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A Theory-Led Evaluation of a Scalable Intervention to Promote Evidence-Based, Research-Informed Practice in Schools to Address Attainment Gaps

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Ilie, Sonia 


Evidence-based practice is a salient solution that has been presented to address the persistent educational attainment gap linked to economic disadvantage. However, most schools do not engage with research, and we know little about facilitating school-led research use at scale. Linking different approaches to studying educational effectiveness, equity and change, and drawing on cultural-historical activity theory, this study develops intermediate theory about the mechanisms influencing institutions’ success in using research. In the context of the Opportunity Area Programme, supporting place-based interventions in the UK’s most socio-economically disadvantaged regions, we conducted a theory-led evaluation of the Evidence-Based Practice Fund (EBPF), aimed at supporting school-led research engagement to improve learning outcomes. We analysed the documentation of 83 EBPF projects, 8 focus groups, and a school survey. We demonstrate that enabling schools to address locally identified needs motivates research engagement but formulating these as stimulus for change requires scaffolding. Schools were keen but needed re-translation to use research to address those challenges. Low-key school-to-school support was found adequate. Leadership support and collaboration were significant but require relational expertise and professional learning to be effective. This study demonstrates that the use of research by schools at scale is possible and can transform a school’s agency in developing their own practice to improve equity.



attainment gap, evidence-based education, research-engaged schools, school effectiveness and school improvement, cultural-historical activity theory, theory of change, theory-led evaluation, relational agency, transformative agency, educational equity

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Education Sciences

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Suffolk County Council (IOA 3.4)