Teacher Researcher or Research Rich?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Can every teacher become action research champions in their own schools and classrooms?

“Teachers in the world’s leading school systems – Finland, Singapore, Shanghai – devote significant chunks of their career adding to the depth of expertise in the field of pedagogy. Practitioners in this country reflect regularly on their desire to transpose the latest advances in neuroscience or psychology to the classroom” says Think Tank Review.

The concept of teachers becoming research-informed is popular, but difficult to achieve in my view.

The ultimate prize:

Some schools have appointed research-lead champions – 55 according to this research by Education Development Trust:

Approximately a third of the surveyed Research Leads indicated that they had real influence over the way decisions were being made at a school level.”

Yet, England’s teachers have little time to conduct research in their working week, and the idea of teachers becoming better informed is alluring and refreshing, but something that is unattainable for teachers anytime soon. Do not misunderstand my views. I firmly believe all teachers should become research-informed and in education as a whole, especially teachers in England. However, we are far away from the ultimate prize. We should be working harder to become research-rich as classroom teachers, rather than expect that all teachers can become ‘teacher-researchers’ during their busy working week.

What I mean by this, is busy teachers can only hope to be more aware of the research, rather than expect that they will ever be given the time to conduct research as part of their 1265 directed time.

The government has no coherent strategy for the development of teachers’ professional capabilities once they enter the classroom. (RSA: Source)

The above RSA report states teachers’ experience of professional development in most parts of the UK is “fragmented, occasional and insufficiently informed by research”, in contrast to that of internationally well-regarded education systems such as Finland, Canada and Singapore.

Why? Well, workload for starters.

Barriers to research:

We only need to look at this chart which shows England’s teachers work the longest hours and get paid one of the worst salaries in OECD countries. The data shows how barriers to professional development are hindered for teachers in England:

Education Policy Institute (EPI) Workload OECD report

Image: Education Policy Institute

“… if politicians misuse statistics, how we can stop them, and how we can generate better evidence on what works, and what fails.” (Ben Goldacre)

We know inquiry-based (or ‘research-rich’) environments are the hallmark of high performing education systems, but how can this be the hallmark of every school and of every teacher when professional development during the working week is placed on the back-foot? “Too often, schools’ ability to make a long-term commitment to creating a research-engaged workforce is being undermined by a target culture and short-term focus on exam results”, says a report by BERA and RSA.

The report identifies how research can make a contribution to teacher education by:

  • Informing the content, design and structure of teacher education programmes:
  • Ensuring that teachers and teacher educators are able to engage with and be discerning consumers of research; and
  • Equipping teachers to conduct their own research, individually and collectively.

The workload barrier:

I know this is an easy cop-out for discussion; that teachers will never become ‘teacher-researchers’ and that instead, we should settle for teachers to become research-rich.

That research-leads could promote ‘what works?’ and dispel myths because they have been given the time and the resources as part of their working responsibility. Until schools are given the budget to free their teaching staff from a 90% contact-ratio and headteachers can focus less on ‘what OfSTED want’, the full-time classroom teacher can only hope to become richer in research through various top-down channels of communication: research-leads, publications, TeachMeets.

With 90% of a teacher’s contract committed to teaching, and with 10% set aside for marking, planning lessons and preparing resources, any time after school is often spent dealing with behaviour management (follow-up), completing reports and assessments or attending meetings. What time is left for the humble teacher?

We can already see this evidence in TeachMeets and conferences up and down the UK where teachers are organising themselves and coming together in the evenings and at the weekends to share and to learn from each other. This is great to observe, but why is it fast-becoming the ‘norm’ for teachers to lap-up professional development in:

  • their own time
  • away from their own school environment and colleagues
  • with other like-minded professionals.

The research movement:

Sadly, the research-informed movement is still in the hands of those outside of the classroom, or those lucky enough to be part-time committed to the cause in their spare time, or genuine school leaders who are keen to embed research-informed culture into their schools.

A striking contrast between the teaching profession in different countries is its status and the caliber of its recruits. Successful countries have shown how a teaching profession that assumes a high level of responsibility and is well rewarded can attract some of the best graduates into a teaching career. (OECD)

The RSA present a compelling vision for increasingly evidence-based public education, an important set of recommendations, but some short-comings around the complex issue of system-wide implementation.


Image: Think Tank Review


Below I summarise the current problems and solutions we need to address:

Current problems:

  1. Workload: teachers don’t have the time to read or take part in research.
  2. Accessibility: some research is hard to read and difficult to access. The audience is for researchers, not teachers.
  3. Funding: there is a lack of funding awareness for schools to conduct their own research. Plus there are no incentives for researchers to write for teachers.
  4. Priorities – OfSTED fear and accountability equate to school priorities i.e. research being bottom of the list. There are few conduits for research to reach the classroom.

Possible solutions:

  1. Change in STPCD (School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document) and 20% PPA.
  2. Providing all teachers with access to research findings and allocate time to read or disseminate them.
  3. Schools supporting teachers in school to carry out their own research as part of their performance management.
  4. Research institutions, perhaps the DfE should provide evidence-based advice to schools?
  5. Evaluate a school’s attitude research, dare I say through OfSTED inspections (which could be the nail in the coffin for research).




2 thoughts on “Teacher Researcher or Research Rich?

  1. And yet the Scottish Government did away with the Chartered Teacher Programme, and regions which had made use of the CTs as development supporters for CfE then decided they had no further use for them. Those of us with M.Eds and research skills have had to look in other directions. How many HTs encouraged action research?

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