Before the summer, Huntington School applied for one of the Department for Education (DfE) grants to become a pilot EEF Research School. It was no understatement to say we were, alongside our partner Teaching Schools, hugely disappointed when we received an email recently from the DfE to say that they had dropped the project altogether to focus on other priorities.
During the selection process we thought deeply about the role of research schools in relation to the EEF, higher education institutions and other schools, both locally and regionally. Though the pilot has been dropped, we think that there is a robust case to forge ahead with a similar model that harnesses the power of schools in aiding the mobilisation of evidence-informed practice.
If we want a great school-led system for our students then we will need the best systematic supports to do so. We know the EEF is thinking about what it might do now in this area and how it should work with schools to achieve such an evidence ecosystem.
Our enthusiasm for the pursuit of evidence-informed practice to support teachers and school leaders in schools is undimmed. The rationale of having Teaching Schools in a school-led system supporting the sharing, adoption and implementation of evidence-informed best practice is sound. The national picture, in terms of supporting school training and system leadership develop evidence-informed practice, requires greater coherence. Teaching Schools have their resources often stretched to their limit and they require crucial supports.
Evidence-informed practice has many natural hurdles which inhibit its adoption, like a natural human inclination to continue with what we know, but when this is coupled with a system without systematic supports, then we are in danger of undertaking good research only to see poorly informed adoption and implementation. Evidence-informed practice could fade away, dismissed as little more than a fad.
We know from the EEF research from The Pupil Premium Next Steps report, that schools trust one another to help change and improve their practice. The report findings showed that schools decide upon which approaches to adopt and implement predominantly based on their past experience, but considering research evidence and learning from what works in other schools both follow closely behind.
We have many organisations that report their findings and recommendation from the centre (invariably London), but it lacks the systematic supports of an evidence ecosystem that mobilises knowledge between schools across the country. I envision that having regional Research Schools, like Maths Hubs. can have an important role in helping interpret and evaluate research evidence in order to make them accessible and actionable for teachers.
We envision such Regional Research Schools would have the remit of supporting the mobilisation of research evidence in the following six ways:
- Consulting with the research producers to share and interpret project findings and evaluations in ways that are both practical and actionable;
- Providing an infrastructure of school-based hubs for regional evidence sharing events, linked to organisations like the Teaching Schools Council and HEIs, but school-led;
- Providing an infrastructure for evidence-informed CPD, both locally and regionally, with an emphasis on interpreting the research evidence of sources like the EEF toolkit and encouraging schools to undertake faithful adoption and effective implementation;
- Providing a consistent infrastructure to develop more usable ‘guidance reports’ that are best tailored to the needs of school leaders and classroom teachers;
- Providing an infrastructure to source questions from teachers regarding what further research/evidence projects they would want to answer their problems or knowledge gaps. We think that there is value in having a source of on-going qualitative evidence about attitudes to research evidence that best informs the future project selections by organisations like the EEF;
- Each regional hub would become an expert in field research for a narrower aspect of the toolkit, such as feedback or metacognition, and would support school leaders/teachers in asking questions/sourcing evidence regarding best practice in that area. The hub could develop an infrastructure to take a lead on world class research in this respective area of practice.
At Huntington School, when teacher X asks ‘What are the best high impact/low stress strategies for the revision of multiple GCSE examinations?’ we want to go further than just directing them to the EEF Toolkit or, say, Dunlosky’s research on memorable revision strategies. We want to provide evidence-informed tools for practice to supplement the research-evidence. We want to support them with the best professional tools like that described by John Tomsett here. We want to provide research evidence that they can relate to which they can believe in and more faithfully adopt in their classroom practice.
At a time of ever-shrinking budgets, making best bets with the school budget is more important than ever. Within the vagaries of a school-led system there needs to be systematic supports to mobilise the powerful knowledge of research evidence. Creating Regional Research Schools could prove an important step in realizing a vision of a genuinely school-led and evidence-informed profession.
At ResearchEd 2015, the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb said that teachers need to “strive to make their voices heard” about research that can “empower classroom teachers“. Perhaps Nick Gibb and the Department of Education didn’t think that EEF Research Schools could help this aim, but in a renewed and improved format, I strongly believe that they can.