Case Study

Three ways schools and colleges can be integrated into evaluation, blog by Diarmid Campbell-Jack

Client: Various Governmental and Third Sector Clients | Sectors: Social Policy

In his latest Blog, Diarmid Campbell-Jack (Ecorys Associate Director) considers what’s important to get the best evidence while ensuring that schools genuinely benefit from the end result. 

Three ways schools and colleges can be integrated into evaluation, blog by Diarmid Campbell-Jack

In my previous blog, I examined the key factors in evaluating school programmes. However, getting the best evidence is only half of the challenge – it is essential that this is done in a way that genuinely engages and works with school staff. 

This really hit home when speaking recently to a member of staff in a nearby primary school. They valued taking part in a recent evaluation, but felt it was rather removed from their immediate concerns. While they did a great job administering surveys and arranging case study visits, these were seen as ‘extra’ requirements that caused additional stress.  

With all these pressures, it is understandable that supporting any evaluation falls towards the bottom of the school priority list. However, our recent experience across a range of school-based evaluations shows a number of foundational approaches that engage schools positively:

1. Establish clear channels of communication. This is all-too-often assumed to happen automatically. On our projects at Ecorys we’ve used a variety of tools depending on school and project needs, from bespoke webinars and project e-mail addresses to news updates and regular conference calls. What is most important, however, is that you commit fully to communication and genuinely listen to schools. This is more difficult than it sounds yet crucial. There’s little point in crafting that perfect questionnaire only to get poor quality data as schools weren’t comfortable asking vital questions about it. 

2. Let them know key information early. One of the common threads through our school evaluation work has been that schools want to know what other schools are doing. They want to know what delivery models other schools are adopting, how they are working and what best practice they have identified. They don’t really want to wait for a year or two for the evaluation report to be published to find out. Let them know as soon as you can and do so in an easy-to-digest format, encourage them to link in with each other and with your evaluation progress.

3. Scope out data and information needs at an initial stage. In general, schools want to see data – they want to know if programmes work, who they work for, how their young people are developing – and they want to be able to compare themselves to other similar schools. In this world of big data there is often a tendency for the evaluator to jump in with a large-scale technological solution such as in-time dashboards. These can work really well – certainly our work on the Peer Support Pilots project for DfE showed the potential advantages in ‘giving back’ data to schools in this way – but often a low-tech approach such as simple Word tables is just as suitable and resource-efficient.

Of course, any engagement with schools and colleges depends upon a variety of approaches and there are many more ways to positively engage them in evaluation work. Do comment and let us know what your thoughts are and what has worked for you.
 

Key Experts

Diarmid Campbell-Jack Associate Director