:
- Use the EEF’s Toolkit to identify an approach to address the problem, then
- Use the Guide to Implementation to effectively plan this approach, then
- Use the DIY Evaluation guide to evaluate the impact of this approach on student progress.
Having identified the best approach to use to address the problem in hand and thought about how we will evaluate its impact, we need to think carefully about how we will apply the approach.
Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation frames implementation as a series of four stages:
- Specify a tight area of focus for improvement that is amenable to change.
- Determine a programme of activity based on existing evidence of what has – and hasn’t – worked before.
- Examine the fit and feasibility of possible interventions to the school context.
- Make an adoption decision.
- Develop a clear, logical and well-specified implementation plan: a) Specify the active ingredients of the intervention clearly: know where to be ‘tight’ and where to be ‘loose’. b) Develop a targeted, yet multi-stranded, package of implementation strategies. c) Define clear implementation outcomes and monitor them using robust and pragmatic measures.
- Thoroughly assess the degree to which the school is ready to implement the innovation.
- Once ready to implement an intervention, practically prepare for its use: a) Create a shared understanding of the implementation process and provide appropriate support and incentives. b) Introduce new skills, knowledge and strategies with explicit up-front training. c) Attend to the implementation infrastructure.
- Adopt a flexible and motivating leadership approach during the turbulent initial attempts at implementation.
- Reinforce initial training with follow-on coaching within the school setting.
- Use highly-skilled coaches.
- Complement expert coaching and mentoring with structured peer-to-peer collaboration.
- Use implementation data to actively tailor and improve the approach.
- Make thoughtful adaptations only when the active ingredients are securely understood and implemented.
- Plan for sustaining and scaling an innovation from the outset.
- Treat scale-up as a new implementation process.
- Ensure the implementation data remains fit for purpose.
- Continuously acknowledge, support, and reward good implementation practices.
Each stage in the process is fully explored in terms of leadership approaches, practical recommendations and checklists for leaders. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how great an educational idea or intervention is in principle; what really matters is how it manifests itself in the day-to-day work of people in schools.
This new guide from the EEF will do just that, by supporting school leaders in the process of effective implementation.