Research School Network: Putting evidence to work – A school’s guide to Implementation. Michelle Cobb, ELE at Aspirer, reflects on implementing a systematic approach to develop fluency across the school.


Putting evidence to work – A school’s guide to Implementation.

Michelle Cobb, ELE at Aspirer, reflects on implementing a systematic approach to develop fluency across the school.

Let’s think of a time when you have introduced a new practice or procedure in school. A new approach to teaching multiplication tables, a new intervention to support reading or a new system to improve attendance. How well did it go? How long did it last? How much impact did it have on the children? How did you know where and when the new approach needed refining or revisiting?

Very often, we are unsure of the answers to these questions. Where professionals are clear, they have often used a clear implementation plan as detailed by the EEF in their guidance report Putting Evidence to Work – A School’s Guide to Implementation. The report begins by laying the foundations for good implementation; allowing enough time for effective implementation, prioritising appropriately, setting the stage for implementation through school policies, routines, and practices, identifying and cultivating leaders of implementation throughout the school and building leadership capacity through implementation teams.

The guidance then moves to the explore’ phase – defining the problem you want to solve and identifying appropriate programmes or practices to implement. Here, despite appearing to be of equal weighting to the remaining three phases (prepare, deliver and sustain), we know that this stage needs greater investment of carefully focused time to identify a tight area for improvement using a robust diagnostic process. The key message being that if we want to get the new approach right, we need to invest the time to explore the data in order to make evidence-informed decisions on what to implement. Within this phase, it is also vital to examine the fit and feasibility of the possible interventions to the current context of the school. So how do we explore the data to ensure we make an adoption decision?

Here we will look at how a maths subject leader conducted the explore phase when developing a systematic approach to developing fluency across the school. The initial hunch’ was that fluency of both additive and multiplicative number facts was creating a barrier for children to confidently solve problems however she needed to move that initial belief to that of being confident that this was a genuine priority area that warranted the investment of time and resources and would ultimately have a positive impact on the outcomes for all children across the school.

So what data did she explore? Initially, she spoke to teachers, observed children working in maths lessons and looked at outcomes in books. Through these observations, data was collected on children’s response times, working methods and confidence in the lessons (this focus was agreed before the drop-ins so that she was clear on what she would be observing within the lesson). Teachers were asked to share both common misconceptions and most frequent mistakes in the lessons they taught. In addition, they were asked to discuss where they felt the children’s barriers to being independent and confident problem solvers were.

This was followed by pupil voice. Again, this had a clear focus (is lack of fluency of multiplicative and additive number facts impacting on children’s solving problems strategies) however the questions prepared for the children were open-ended to allow any bias to be removed from the data collection. Here, she gave the children a simple task and encouraged the children to share their strategies, deepening their responses with pre-planned questions. Why did you choose that method?” What is helping you to get closer to the answer?” What do you already know that is helping you to solve the problem?”

Once this initial data was collected, she then explored where the fluency skills sat within the curriculum. During this stage, she worked alongside teachers from each year group to find out what key number skills were being taught, when they were being taught and how they were being assessed. It was the outcome of this activity that the initial hunch was confirmed as genuine problem and barrier to children’s problem-solving strategies. Teachers were not clear on which key number skills were being taught each year, there was not enough time dedicated to ensure the children were fluent in the number facts required for problem solving and more advance procedural methods and that there was no system in place to assess or monitor these key skills.

After this data was collected and a rich picture of the problem had been built, she was then able to use the expertise of the implementation’ team to critique the findings and probe her thinking to further refine the problem and possible solution. Together they explored the findings and began to prepare for change.

The key message is not to quickly jump in to considering new approaches to implement before rigorously examining the problem. Failing to do this will often mean any new practice or procedure fails to be sustained over time and have the positive impact required to lead to improved outcomes for all pupils.

We spent a lot of time exploring the problem. This allowed us to be really confident that we had identified the area that was going to lead to change and had the data to back this up. As a team, we were able to further refine the problem which made it easier to plan a solution. We implemented a whole school approach to fluency and monitored this regularly to ensure staff understood where to be tight and where they could be more flexible.”

Michelle Cobb

Vice Principal, Sandbach Primary Academy.

More from the Aspirer Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more