Thursday 28 September 2017

Teachers and research use - Guest post by Professor Chris Brown

As avid readers of this blog will know, evidence informed practice (EIP) is considered to the hallmark of high performing education systems (Furlong, 2014), and is also regarded by many as a prerequisite for effective teaching and learning (OECD et al., 2016). It is also suggested (e.g. OECD, 2016) that optimal forms of EIP involve teachers collaborating to use research to address school priorities, where these priorities coincide with the day to day realities of the classroom (e.g. teachers using of research to improve pupil behavior or pedagogy). At the same time, little research has been undertaken into how this optimal situation can be achieved (Cain, 2015).

Recent work examining the use of research by teachers (e.g. Brown and Zhang, 2016; Stoll and Brown, 2015) suggest that it is possible to characterize teachers’ EIP behaviors according to a combination of their attitudes towards using research for school improvement and teachers’ actual engagement with research. Using teachers’ research-use attitudes and engagement as forming the axes of a 2 x 2 matrix (see Figure 1), means we can begin to think about four evidence-use ‘types’: with type 1 use representing teachers working collaboratively using research to address school improvement priorities; type 2 use teachers are those willing to work collaboratively to engage with research, but who lack the skills/experience required; type 3 teachers are those who work individually, using research to tackle ‘local’ issues of teaching and learning; and finally, type 4 teachers reject any form of research use.

Figure 1: teacher evidence use types

Recently I worked with a federation of three small Church Infant Schools based south Hampshire to develop model of professional learning where four of the statutory staff professional development (INSET) days allocated to schools in England are dedicated solely to evidence-informed professional development. Using a cycle of enquiry approach, the approach hopes to enable teachers to engage collaboratively with research, to develop new practices, to trial these practices, to measure their impact and then roll out the most successful within and across schools in the Federation. To help design the approach I wanted to assess the context for the model using the teacher research types set out above, which I did via teacher interviews.

As well as examining which teachers were situated where, interviewing them also meant I could undertake a ‘cross case’ approach to explore the factors that informed their attitudes towards research use for school improvement as well as their engagement with research. Beginning with the latter, it would seem that key to driving teachers’ actual use of research is their first hand engagement with research. For instance, those teachers who recognized the benefits of using research, were those who had typically recently completing postgraduate study.

A fundamental part of what drives positive attitudes towards research use for school improvement, on the other hand, is the extent to which the use of research is perceived as being something that should extend beyond the local setting: in other words to teachers’ collaborative and networked orientations (e.g. their use of learning conversations and networked learning conversations) and the extent to which evidence-use signifies not just a tool, but something that leads to 21st century teaching and learning within what the OECD refers to as ‘learning organisations’ (OECD, 2016). Related is where there was recognition from teachers that senior leaders were encouraging of the EIP agenda and, vitally, also engaging in acts (such as timetabling) to enable networked collaboration. Where participants held negative attitudes towards research use for school improvement, they highlighted a lack of support to encourage them to engage in research use that involved collaboration with colleagues.

Overall then, it would seem that to support type 1 type perspectives school leaders need to enable teachers to get their ‘hands dirty’, but they also need to ensure all teachers act more readily in the spirit of what Brown and Zhang (2016) refers to as the culture of the networked research learning community, and it is this use of networks in ways that can produce a multitude of benefits at a variety of levels that is likely to be the key to unlocking the potential that the optimal rational position of EIP has to offer.

Brown, C., and Zhang, D. (2016) Is Engaging In Evidence-Informed Practice In Education Rational? Examining The Divergence Between Teachers’ Attitudes Towards Evidence Use And Their Actual Instances Of Evidence Use In Schools, British Educational Research Journal, 42, 5, pp. 780-801.

Cain, T. (2015) Teachers’ engagement with published research: addressing the knowledge problem, Curriculum Journal, 26, 3, pp. 488-509

Furlong, J. (2014). Research and the Teaching Profession: building capacity for a self improving education system. Final report of the BERA-RSA Inquiry into the role of research in the teaching profession, (Lonon BERA).

OECD (2016) What makes a school a learning organization, available at:, accessed on 25 July, 2016.

See, B. H., Gorard, S. and Siddiqui, N. (2016) Teachers’ use of research evidence in practice: a pilot study of feedback to enhance learning, Educational Research, 58, 1, pp. 56-72.

Southworth, G. (2009) Learning centred leadership, in: B. Davies (Ed), The essentials of school leadership (2nd edn) (pp. 91–111) (London, Sage).

Stoll, L. and Brown, C. (2015) Middle leaders as catalysts for evidence-informed change, in C. Brown (Ed), Leading the use of Research & Evidence in schools (pp. 66-77) (London, IOE Press).


A sample of 15 pages of Chris's new book is available here: use EMERALD30 to get 30% off at

Saturday 23 September 2017

Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools : Closing the rhetoric/reality gap

Recent research suggests there is a significant gap between the supportive rhetoric that some headteachers use about the use of research and evidence in their schools and the reality of practice on the ground (Caldwell, et al 2017).  So if you want to avoid getting caught in the gap between the rhetoric and reality, it will be worthwhile having some form of action-plan to help make sure you are creating the conditions for a culture of research and evidence use.  To do this, a useful place to start is the work of (Brown, 2015) who identified a check-list of actions for school leaders to take in developing a research and evidence informed school, and his illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 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 the 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

As useful as this check-list is; from your perspective as an evidence-based school leader it is important to acknowledge its’ limitations. First, as regular readers of this blog will be aware evidence-based school leadership is not limited to issues related to pedagogy and teaching and learning but extends to all aspects of the school.  Second, the check-list does not make specific reference to ethical issues associated with evidence-based practice.  Third, the actions that you will wish to take will depend very much on the current context of your school and its' readiness to engager in research and evidence. Nevertheless, Brown’s work provides a very handy starting point for what you need to do as a school leader to initiate, implement and sustain an evidence-based school culture.

Next week 

We will look at a PARIiHS tool, which was developed in the health-care sector to help you judge the readiness of your school to engage with research.

BROWN, C. (Ed.) (2015). Leading the use of research & evidence in schools. London: IOE Press.

COLDWELL, M., GREANY, T., HIGGINS, S., BROWN, C., MAXWELL, B., B, S., STOLL, L., WILLIS, B. & BURNS, H. 2017. Evidence-informed teaching: an evaluation of progress in England Research report. London: Department for Education.