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Dealing with Complexity: Theory of Change Evaluation and the Full Service Extended Schools Initiative

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Alan Dyson, Professor Liz ToddORCiD



The full service extended schools (FSES) initiative in England sought to build the capacity of schools to deploy multiple interventions across a range of child, family, and community contexts in order to improve the lives of children and families, and to enhance the sustainability of the areas where they live. As such, it was part of wider international developments to broaden the role of schools and integrate their work with that of other child and family services. The complexity and indeterminacy of such initiatives present particular challenges to evaluators, and mean that simple input–output approaches to evaluation are inappropriate. This paper reports the use of a theory of change approach to the FSES evaluation. It argues that an approach of this kind is better able to deal with complexity. However, in practice, this approach did not simply replicate standard outcomes evaluation processes in a more context‐sensitive way. Rather, it involved fundamental shifts in what counted as valued outcomes, in a focus on potential rather than effectiveness, and in the roles of actors and evaluators. The paper concludes that, as the role of schools widens, educational evaluators will also have to rethink their roles.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dyson A, Todd L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Research and Method in Education

Year: 2010

Volume: 33

Issue: 2

Pages: 119-134

Print publication date: 01/07/2010

Date deposited: 11/08/2010

ISSN (print): 1743-727X

ISSN (electronic): 1743-7288

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/1743727X.2010.484606


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