As teachers and leaders, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily matters of school life and neglect the need to look meaningfully at what, how and why our children are learning. This is why I welcome our profession’s gradual shift towards a more research-minded culture and the rise of two trends following the Goldacre Report of 2013, which encouraged the profession to start(!) building evidence into education.
The first of those trends is that teachers across the country are increasingly undertaking their own research as part of professional development and school improvement. These ‘teacher researchers’ are using critical thinking, having learning-centred discussions with their peers and encouraging dialogue and actions regarding future areas of research.
A teacher who is also a self-directed learner and researcher makes a great role model for children and colleagues. Encouraging a culture of research can create a sense of longevity and investment in the school that feeds into your recruitment and retention activities. Research opportunities will attract bright, passionate and committed candidates who want to be invested in your school long term, on top of simply ‘doing the day job’.
The second trend is the increasing role that research findings and evidence play in informing practice and making accountability systems more robust. School improvement plans, intervention planning and Pupil Premium strategies all now increasingly draw on evidence of what works and what research has to say about proven impact.
One of the most popular resources in this area has been the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching & Learning Toolkit – simple to access evidence on the basics of what works, which takes into account time, cost and impact on learning. Similar materials are also available for free from Cambridge Assessment, the Institute of Education and the National Foundation for Educational Researchnfer.ac.uk, to name but a few.
It’s important to note that accessing this kind of research needn’t be a burden. All of the above let you set up email alerts for research news related to your interests and download PDFs at your leisure, and can provide opportunities to take part in research groups, forums and activities when the time suits you.
We’ve also seen the emergence in 2013 of researchED, which organises low-cost, high quality events involving teachers, researchers and policymakers. Operating in a way not dissimilar to TeachMeets, these events can be useful in supporting school leaders who want to see more research happening in their schools.
So think about it – what are you currently doing to engage with research findings and evidence? What else can you do to make your school a community where everyone is genuinely learning about learning?
Fiona Aubrey-Smith is a former school leader, now working as a doctoral researcher holding a number of non-executive board roles at MATs and maintained schools.