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


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