Exclusive: DfE must see ideas through, says EEF chief

Sir Kevan Collins says that building the capacity to make things happen is the 'real battle' in English education

Helen Ward

school children

The Department for Education must take the implementation of its ideas more seriously, Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, says.

“Implementation is not an event, it’s a process,” Sir Kevan told Tes. “That’s what the DfE needs to realise.”

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Sir Kevan, who will be leaving the influential research body later this year, said that one of the key issues in education was scaling up innovative ideas – testing whether interventions work not just when they are being driven by enthusiastic researchers in a few willing schools, but when they are rolled out to many hundreds of schools.

And, in an exclusive interview with Tes, he said that the DfE needed to stick with ideas rather than churning out constant new initiatives.

“The people who really need to focus on implementation are the Department for Education,” Sir Kevan said. “Quite a lot of what they do is take an idea, take some resources and their job is to implement it through the system.

"I think the department is pretty good at generating policy ideas and coming up with really interesting and quite innovative ideas that certain ministers are interested in. But what they’re not so good at is implementing them all the way through the line.

“I think this implementation issue is one the DfE, as well as individual schools, has to face. As a system, I don’t think we’re as strong at implementation as we are at innovating.”

Sir Kevan, who is also the “evidence champion” for the DfE’s 12 opportunity areas, said that if he was staying at EEF implementation would be his key focus.

“Although my big focus to date has been to test the veracity of innovation,” he said, “if I was staying any longer it would be on ‘let’s get serious about implementation’.”

He recalled the national literacy strategy, which he directed, and national numeracy strategy, both of which were implemented in every primary school in England.

“Implementation is something we can do if we want to,” Sir Kevan said. “I like the idea of being more evidenced about what we do, but we do need to get more serious about implementing. I think it’s very episodic.

"I think that some schools are well supported with resources to do it; they work in great MATs and great local authorities. Others are very isolated… Implementation requires you to build capacity. The real battle in English education is: can we build capacity?”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Education standards are rising. The proportion of schools rated 'good' or 'outstanding' has increased since 2010, thousands more six-year-olds are on track to become fluent readers, the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers has fallen since 2011 and there is a record rate of disadvantaged 18-year-olds entering full-time higher education.

“We are working with the Education Endowment Foundation on a number of projects across the country to make sure improvements to education are based on evidence of what works.”

Sir Kevan announced today that he is going to become executive vice chairman of the charitable UK edtech venture Learning by Questions, which aims to cut teacher workload through an adaptive learning app.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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