Evaluating the impact of interventions: making a real difference to pupil outcomes

Owen Carter provides practical advice on how schools can make more informed decisions when it comes to understanding impact

While all schools are committed to improving outcomes, the real impact of pupil interventions is often extremely challenging to assess; in a study conducted by ImpactEd, only three per cent of schools reported confidence in their impact evaluation. So, what can we do to ensure initiatives are making a real difference for children, and what questions can school business managers ask their senior leadership teams to ensure impact and value for money?

Targeted support and pupil intervention – whether one-to-one tutoring, curriculum boosters or behavioural programmes – can contribute towards the goal of helping schools narrow the attainment gap, especially for the most disadvantaged children. However, in many cases, it is often challenging to assess whether an intervention has had an impact at all.

This ‘evaluation deficit’ can make it difficult for teachers to provide hard evidence on interventions and, in a time of financial pressures, ensuring impact for every pound spent – particularly in relation to pupil premium funding – is increasingly important.

So what considerations need to be taken into account to ensure schools are supporting students and getting value for money?

Assessing and evidencing your interventions
Firstly, speak to staff and assess what provision is in place, whether they believe it’s effective and what methods they are using to understand pupil progress. The key thing to focus on here is outcomes – not just what staff are doing, but what they are trying to achieve. This allows for constructive discussion on how the programmes they have put in place are intended to lead to the outcomes they want to achieve.

Having reached clarity about outcomes, you will be in a better place to think about how you might measure impact. You should, typically, aim for some kind of baseline measure – before an intervention has started – and a final measure to compare this against. Where possible, you should also compare against groups that aren’t receiving a particular intervention.

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Don’t feel that this will, necessarily, require new data collection or administrative burdens; in many cases your school will already conduct regular assessments that can be triangulated against interventions for this purpose. If staff are trying to improve non-academic outcomes, be clear about that – you may want to consider measures such as pupil questionnaires or pastoral outcomes from your MIS.

You should encourage your senior leaders to think about the quality of data. High-quality, standardised assessments (for example, national exams) will, typically, be much more reliable than classroom judgements – but will also be less frequent.

Finally, once you have your baseline and final data in place, and ready to analyse, you’ll want to compare this against spend and – just as importantly – teacher time. This will help you get a better sense of the impact you are getting for the investment you are making.

Smart use of systems and processes
Although impact evaluation can be useful as a one-off activity, it is most powerful when embedded as a continuous process, so that senior leaders are putting impact first when thinking about any new initiative they want to introduce.

You may wish to consider investment in systems or platforms to support this process. Do some research and look for platforms that offer more than just tracking – you want to know not just what is going on, but what difference it is making. Having this information in one place will also help with reporting and using data to guide decision-making consistently.

A holistic and streamlined approach to evaluation will make it impactful and meaningful to both the school and its pupils. Done well, school business managers can work alongside staff to identify effective solutions that deliver results, not only in supporting pupils to reach their full potential, but also in providing value for money in an era of ever-tightening budgets.

Owen Carter is co-founder and managing director of ImpactEd.

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