In 2015, the EEF launched a national campaign to scale up the evidence on ‘Making best use of Teaching Assistants’ based on an EEF guidance report with seven actionable recommendations for schools. In addition to a national programme of dissemination activities – e.g. press, media and policy engagement – we piloted two different approaches to mobilise this evidence, both involving working with regional partners.
The first regional pilot, conducted in South and West Yorkshire, involved commissioning a range of practice-based organisations (e.g. MATs, TSAs, LAs) to support schools in understanding and implementing the evidence. The second regional pilot, conducted across Lincolnshire, involved embedding the scale-up work in existing school improvement initiatives and structures. Both approaches involved a range of practical activities, including, conferences, training workshops, action planning activities and school-to-school support.
A central objective of these projects was to engage large numbers of schools, which was broadly successful, as 42% of primary schools in S&W Yorkshire, and 73% of all schools in Lincolnshire, worked with regional partners to improve the deployment and use of teaching assistants. There is some evidence from the implementation and process evaluations that the schools participating in both pilots changed their practices to align more closely with the EEF recommendations, although this was not always consistent.
Factors that influenced the uptake and implementation of the evidence included the quality of the provision provided by partners (e.g. inclusion of activities that encouraged reflection and evaluation of current practices) and the underlying capacity and culture of the school to lead change (e.g. the engagement and role of senior leaders).
Encouragingly, there are signs that the work of partners in S&W Yorkshire had a small, but widespread, impact on pupil attainment on pupil attainment at Key Stage 2 English. Although the impact corresponds to just a few weeks additional progress, when this is considered across all schools in S&W Yorkshire – not just those who participated in the project – it becomes more meaningful. This is the first sign of promise of EEF’s own mobilisation work filtering through to improved pupil outcomes. It’s worth noting, that this evaluation used an innovative evaluation method (using a synthetic control) to measure the regional impact, so the security rating of this trial is lower than a standard EEF evaluation (two padlocks).
The evaluations indicate that both models have the potential to be used more widely, although the embedded model appears to be more effective in fostering sustainability of research-use beyond the immediate campaign focus. This finding has informed the development of the new Regional Leads role at the EEF, which will integrate research use activities, such as the work of Research Schools, in existing regional school improvement efforts.