Sunday, 5 June 2016

Teaching Schools and R&D : A case of the emperor's new clothes?

When writing about evidence-based practice and research and development within schools, it seems only proper to refer to the ‘evidence’ on the research and development within schools.  As such, in this post we will summarise the findings of Gu, Rea, Smethem, Dunford, Varley and Sammons (2016) evaluation of teaching schools.  In particular, I will focus on the findings relating the research and development strand of the ‘Big Six’.  I will then go and explore the implications of Gu et al’s findings for teachers, school-leaders and policy-makers.

Overview

Gu et al’s evaluation of teaching schools draws upon a range of evidence, which includes:

  • Case studies of 26 teaching school alliances – spread across cohorts 1, 2 and 3
  • Online surveys for both the middle leaders within teaching schools and the senior leaders of teaching school and their strategic partners (interestingly only 10 middle leaders responded compared to 149 school leaders from 127 teaching school alliances)
  • Interviews were also conducted with representatives from the NCTL, and the Chair of the Teaching Schools Council (TSC)
  • In addition, the NCTL commissioned a separate investigation explore whether there was a relationship between being a member of a teaching school alliance and improved pupil outcomes at Key Stages 2 and 4 – variables used in the model included : eligibility for FSMs, the IDACI index, special educational needs and the language spoken at home.


The Findings on Research and Development (R&D)


  • Some alliances (both primary-led and secondary-led) are still yet to develop this strand of work, others (an increasing majority) have been proactively promoting R&D in their schools. Inquiry-led joint practice development across schools is thus emerging and/or developing.
  • Some alliances found that embedding R&D in all aspects of the TSA work enables them to develop teachers and pupils as researchers.
  • HEI partnerships are perceived by the majority of the case study teaching schools to have provided promising R&D opportunities

However, there are a number of challenges still to be met and these include:

  • Securing the time and involvement from other schools (including the active involvement of class teachers),
  • Accessing academic journals and papers,
  • Accessing materials about what other teaching schools are doing and getting involved in national R&D activity.
  • Senior leaders in some schools still find it difficult to engage with the R&D agenda.
  • Achieving a school-wide and alliance-wide understanding of research in a school context is still to be developed in the majority of case study alliances

Commentary

At first blush the section on research and development seems extremely thin, with a significant minority of schools yet to engage at all with the research and development agenda.  This to me would suggest that this strand of the Big 6 has not been consistently and successfully delivered but no one wishes to admit it,

Second, it we want teachers to engage with and participate with research and evidence, then it cannot just be added onto existing job roles.  If we want teachers to be ‘fully-formed’ and active evidence-based practitioners or participants in HEI led research projects, we need to give teachers the time, the space and the support necessary.  To that end it will be necessary to examine current job roles and practices and identify those things that teachers and head=teachers are no longer to do.  However, both finding the time necessary to undertake such activities and providing access to research evidence are necessary but not sufficient conditions for teachers to be evidence-based practitioners. Teachers and headteachers will need to supported to develop skills and competences required.

Third, it’s all not all about time and money.  Brown and Zheng (2016) have identified a number of relatively resource-light strategies that headteachers can use to promote research based practice within a school, and state:

What is key is, however, is that these solutions do not appear to be either resources intense or complex to implements, relating as they do to school leaders to : 1) promote the vision for evidence-use (that is, encourage its use); 2) engage in actions such as ‘modelling’ , ‘monitoring’ and ‘mentoring and coaching’ in order to demonstrate how evidence can be employed to improve issues of teaching and learning; 3) establish effective learning environments in which learning conversations around the use of evidence can flourish. (p15)

However, these strategies are based on the assumption that headteachers understand what is meant by evidence-use within schools, as if they are not able to do so, it will be extremely difficult to promote a vision supporting the use of evidence.   Unfortunately, as Gu et al’s evaluation states that school senior leaders often find it difficult to engage with the R&D agenda.  In such circumstances, it is unlikely that either the school or the TSA will have a strong and robust research and development agenda.

Some final words

Much is made of the notion of the self-improving school system.  However, given the relative lack of success in developing the capacity for research and development within schools - a capacity for me, which is at the very heart of self-improvement - it seems we are very unlikely to have a self-improving school systems.  We may have individual self-improving schools and TSAs who have embraced research and development, but this in itself may not be enough for a self-improving system.

References

Brown, C and Zhang, D (2016) How can school leaders establish evidence-informed schools: An analysis of potential school policy levers, Educational Management Administration and Leadership 1 – 20

Gu, Q., Rea, S., Smethem, L., Dunford, J., Varley, M., Sammons, P., Parish, N., Armstrong, P. and Powell, L. (2016). Teaching Schools Evaluation: Final Report (DfE Research Report 505). London: Department for Education [online



4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this synopsis Gary useful. One of the key things that you have identified here is that being a researcher is not just something you "can do" and I think that what is needed is the funding to support teachers to undertake development and training in research methods even if only at a basic level or more ideally to think about funding to allow teachers to complete a Master Degree (with a significant research project) in the first 2-5 years after their teaching qualification. However given this is the government that has removed the need to have a qualification to teach and with the Carter report scorning PGCE then it is difficult to see this happening.

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