Challenge the Gap

Challenge the Gap (CtG) is a school to school improvement programme that aims to break the link between disadvantage and attainment through collaboration and the sharing of best practice between schools. The approach is influenced by the London Challenge, which has been credited by many with raising the performance of London secondary schools.


Key stage


Cross curriculum


EEF Summary

The aim of this intervention was to narrow the attainment gap. The study found no evidence that CtG had an impact on attainment overall, but some exploratory results suggest that there were different impacts on pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM). In primary schools the gap seemed to narrow, with FSM eligible students in CtG schools making 2 months’ additional progress in comparison with similar students in schools that did not receive the intervention. In secondary schools, however, the gap seemed to widen, with FSM eligible students in CtG schools making 2 months less progress. It may be that conditions in primary schools allowed CtG to have a greater impact on FSM eligible pupils. These sub-group analyses, however, include lower numbers of pupils and are therefore of low security. Staff members that took part in CtG valued the opportunity to collaborate with other schools and were positive about the approach.

EEF has no plans for a further trial of CtG. The CtG approach has been developed and continues to develop since this evaluation.

Research Results

KS2 attainment

Months' Progress
Evidence Strength

KS2 attainment (FSM)

Months' Progress


KS4 attainment

Months' Progress
Evidence Strength

KS4 attainment (FSM)

Months' Progress


Were the schools in the trial similar to my school?

104 schools participated in Challenge the Gap, 65 primary schools and 39 secondary schools.

In primary schools, around 24% of pupils were FSM eligible. In secondary schools 16% of students were FSM eligible.

In primary schools, around 11% of pupils had special educational needs (SEN), while in secondary schools this figure was 8%.

In primary schools, around 40% of pupils had English as an additional language (EAL). In secondary schools this figure was 20%.

Could I implement this in my school?

The Challenge the Gap programme is available to purchase from Challenge Partners.

Schools are assigned to a network, which provides them with opportunities for collaboration, developing new practice that aims to reduce the attainment gap.

In this intervention, staff were required to attend six sessions over the school year. Time is also required for developing and implementing programmes, and inter-school activities.

Challenge the Gap is designed for schools with a specific goal of reducing the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and other pupils.


SLT, Teachers, TAs

Delivered by


Whole School

Participant group


1 Year

Intervention length

How much will it cost?

The annual subscription fee for ‘Challenge the Gap’ is currently £4,975 for primary schools, and £8,500 for secondary schools.

The average cost per pupil per year over three years is £19 in primary schools and £9 in secondary schools. Cost per pupil will be higher in smaller than average schools.



Cost per pupil



No. of Teachers/TAs


6 Days

Training time per staff member

Evaluation info





Key Stage

Start date

January 2012

End date

July 2017

Type of trial

Effectiveness Trial

Evaluation Conclusions

  1. The project found no evidence that Challenge the Gap (CtG) increased average attainment for either primary or secondary school pupils, overall. The security of the primary school results is low to moderate, and the security for the secondary school results is low.

  2. The findings are different for children eligible for free school meals. FSM-eligible children in CtG primary schools made 2 months’ additional progress compared to similar children in other schools, while FSM-eligible children in CtG secondary schools made 2 months’ fewer progress compared to similar children in other schools. The smaller number of FSM-eligible students in the trial means that these results are less secure than the overall findings.

  3. Teachers and non-teaching staff from participating schools were extremely positive about the involvement of their schools in the CtG programme and valued both the professional development opportunities it provided and the opportunity to collaborate with partner schools.

  4. CtG is a flexible programme that allows lead schools to share best practice. There was large variation between the strategies that were adopted by the schools in the programme.

  1. Updated: 5th January, 2018

    Printable project summary

    1 MB pdf - EEF-challenge-the-gap.pdf

  2. Updated: 6th July, 2017

    Challenge the Gap Evaluation Report

    2 MB pdf - Challenge_the_Gap_Evaluation_Report.pdf

  3. Updated: 8th February, 2016

    Project Protocol

    363 KB pdf - EEF_Project_Protocol_ChallengeTheGap.pdf

Full project description

Challenge the Gap (CtG) is a school collaboration programme designed by Challenge Partners that aims to break the link between disadvantage and attainment. The main components of CtG are: after-school workshops drawing on published research and evidenced practice; focused in-school interventions with a selected cohort of disadvantaged pupils; cross-school collaboration and practice development; and practical tools and resources for use in schools and additional online materials.

Each school is assigned to a ‘trio’, comprising one ‘Lead’ school, which has demonstrated effective practices for reducing the attainment gap, and two ‘Accelerator’ schools, for which closing the attainment gap is a major priority. The programme lasts for a year, during which expertise is transferred from Lead to Accelerator schools. Schools initially target programme activity at a small group of disadvantaged students (12–15 in each school), with a view to rolling out the best practice more widely across the school and sharing what they have learned with new partner schools in subsequent years. The different approaches in each Lead school mean that practices vary between each trio.

This project evaluated the 2012 version of the CtG programme (Challenge Partners have since developed and continue to develop the approach). An initial pilot study began in late 2012 and focused on the feasibility of the approach with a group of 30 schools. The next phase of the evaluation involved 104 primary and secondary schools (21,041 pupils), which were funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to take part in the programme between 2013 and 2014, and then given the option to pay for a further year between 2014 and 2015, taken up by 49 schools. The evaluation assessed the impact on all participating schools, using 2015 Key Stage 2 or Key Stage 4 results. The main evaluation was a matched-controlled efficacy trial. A randomised design was not feasible as the school-to-school nature of the work meant that schools would need to be recruited and randomised as groups of three. Process evaluation data was collected through surveys, school visits, interviews, and monitoring postings on the CtG website.