Covid

How the EEF has scaled up and levelled up Covid catch-up

An independent evaluation of EEF Accelerator Fund activity highlights the work’s success at scaling up catch-up interventions in under-served regions, explains Becky Francis

An independent evaluation of EEF Accelerator Fund activity highlights the work’s success at scaling up catch-up interventions in under-served regions, explains Becky Francis

27 Mar 2023, 13:30

The past few years have presented huge challenges in the education sector. In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, schools – tasked with getting their pupils’ progress back on track – have done their utmost to remedy gaps in learning. At the EEF, we knew we had a role to play to support schools to put evidence use at the core of approaches to learning recovery.

As part of this, supported by the Department for Education’s Accelerator Fund, we expanded our work to develop and scale up evidence-informed programmes that have potential to raise pupil attainment outcomes in literacy and maths.  

Earlier this month, we published NFER and Sheffield Hallam’s independent evaluation of the first year of our Accelerator Fund activity. So, what have we learned, and how will these lessons feed into the support we offer to schools in the coming years?  

Real appetite from schools

The first year of our Accelerator Fund activity focused on increasing access to evidence-informed programmes in regions of England where there were early indicators that learning had been particularly disrupted by the pandemic: the Regional School Commissioner regions of North of England, East Midlands and Humber, and the West Midlands.

We planned to support around 1,000 schools to access scale-up programmes or take part in trials of high-potential programmes in the first year. Demand from schools was high, with around one-fifth of all schools in the North of England signing up to take part.

Teachers and school leaders who took part reported that the work reflected their development needs and priorities, and three-quarters were ​“extremely” or ​“very” satisfied with their experience, indicating their enthusiasm for putting evidence to use in their respective settings.

Scaling at pace

Crucially, the evaluation indicates that EEF’s Accelerator Fund activity could help to pave the way for increasing access to high-quality programmes in the longer term.

Scaling up is challenging, and historically we’ve found that the positive impact of a programme can be reduced – or even lost – when it is delivered to larger numbers of pupils and schools.

Our Accelerator Fund activity represented a concerted effort to support programmes with positive results from previous EEF trials in the scaling process, through developing a ‘capability building’ support package. This included brokering external expertise to guide our programmes through the scaling process, and most crucially to do so while maintaining their quality.   

The evaluation findings show that our capability building work successfully supported initiatives with robust evidence of improving outcomes, and that this could be a model for wider EEF work. Getting our approach to capability building right means that we’ll be able to support more promising programmes to reach more pupils in the future.

Supporting programme design

The Accelerator Fund aims to support the supply of well evidenced programmes so that they are available to more schools in the longer term.

Through this work, we directly supported the development of new programmes, focusing on areas of teaching and learning underpinned by strong evidence.

Schools were effectively supported to engage in thorough, deep thinking about programme design and planning, implementation and evaluation. This approach not only enabled us to show that high-quality programmes can be developed in this collaborative way, but provides us with new approaches to trial through our programmes pipeline.

We’ll continue to support schools to access evidence-based programmes through the Accelerator Fund, with funding available until 2025. This year, we’ve expanded its reach so that all schools in England are eligible to participate. Schools can now sign up to take part.

Our work through the Accelerator Fund will enable us to speed up the development, testing and scaling of evidence-based programmes. The lessons we’ve learned and will continue to learn from this work offer huge potential for broadening access to evidence-informed programmes in schools across England.

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