Monday, 18 May 2015

The School Research Lead - Should you prioritise evidence-informed inquiry over R&D

This post seeks to share with School Research Leads some of the key findings of Gu et al's (2014) evaluation of teaching school alliances and the subsequent  implications for the development of a research culture within schools.  In particular, this blog will focus on the implications for balance between research and development and evidence-informed teacher inquiry and joint practice development.  To revisit this interim evaluation is particular timely given that one of my personal take-aways from  researchED New York, was the need for schools to give careful consideration to the balance of research and development compared to evidence-informed practice.

Gu et al's report provides the interim findings of of a two-year study of an evaluation of teaching schools, and  which was designed to gather qualitative and quantitative evidence to help understand the impact and effectiveness of such schools.  The report summarises the findings from visits to 18 case study teaching school alliances, which took place in the summer term of 2012/13.  Interviews were held with a diverse range of individuals with different roles and responsibilities within the individual teaching school alliances.  In addition, interviews were held with strategic partners and schools who had been given support from the teaching school.  The report provides insight into the initial work of the teaching schools against the 'Big Six' strands of the teaching school remit.  However, this blog post will focus on the research and development strand.

Research and Development

Positive developments

A number of positive developments were identified, including:
  • Partnerships with HEIs providing promising R&D opportunities
  • Opportunities for practitioner research had been strengthened
  • The development within seem TSAs of R&D as generally underpinning the 'Big 6' rather than being separate and discrete activity.

As always with these initiatives a number of challenges came to the fore, which included.
  • Given that many teachers see research as both daunting and time-consuming, there is  need to steer R&D towards evidence-based teacher enquiry and joint practice development.
  • Not all TSAs had been able to prioritise R&D
  • It was recognised that R&D may not demonstrate immediate impact, and because of the time-consuming nature of R&D some TSAs had not focused on this aspect of the Big 6
  • There was frustration at the lack of funding available for some aspects of TSAs R&D work

So what are the implications for School Research Leads of the report's findings.   For me at least there are four implications worth further consideration.
  1. School Research Leads need to have a clear understanding of the differences between R&D and evidence-based teacher inquiry.   I have explored this issue in more detail in a previous post, but the difference between the two approaches is: evidence-based inquiry seeks to build on existing evidence to improve practice; whereas, research is about creating new knowledge. My stance on this issue is as follows: the role of the School Research Lead is help teachers improve not prove.   By focusing on evidence-based teacher inquiry it will make possible to support the vast majority of teachers with an appropriate opportunity for professional learning.  Research and development may only be of interest to a small, though highly committed, minority of colleagues.
  2. Given the time and resource pressures which are faced by schools, it is important to try and embed evidence-informed practices into the day to day running of a school.  This could take many forms and could include using the the PICO format to help in the development well-formulated and answerable questions.  given the nature of the school-year, there is often a substantial period of time between discussion, decision and subsequent implementation.  This time could be used to ensure that various sources of evidence are drawn upon to answer well-formulated question, which get to the heart of the matter at hand.
  3. Although written for purpose of supporting collaboration across schools, Judy Sebba's and colleagues's report on effective approaches to Joint Practice Development, is essential reading for all School Research Leads.  Many of the approaches which are identified are applicable not just between schools but within schools.  In addition, the work of Timperely, Halbert and Kaser on 'spirals of inquiry' is a valuable companion piece.
  4. Finally, the key issue is prioritisation, and having a clear sense of the type of activity which is most likely to have an impact upon colleagues's professional learning, and pupil outcomes.  Big high profile projects in partnership with HEIs may have an appeal, but these activities should only be supported if there are clear mechanisms by which the work of these projects can be embedded within the work of the school, and adds to the long-term capacity and capability of the school.  
To be continued

In future posts the intention is to examine in much more detail what is meant be evidence-based teacher inquiry and Joint Practice Development.  In particular, the intention is to look at literature outside of 'education' to consider whether this has something to offer in the development of both practices.

The teaching schools evaluation: Emerging issues from the early development of case study teaching school alliances, Research brief, March 2014, Qing Gu, Simon Rea, Robert Hill Lindsey Smethem & John Dunford – The University of Nottingham

Joint practice development (JPD) Schools and academies:  What does the evidence suggest are  effective approaches? Judy Sebba, Phillip Kent, Jo Tregenza, University of Sussex, School of Education and Social Work

A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry, Timperley, H, Halbert, J and Kaser, J. (2014) Centre for Strategic Education, Victoria


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