Research provides a starting point for discussions on improving teaching and learning by signposting the approaches and interventions that have a good evidence base behind them. 

Well-conducted, large scale randomised controlled trials, like EEF’s projects, provide a robust foundation for what is most likely to work in your classroom or school. However, taking the findings of large scale research and applying them in your own context has challenges. 

Taking evidence further

Each Toolkit strand provides the average effect size measured across hundreds of separate studies.

These provide ‘ best bets’ for what is likely to work in your school, but it is vital that discussions on which approaches to adopt understand the challenges of implementing findings into your particular context:

  1. Understand the ‘active ingredients’ of what makes an approach or programme successful, and adapt them to fit the context of their school and the individual pupils. Each Toolkit entry and project report contains a series of questions and points to consider when introducing a new approach.
  2. Education interventions can be fragile and require close attention to the specification; some are more robust and therefore more adaptable.
  3. Dig deeper into the research. Each Toolkit strand comes with a number of recommended reports and studies to help make sense of the research. Similarly, each EEF project report contains detailed information on how the approach or intervention operates.

This section provides guidance and tools to help you implement the findings from research. It uses the following simple four step process: Principles or Programmes?, Making your decision, Preparing your staff and school for change, and Piecing it all together.

Principles or programmes?

In broad terms, there are two ways to adopt evidence-based practice in schools:

  1. Creating your own interventions by adopting the principles from a Toolkit strand (for example, combining the recommendations from the evidence on Phonics, Small Group Tuition and Teaching Assistants.)
  2. Use existing evidence-based interventions in a structured programme (for example, Butterfly Phonics, Switch On Reading or Fresh Start)

Creating your own interventions allows you to design an approach tailored to your own pupils’ needs and mindful of your staff strengths and weaknesses.

However, guiding principles and recommendations are useful, but they can often fall short in applying evidence in real world contexts.

The advantage of evidence–based programmes and interventions of the type that EEF evaluates is that they can act as vehicles to get evidence–based practices working, in a replicable manner. The added advantage is that well-established programmes come with the necessary training to deliver the model with fidelity, rather than leaving professionals to learn about principles of good practice in a more ad hoc way.

Making Your Decision

Working out what interventions will help your school typically requires some understanding of the causes of success or failure of an intervention.

You need to:

  • Know where your school’s weaknesses lie
  • Work out as best you can what the causes of these weaknesses are
  • Predict what is likely to happen if you carry on without a change of practice
  • Propose some possible courses of action
  • Consider the costs and benefits
  • Decide the best course of action

The Cake Diagram 1 below provides a helpful way of identifying if the necessary support factors are in place to make the intervention successful.


Figure 1: Support factors for implementing a successful homework strategy. Source: Cowen, N. & Cartwright, N, (2014)

Preparing your staff and school for change

Implementing evidence requires all the same processes of managing and delivering change that occurs elsewhere in schools.

This is often the most challenging aspect of school leadership, added to which is the reality that simply picking an evidence–based intervention or adopting evidence-based principles isn’t necessarily a guarantee of improved outcomes. 

Consideration has to be given as to whether your department is ready to adopt it. Cowen and Cartwright (2014) provide some useful tools to help leaders think through their decisions before embarking on delivery. 

A simple check list can get the process started:

  • Have you discussed the different approaches and relative merits with your staff?
  • Does everyone understand the need for change?
  • Are there procedures in place to check that you are intervening with the right pupils?
  • Are the systems in place to support delivery and training?
  • Can the intervention be sustained over time?

Piecing it all together

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to ‘what works’ in the classroom. To understand and implement something new requires collective will and buy in, time, professional development and, often, resources. 

Pay attention to the details of implementation: the effects seen in the early stages of an innovation are rarely replicated. But putting in effort to evaluate and embed change is worth it.


  1. (Source: Cartwright & Cowen, 2014)

Further Reading:

Cowen, N. & Cartwright, N, (2014), Making the Most of the Evidence in Education: A Guide for Working Out What Works...Here and Now, CHESS Working Paper No. 2014-03,

Sharples, J. (2013), Evidence for the Frontline, A Report for the Alliance for Useful Evidence,