Research School Network: Implementation across multiple schools: Start with the adults to ensure success for children Making meaningful, lasting changes to practice in your school


Implementation across multiple schools: Start with the adults to ensure success for children

Making meaningful, lasting changes to practice in your school

Claire Williams, Director of Alexandra Park Research School and Deputy Headteacher, and Dave Seneviratne, Evidence Lead in Education and Year 2 teacher, from Alexandra Park Primary School in Stockport, consider the challenge of implementing a new Year 2 vocabulary acquisition programme across six schools.


With a collective 35 years in primary education, we’ve learnt a great deal about how to implement promising approaches and practices badly in the classroom. We’ve witnessed various well-intended school leaders stand in front of packed staff training sessions, telling us how the next thing’ is going to make all the difference for our pupils.

The expectation that this limited model of professional development would then magically translate to improved pupil outcomes, despite best efforts, rarely occurred. As we reflect on years gone by, what we keep coming back to is not necessarily a failure of what’ we were implementing, but how’ we were implementing.

Schools are complex, and the conditions we operate in are rarely optimal for effective implementation.

Implementation: Focus on the how

There has been a welcome shift in education, to an increasingly evidenced-informed system. Access to high quality materials – such as the EEFs Teaching and Learning Toolkit and suite of guidance reports – mean the what’ we could do in schools to improve outcomes has never been more accessible and relevant for busy, time-poor teachers and school leaders. It’s in this context that the EEF’s updated guidance on implementation brings into sharp focus the importance of implementing effectively in our schools.

The popularity of the previous report speaks to our developing collective understanding that implementation is a process. This updated guidance helps us to understand and put into action how to do that process well. The emphasis on implementation as a collaborative and social process driven by the interactions and behaviours of people has been timely for us.

Using systems and structures to support effective implementation

This year, we’ve worked with a diverse group of schools to implement a programme we had initially designed to address a need in our own school. Our programme has now become an EEF early stage programme to test if it stands up to the pressures and constraints of implementation in different contexts.

We developed a whole class, teacher delivered approach to explicitly teach and systematically review vocabulary across the Year 2 curriculum. We worked with 6 primary schools in Stockport, to understand if our programme was replicable in other settings. One of the key challenges for us as programme designers was shifting our focus from outcomes for children to making sure our programme is acceptable and feasible to implement for the people delivering it.

We cannot have a positive impact on pupil outcomes if the thing’ we are doing is too hard to implement, however strong the evidence base.


Illustrated by the image above, taken from the updated guidance, we attended to the contextual factors first. We knew our programme was evidence-informed, but we had to focus on how we could make it manageable for other schools to implement. It became clear that through our design we could support schools with the systems and structures so that it was acceptable and feasible for all the teachers in the variety of settings they are in.

We then turned to the arguably trickier elements of how to support the people in the schools. How could we develop the behaviours within each school that the guidance tells us are crucial to effective implementation?

Uniting people


When planning our training for the programme, our starting point was to unite all the participants around the key aspects: the why, what, and how.

Firstly, why: We used the research evidence around the importance of vocabulary acquisition and cognitive science approaches to unite their views and values.

Secondly, how: We gave participants the knowledge and understanding of what the research evidence says around how to explicitly teach vocabulary, and explained how this is embedded in our programme design.

Finally, what: We modelled the programme in our classrooms and provided planning time to unite the participating teachers with the skills and knowledge needed to implement the programme. Through facilitated discussions, we guided and supported teachers to translate what they had seen into their own contexts. We gave participants time to plan their sessions alongside the programme developers and familiarise themselves with the tools.

On reflection, we have seen great success in the way that all six schools implemented our vocabulary programme into their Year 2 classrooms. It supports our belief that the careful consideration of how this programme would affect the staff has led to successful implementation. Attending to the behaviour changes of the adults has ensured, in this case, that we have given the evidence-informed programme the best chance of success.

Further reading:

Oral Language Interventions

Vocabulary in Action

The EEF Reading House – Vocabulary

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G. and Kucan, L., 2013. Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. Guilford Press.

Quigley, A., 2018. Closing the vocabulary gap. Routledge.

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