‘This year research will be a tool at the chalkface’

1st January 2016 at 00:00
More teachers are utilising research evidence, but it must be accessible and jargon-free, say campaigners

research evidence will be used more widely in school classrooms than ever this year, experts are predicting.

The signs have been growing for some time. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has now funded classroom research involving more than a quarter of England’s state schools (see box, below).

And the ResearchED organisation – set up by teachers in 2013 to help other teachers use research – continues to blossom.

James Turner, deputy chief executive at EEF, says that practice is changing at the chalkface. “Teachers are digging into the evidence. I think that 2016 is going to be the year in which evidence is most used in schools,” he says.

“Teachers still make some decisions based on recommendations from colleagues or what they’ve heard at professional-development events. But research is creeping up there.”

‘Widespread support’

Conor Ryan, who leads on research for the Sutton Trust, which runs the EEF, agrees: “Ofsted has been asking schools about their use of research. The DfE and the headteachers’ unions have been encouraging it. Unusually in education, there’s consensus.” Research organisations are seeing it as their responsibility to present research in formats that are free from jargon and easily accessible.

“The first thing teachers need to do is to become aware of the basic principles of good and bad research,” says Tom Bennett, director of ResearchED. “To become informed as to the latest and best research in the field and subject in which they work.”

That, the TES columnist believes, is already starting to happen. “We’re becoming a research-informed profession,” he says. “But it’s a long, slow road. So much research that I’ve seen is advocacy poorly dressed as research. I still hear people defending learning styles because they like them.” Mr Bennett draws a parallel with the medical profession in the 19th century: doctors resisted the advance of science, insisting that they knew their patients best. “There’s craft in teaching,” he says. “But there’s also science. We’re getting better at sniffing out the bullshit.”

It is not a one-way process of academics imposing an ivory-tower understanding of classroom practice, Mr Bennett adds. Teachers need to develop skills to interpret research themselves, and determine its usefulness.

Often, this will involve doing research in their own schools. Mr Ryan points out that in Finland, school-based research is considered part of teachers’ career progression.

However, one of education’s most respected academics, Professor John Hattie, warned in April that teachers were not researchers and should “leave that to the academics”.

Mr Bennett says that teachers can become involved without trying to take on an academic role. “Being a researcher takes a lot of training. It would be disrespectful to researchers to say that anybody could become a researcher,” he says. “The best way for teachers to get involved is to liaise with universities, charities and so on. Help to generate data for research, or help the researchers to meaningfully interpret their data.”

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