IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Can incentivising schools to adopt new evidence-based teaching and learning practices be viable?

23 July 2019

Incentivising schools to adopt evidence-based practices has the potential to be a financially viable and educationally beneficial way of scaling up interventions that have shown to improve teaching and learning.

Science Teacher and Pupil, Kirsten Holst © University College London

However, take-up from schools in coastal areas and those in need of support has remained consistently low.

This finding comes from UCL Institute of Education (IOE) analysis of a joint Challenge Fund that was established in 2016 with Suffolk County Council (SCC) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to boost educational attainment in publicly funded schools across the county.

An agreed funding model for the 2016 Challenge Fund required schools to provide 50% of the commercial price of training and materials for their selected intervention programmes, with the EEF and SCC providing 25% each for the remaining costs.

The mixed-methods analysis, led by IOE professors Qing Gu and Jeremy Hodgen, found there was a clear appetite amongst schools to learn how to use research and evidence to inform decisions about teaching and learning.

The report notes that the geographic spread of schools in the 2016 joint Challenge Fund was much more even across the local authority than previous funds. However, it had not, as yet, enabled a comparatively higher proportion of disadvantaged, rural, and coastal schools to benefit from the funding and school improvement opportunities that the Challenge Fund initiatives could bring. ‘Good’ and better schools (as judged by Ofsted) and schools that were shown to be already evidence-engaged were comparatively over-represented.

The researchers found that more schools applied for the 2016 funding than previous calls from 2013-2015. There were clear pull factors in this funding model that had attracted a considerably greater proportion of schools to be involved.

Schools often cited the relevance of the intervention programme in meeting their educational needs and improvement priorities, matched funding, and the positive reputation of the EEF, as reasons for taking up the 2016 Challenge Fund.

Professor Qing Gu said: “Our analysis highlights that there is currently limited evidence in the evaluation to suggest that the 2016 collaborative fund would result in schools’ sustained take-up. 

“Variation in school profiles and implementation processes identified in this evaluation reminds us that system-wide scaling-up campaigns, like the 2016 Challenge Fund, need to recognise how intervention tasks, organisational factors, and diverse contextual conditions of the school community combine to create the variability in intended outcomes. 

“School leaders and teachers should be supported to develop the skills required to refine ‘proven’ external interventions and strategically align them with the existing school priorities, systems and practice. This is key to maximising the sustained take-up and impact of evidence-based practice in different groups of schools and for different groups of pupils.” 



  • Kirsten Holst, UCL