In 2016, the EEF launched a campaign to improve literacy levels for pupils in the North East of England, with a particular focus on those eligible for free school meals. The campaign had three key elements: practical guidance in the form of the EEF’s primary literacy guidance, local advocacy provided by advocate partner organisations and programmes support through EEF-funded evaluations of high potential literacy programmes in the region. The campaign was co-funded with the Northern Rock Foundation.
NFER were appointed as the independent evaluator for the formative stage of the evaluation (2016-2018). An impact evaluation was also commissioned which will be published following the conclusion of the campaign.
The evaluation found that there was evidence of positive impacts on schools’ adoption of evidence-based literacy practices and schools’ propensity to support good practice in literacy, relative to comparable schools across the rest of England. The evaluation also found an improvement in schools’ use of research evidence. Taken together, these findings provide promising evidence about the impact of the campaign.
The evaluation concluded that the impact of advocacy was mixed, although it may be too soon to see the full impact of the approach. The advocacy approach was successful in initially engaging a high number of schools and the case-study data indicated that schools were generally positive about the advocacy support and that it was supporting them to adopt evidence-based practices. Different advocates used different models to work with their schools and some appeared to be more promising than others, although there were trade-offs between all of the approaches. This included the need for both faithful representation of the evidence and the capacity needed to support large numbers of schools.
We are using the findings from this evaluation to inform the next stage of our campaign in the North East and our wider work to support schools to use research evidence to improve pupil outcomes. Based on this evaluation, and our wider work, we are moving away from a model of simply commissioning advocates and instead moving to more intensive, longer-term partnerships with greater training and support from the EEF. In the North East, this will be supported by our work with the expanded Research Schools Network, which is part of our new regional strategy.