Sunday, 5 July 2015

Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools

So what does a school research lead do?  Over recent months I have blogged about the actions a school research lead can take to support colleagues become better evidence-informed practitioners.  However, I have yet to develop for a check-list of tasks for those colleagues leading the use of evidence and research within schools. To help fill this gap I have used Brown's (2015) concluding chapter in the excellent new book Leading the Use of Research & Evidence in Schools. to draw up a provisional check-list for school research leads.  Subsequently, I will identify a number of possible omissions from this check-list which may need to be included if it is to provide a comprehensive guide to action.

A Check-List for Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools

Brown (2015) has produced a check-list for school leaders wishing to develop a research and evidence-informed school culture.  In this checklist Brown distinguishes between actions/factor which are 'transformational' in nature and enable research and evidence to be a core components of the work of the school.  These 'transformational' actions are contrasted with those which are pupil-centred and focus upon using research and evidence to improve teaching and learning, and are summarised in Table 1

Table 1 Leading Research and Evidence Use in Schools - Themes, factors and sub-actions (adapted from Brown, 2015)

Does your approach to research and evidence demonstrate your own commitment as well facilitate the efforts of others?
·        Promote a vision of research and evidence-informed school
·        Make resources available
·        Design and implement support structures
·        Create time and space for such work
·        Make it part of everyone’s work (especially leaders)
·        Model the use of research and evidence in decision-making
·        Develop an enquiry habit of mind – look for new perspectives
·       Seek out new information
·       Explore new ways to tackle old problems

Does your approach to research and evidence use have buy-in throughout the school?
·        Adopt a distributive approach to leadership
·       Attend to the informal aspects of the school organisation
·       Identify and influence key-opinion formers and shapers
·       Seek to be consensual
Teaching and learning
Does your approach to research and evidence use ‘start with the end in mind’ and ensure that progress towards this end is tracked?
·       Articulate what success would look like
·        Consider what will need to be done differently
·        Question how things will be different for pupils and teachers
·        How will you know things are different
·        Evaluate impact of any changes
·        Engage in learning conversations – develop theories of action and develop and trial new actions
·        Constantly refine processes and actions
·        Stop doing some things

Does your approach to research and evidence have teacher learning and practice at its core?
·       Continue to emphasise the importance of teacher-expertise
·       Use data to help teachers refine their practice
·        Create opportunities for collaborative learning both inside and outside of the school
·       Continually focus on evidence
·       Draw in external experience and knowledge/theory
·       Develop protocols and ways of working
·      Create facilitative arrangements

Does your approach to research and evidence ensure that the right people are in the room    
·       Develop middle leaders who are interested in evidence-informed practice
·       Identify research and evidence champions
·       Involve people with the right mix of skills to support the use of research and evidence

Some initial observations on Brown's checklist

When constructing a check-list, it is almost inevitable that some items may be left-out.  Items may be omitted from the check-list because they are taken for granted and are assumed to be in place.  Other items may be omitted because they reflect a different stance on the task at hand.   My own experience of check-lists suggest that it is better to have too much on a check-list than too little, so below are a few thoughts as to what could also be included.
  • Does your approach to research and evidence ensure the use of an appropriate ethical framework?
    • Are teachers explicitly aware of an appropriate ethical framework for the use in evidence-ifnromed practice?
    • Do teachers give active consideration to the application of that ethical framework prior to any changes in practice arising from an investigation of the best current available evidence?
    • Are ethical considerations explicitly noted in some form; be it a note on a lesson plan; referenced to within a scheme work; or recorded in some way, be it a reflective diary or log?
    • Are the processes for the recording of ethical issues need to be both, proportional and fit for purpose?
  • Does your approach to research and evidence demonstrate a clear understanding of the difference between research and evidence?
    • Are teachers aware of the difference between evidence-informed practice and research and development?
    • Is the priority of school research activity on disciplined inquiry and joint-practice over and above research and development?
    • Is there a recognition that to role of research and evidence-informed activity is to help teachers improve rather than prove
  • Does your approach to research and evidence build capacity and capability for future learning?
    • Are teachers doing things right (single loop learning)?
    • Are teachers doing the right things (double loop learning)?
    • Are teachers participating  in making well-informed choices regarding strategy, objectives, etc. (e.g. triple loop learning)? George, Romme and Van Witteloostujin (1999)
Some concluding comments

Drawing up a check-list is never easy, particularly in an area where practice is a continued state of development and innovation. Furthermore, even if a comprehensive is check-list is created, it is the skill of the implementor which is paramount in whether the use of the check-list leads to success.  What matters is the extent to which the School Research Lead and other senior leaders display 'phronesis' or 'practical wisdom' in the promotion of a research and evidence-informed agenda within a school.  As such, the skilful school research lead will take the check-list and amend its use in a way which meets the specific needs and context of their school.


Brown, C. (2015)  Conclusion, in Brown C. (ed) Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools, IOE Press, London
Georges L. Romme, A., and Arjen Van Witteloostuijn. "Circular organizing and triple loop learning." Journal of Organizational Change Management 12.5 (1999): 439-454.


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