Unpacking a school’s guide to implementation Part 3: The active ingredients

25 February 2018

If you’ve been keeping up with our blogs on the six recommendations from the EEF guidance report Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation, you’ll know that we have looked at the foundations for successful implementation and how to choose interventions. Now, we explore Recommendation 4: Create a clear implementation plan, judge the readiness of the school to deliver that plan, then prepare staff and resources.

This one gets 14 pages of the implementation guide, which illustrates how important the implementation plan itself is. The EEF split it into three separate sections: Develop a clear, logical and well-specified plan; Assess the readiness of the school to deliver the implementation plan; Once ready to implement an intervention, practically prepare for its use.

One aspect of this section that we think is worth drawing attention to is the idea that ‘active ingredients’ are crucial to a successful plan and subsequent implementation.

Defining the active ingredients

The ‘active ingredients’ of an implementation are the non-negotiables that must take place. By defining the key principles and sharing them widely from the outset, it is more likely that the intervention will be carried out with fidelity. This is illustrated in the very useful implementation plan in the guidance report by Meols Cop High School, based on Flash Marking. They list the active ingredients that the implementation of Flash Marking must have: No grades; Codes within lessons; Personalisation and planning; Metacognition. Each of these are expanded on with the non-negotiables:

Active ingredient 2 (Codes within lessons) Provide feedback using codes that are skill specific, known as Flash Marking (FM).

  • FM codes given as success criteria.
  • FM codes used to analyse model answers.

Just like it isn’t Battenberg cake without marzipan, – it isn’t Flash marking without these ingredients.

Schools may not always take such a formal approach to planning the intervention (such as the logic model used by FLASH marking), but they should ensure that these non-negotiables are in place. Flash Marking is an intervention based on using codes for marking pieces of work in English, but without the definition of ‘No Grades’ as Active Ingredient 1, there would be a danger that those involved in the implementation might include grades. Soon, the fidelity of the intervention is lost.

One of the dangers of adopting or adapting an intervention which has already worked in another context is that sometimes the ‘active ingredients’ are not clear. It can seem that you are faithful to the original programme but may not be implementing something that was crucial in the success in that context. In this case, you should speak to the developers of that intervention and try to find out the key ingredients for success that may not be documented.

Making the active ingredients explicit to all

Any materials designed as part of the intervention e.g. training manuals should make these active ingredients explicit and any structural changes made to accommodate the active ingredients should be planned in advance and sustained over time. Without these steps, it can be hard to maintain whatever is necessary for the implementation to work. Another problem can be that lots of additional aspects can be added to a particular intervention over the course of its life, which makes it something else entirely. Often in schools, an intervention can be brought in by one person who later leaves the school. We can see these interventions dying or changing as a result. Again, the explicit definition and sharing of the active ingredients helps to mitigate for this.

CPD is a crucial part of ensuring understanding of these key ingredients and without it there is the danger that the intervention doesn’t take hold. There should be up-front training and ongoing training as the implementation develops. We will explore effective CPD and how this helps the delivery of interventions in our next post.

Posted on 25 February 2018
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