Research School Network: Implementation: United we stand, divided we fall Effective implementation is built on the ability to unite the values, understanding and practices of staff.


Implementation: United we stand, divided we fall

Effective implementation is built on the ability to unite the values, understanding and practices of staff.

by Research Schools Network
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Chris Runeckles, Director of Durrington Research School considers why successful school implementation is built on the ability to unite the values, understanding and practices of staff.

Whenever a new or updated guidance report is published by the EEF, I’m always fascinated to see which sections resonate most with the profession. Often there is a particular section of guidance, an infographic or a vignette that really captures people, and you notice it repeated in training, blogs and schools for years afterwards.

With the recent publication of the updated guidance report on effective implementation, I can’t help but wonder which will be those sections for this report.

To call it an update is perhaps to undersell the change. The original report from 2018 had a profound effect on schools. It gave us a language and a process for how we make sure changes are realised and embedded. Implementation now runs through NPQs and countless other forms of professional development across the system.

The 2024 iteration has been a labour of love for those involved. Crucially, it carries a greater focus on people and the role their behaviours play in successful implementation. The first report drew on a substantial evidence base, but this one has left no stone unturned in attempting to understand and articulate where implementation in schools stands and falls.

I find the greater focus on people the most immediately engaging piece of the new report.

The graphic below promotes three core behaviours at the heart of effective implementation in schools. As the guidance says, these are likely to be familiar to us, but they are hard to get right.


Often implementation in schools can be a solitary pursuit. Plans made by individuals in offices are followed by a long process of trying to convince others of their relevance and the need to follow them. The unite’ behaviour emphasises the importance of the way we involve people in this process in a collaborative way, aligning our thinking to support successful implementation. The guidance gives us four key actions to align and unite people. To support this, here is a description and example for each:

Unite views and values

People hold different beliefs and values in education and if an approach doesn’t align with people’s values, they are less likely to implement it. By exploring common goals, acknowledging and addressing concerns, and discussing the risks and benefits of taking action, implementation leaders can help unite values and improve buy-in.


Explicit vocabulary instruction is part of the pupil premium strategy at this secondary school. Prior to any professional development around specific teaching techniques, whole-school training is focused on why this particular strategy is so important for socio-economically disadvantaged pupils. The intervention requires significant teaching time and staff are given the opportunity to explore the rationale for this decision. This includes examples connected directly to the school’s own curriculum where a lack of vocabulary knowledge would inhibit pupils from accessing the lessons.

Unite knowledge and understanding

While shared values lay the foundation for successful implementation, schools also need to cohere around what those values and principles look like in practice. This means developing a shared understanding of what is being implemented, how it will be implemented, and why it matters. Doing so creates clarity among staff in terms of what is expected, supported, and gained through an implementation process, which further unites values.


While retrieval practice is a feature of many lessons across this secondary school, there is only a woolly understanding among teachers of its place and purpose in the curriculum. Time is spent with subject leaders unpicking exactly how retrieval practice supports the curriculum in their subjects. Discussions include what it should be like both at the macro level across a five-year curriculum map and at the micro level in individual lessons. This is then disseminated through subject specific professional development.

Unite skills and techniques

Uniting includes uniting the skills and practical techniques that relate to a new approach. Schools can use professional development activities such as modelling, rehearsal, and feedback to strengthen the consistency of new practices.


This primary school is working on formative assessment, and in particular the use of mini-whiteboards as a formative assessment tool. As well as instruction, much of the early professional development uses models of strong practice. These models come in the form of both video exemplifications collected within the school, and through staff live modelling their own practice in front of colleagues.

Unite implementation processes

Finally, uniting extends to the values and practices that relate to the process of implementation itself. For example, developing a shared belief that monitoring implementation is key to enabling ongoing improvement, rather than playing a punitive accountability function, can fundamentally change how staff feel about implementation. Leaders and staff should explicitly discuss how implementation is conducted in the school and how it can be improved.


At this primary school cognitive load theory has been increasingly influencing pedagogy as teachers consider how to reduce extraneous load. The current focus is on teacher explanations. The school sets up a fortnightly bright spots bulletin, highlighting examples seen during lesson drop-ins. The bulletin focuses on providing positive affirmation and reinforcement for teachers who have been noticed adapting explanations to take account of the training they have received.

To quote the architect of both the original and updated guidance report, Jonathan Sharples: The practitioner is the intervention.” This quote neatly summarises the essence of why we must endeavour to unite teachers around implementation. If not, we run the risk that once teachers are alone with their classes, they do not enact the required change. If we can unite teachers so that they cohere around a truly shared enterprise, we greatly increase the likelihood of theory becoming practice and practice becoming permanent.

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