Is Research Evidence a Luxury for Schools?

We teach in austere times and when the budget is squeezed and changes are afoot we have a tendency to hunker down, work hard and do what we have always done.  Hemmed in by the limits of our budget too little time, we treat research and development as an added extra – some sort of luxury gift that we don’t really need.

Research evidence – well, that is simply a shiny extra, isn’t it? It is for those schools not under the squeeze to improve results. It is for the schools in the leafy suburbs who want to gild their lily and impress the neighbours. It is for those teachers who want to pursue a masters degree or leaders who want to climb up the career ladder. Isn’t it? Let me present the case that research and development should underpin everything that we do in schools (the classroom and the meeting room), not simply prove some luxury gift bestowed on the lucky few.

Are we pursing a class size reduction, buying a fleet of shiny new tech devices, or even considering bringing in the military to straighten ’em out? We could save our precious money and vital time by deploying some research evidence.

If R&D is a priority for Volkswagon, Google, Samsung, Intel, Microsoft, Toyota etc. why shouldn’t it be deployed similarly in schools? Schools are not businesses I hear you say. If you are worried about a factory model of schooling, you can be reassured that schools invariably become more resistant to being sold passing fads and fashions by unscrupulous and scrupulous private businesses alike by undertaking effective R&D as part of their typical business.

I feel you may need a little more convincing. Well, here is my top 5 reasons for schools to invest time (of course, time means money) in research and development:

  1. Research and development can help us to stop doing so many things. People don’t really like proper evaluation because it invariably shows all our efforts didn’t work so well in practice. Still, we must face up to our short-comings and get that little bit better. How much better off would the workload of every teacher be if we asked the development question: if we are going to start doing X, what are we going to stop doing? 
  2. Research and development helps save our precious time. There is a paradox here. We never feel like we have the time or money to invest in research and development. And yet, we therefore fail to to properly evaluate our efforts and so are condemned to repeat our failures.  Take those extra revision sessions: how do you know they are really working? All too easily, we can become the proverbial dog, tirelessly chasing our tails.
  3. Research and development can save money in our budget. Did you know that we spend more on Teaching Assistants than we do roads in England? Not only that, for years, evidence has shown too many schools using TAs badly. What a waste of professional expertise and money. Let’s use our precious resources well. R&D is no luxury – Toyota and those other companies who invest in R&D aren’t doing it for fun, but to increase their bottom line.
  4. Research and development can help us treat teachers like professionals. Survey the evidence for why people become and remain teachers and you will see that teachers want high quality professional training. Schools that gain and retain teachers invest in high quality CPD and give teachers a rhythm and time to reflect on their practice. We can use sound research evidence to guide our CPD model and the focus of our CPD.
  5. Research and development helps us go beyond the headlines to identify the trend lines. Teachers and school leaders are awash with data. We are up to our ears in noisy data, but we cannot hear the signal. The next noisy media headline about the latest success story [INSERT LATEST EDUCATIONAL FAD HERE……………………..] may beguile us, but if we take the time to look deeper into the evidence and the trends around said success story, we realize the success is either highly context dependent, or not really much of a success at all.


If you are a school interested in developing R&D to save you time, energy and money, do consider the following event on the 20th of July that we are hosting with the Institute for Effective Education and the Education Endowment Foundation: ‘Evidence in Education: Making it Work‘.





7 thoughts on “Is Research Evidence a Luxury for Schools?”

  1. Caroline Creaby

    As ever, a great post, Alex. You have identified some really strong arguments as to why teachers and schools should consider using evidence to support their practice. One thing I would add, although it is already implicit within this post, relates to the issue of professionalism. I don’t know about you, but I feel so lucky to be surrounded by teachers who are really knowledgeable about their classroom and their practice. They think about their practice and, for some teachers, this is a part of why they like their job; they like the challenge of thinking through lesson sequencing, seating arrangements, effective questions etc. I think research evidence plays a role in enabling these teachers to think carefully about their practice. Outcomes of research (*if* well communicated) can trigger teachers’ thinking, support their knowledge and may contribute to practice in the classroom. Of course, this is not to overlook the challenges of considering research findings, particularly if they run contrary to existing beliefs or would require a significant shift in pedagogy. But, ultimately, I think that for some teachers, being familiar with research evidence related to teaching can support their engagement with their practice and their commitment to being a teacher.

  2. Excellent pick, the value of research. Prof Wiliam and Claxton both worry about research findings. Hattie’s work has been peer reviewed to be both fab and completely wrong. What’s worse is that the variable against variable against multiple variables (teacher, subject, children) means all possible outcomes are both possible and valid.
    Prof Wiliam again: Don’t try to change teachers from the people they are, they won’t change. Help them instead to be the best they can be. Leadership in schools and coaching of grown-ups is underpinned by research, but they are actually both art forms, and so many adults don’t know how and when to manage or lead or both.

  3. Research sometimes gets a bad name because teachers don’t know how to use research findings and they don’t see the relevance of it. When they are given time to do classroom research they don’t see the need because time is short and because they have to complete the syllabus. But as you argue, people have to evaluate what they are doing and ask if what they are doing is effective. Sometimes people don’t want to stop, think and reflect. What does it take to change this state of things? I like this quote from Stigler and Hiebert (1999, p.111) The Teaching Gap: “If you want to improve teaching, the most effective place to do so is in the context of a classroom lesson. If you start with lessons, the problem of how to apply research findings in the classroom disappears. The improvements are devisedwithin the classroom in the first place.” They suggest that Lesson Study can be a powerful tool to get teachers engaged in thinking about their own lessons and designing lessons collaboratively.

  4. Pingback: Research Conference | Meols Cop High School

  5. Pingback: Is Research Evidence a Luxury for Schools? – The Confident Teacher | The Echo Chamber

  6. Excellent choice of picking the topic for the post. The five points which are discussed here are awesome and remarkable. I found your post very informative and recommendable.

Leave a Reply


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox:

Scroll to Top