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Research School Network: Evidence is only half the story

Evidence is only half the story

by Unity Research School
on the

Schools are learning organisations. In seeking to do better for the children and young people in their charge they try new things, learn from those experiences, and work to adopt and embed the practices that work best.

This process of learning and change is a constant in schools. Implementation is what schools do to improve: to change and be more effective.

And yet implementation is a domain of school practice that rarely receives much attention. In our collective haste to do better for pupils, new ideas are often introduced with too little consideration for how the change will be implemented and what detailed steps need to be taken to maximise the chances of success. Too often the who, why, where, when and how are overlooked.

We know a lot about what can go wrong when good ideas are implemented poorly – the sense of lost opportunity, cynicism and change-fatigue that often results. But the characteristics of good implementation are ill-defined. And often those who do implement well tend do so by instinct or what might be called common sense, but turns out to be quite uncommon.

The Education Endowment Foundation is looking to help change this by drawing on research findings from the fields of implementation science, improvement science and change management, along with evidence from the EEF’s own research trials in schools. By doing this, we hope to demystify the science of good implementation and make it accessible to school leaders, with practical support from our Research Schools Network.

Taking just one lesson from this emergent work, the evidence shows that it’s important that schools take a staged approach to implementation, starting with an exploration stage to match interventions with school and pupil needs, and working methodically through subsequent stages to ensure the new work is sustainably embedded. Along the way it’s important to ask if the timescales are realistic, including fitting with the rhythm of the school year and allowing time for timetable changes, new administrative processes, recruitment, communication and training, and for clearing space for the new work via strategic abandonment of existing work. Too often these steps are missed or rushed, and good ideas are not given a chance to succeed.

The EEF’s Implementation Guidance is due to be released in the Spring of 2018 and will be supported by a range of CPD, tools and resources to help build implementation capability in schools across England, ensuring that our knowledge of what works is accompanied by expertise in how to make it work.

Find out more at

On Friday, October 20, at the ASSET Education/​NE Ipswich Network PD Conference, Stephen Fraser and Andy Samways, director of Samuel Ward Research School enjoyed encouraging Key Stage 1 and 2 teachers from across Ipswich to work through the EEF’s Literacy Guidance reports, thinking about what effective implementation of the recommendations might look like in their classrooms.

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