The elephant in the school improvement room…

There’s an elephant in the room of school improvement. A massive, ever-present, roaming elephant standing right in front of CPD providers, school leaders, governors and, indeed, policy-makers.

The elephant has a name: it’s called Implementation.

The late Steve Jobs is remembered for many things, but it is his sharp observation on the importance and challenges of effective implementation that speaks with crystal clarity to the elephant’s presence. In a 1995 interview[1], Jobs reportedly said that he observed at Apple a debilitating ‘disease’ that affected adversely the success of the company; the malady was “thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work.” Just having and communicating a good idea is not enough.

Jobs had spotted the elephant long before many organisations had even heard its footsteps, and his obsessive attention to the detail of implementation was arguably one of the drivers of Apple’s rampaging global success.

The early 2000s saw the public emergence of the ‘Toyota Way[2]’, a set of management and production principles adopted by the vehicle-maker to improve and ensure the quality and consistency of its products. While criticised and seemingly unrelated to education, these principles focused very firmly on effective implementation and evaluation as core components of success.

Now, before anyone excitedly responds to this blog by telling me that smartphones, laptops and pickup trucks have nothing to do with education and that I’m just not getting the subtle nuances of the teaching profession, hold on.

While the outcomes of education and industry may be vastly different, the processes leading to success are not. In technology, automotive production and education, people innovate and implement in order to improve; it is in this process, however, that education has fallen behind and failed to learn from cross-sector experience.

Happily, today sees the launch of the Education Endowment Foundation’s Schools’ Guide to Implementation and, as a result, more people in education will see the elephant more clearly. But effective implementation of effective implementation will take cultural change, shoulders to the wheel, and a longer-term view of innovation, implementation and evaluation than most schools and colleges currently hold. That is where EBE is focusing its work.

The EEF’s Guide makes it clear that effective implementation must be seen “as a process, not an event” which should be planned and executed in stages. Here at EBE, we’ve been thinking about effective implementation of our own products and services since our inception in 2015. Working with our design / behavioural science friend Dan Singleton, we’ve recently focused our efforts on applying the principles set out the in the ‘Schools Guide to Implementation’ to our Assessment Lead Programme, and on new projects under development for the autumn (watch this space). We’ve already done a lot of the legwork for schools and colleges by making effective implementation of our training and support easier, more attractive, more social and timely.

Last year, we set about aligning our products and services with the DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (you can read more about this here), again with a view to reducing the legwork for schools. We’re proud to say that they now also align with the best available evidence on effective implementation, and will continue to do so.

We’re confident in saying that products such as our Assessment Lead Programme adhere to the ‘Explore, Prepare, Deliver, Sustain’ model the EEF’s new Guide propounds, and proud to say that all future products will do likewise. In operation, this means that – irrespective of the substantive area of topic our training and support addresses – we will help schools and colleges to do the following:

  • set the stage for implementation through underlying day-to-day practices;
  • establish a culture of shared implementation leadership and accountability; and
  • build leadership capacity through implementation teams.




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