Do teachers support and undertake evidence-informed practice to help improve their teaching?
The Department for Education (DfE) commissioned a two-year study to assess progress towards an evidence-informed teaching system. In this report, the term evidence-informed teaching is used to mean practice that is influenced by robust research evidence. Schools and teachers are referred to as more or less ‘research-engaged’ depending on the extent to which they support and undertake evidence-informed practice, specifically teaching.
I’ve unpicked the 75-pages, quoted it directly and offered a 3-minute summary for you; here are the highlights from the research paper.
Teachers as researchers
Most teachers valued research evidence. Whilst some teachers did not see the value of external research, most did, and this was influenced by:
- The value placed on it by senior leaders and, crucially,
- The need for such evidence to be a problem – and practice-focused.
Teachers trusted research evidence when it was supported by other evidence sources, but most teachers were unlikely to be convinced by research evidence on its own: they needed to have this backed up by observing impact themselves or hearing trusted colleagues discuss how it had improved their practice and outcomes for young people.
Conversations about decision-making in the more research-engaged schools used in this study, included questions about research, typically: ‘what does the evidence show’? As ever, there was limited evidence from this study of teachers directly importing research findings to change their practice. Teachers want the research, but what is often lacks is ‘how does this translate back into my classroom’ and ‘show us how to do it’.
School leaders as researchers
In the most highly research-engaged schools, senior leaders played a key role. The most research-engaged schools start from a school priority and sought evidence to help meet this priority. To achieve this, more research-engaged schools were not only risk-taking but leading or taking part in external research projects to help.
You can read many examples of how I achieved this at my school in the life of a deputy headteacher.
Research at a national level
Senior school leaders felt government policy needed to be strongly aligned with research evidence. Interestingly enough, at a policy level, other policy organisations were judged to have stronger messaging than DfE. Government policy was seen to be more aligned with research evidence than in the past, but school leaders felt this needed to be improved especially in relation to accountability drivers.
The key message is here: Whether schools are completely disengaged or highly engaged with research evidence, school leaders can make positive changes to increase engagement. To facilitate system change, attention needs be paid to each of these aspects of the system.
To do so, the research suggests that fruitful areas the DfE should consider are:
- Support continued relevant research into effective evidence-informed practice.
- Consider ways of building on Teaching School leadership of evidence-informed practice in the system.
- Encourage senior school leaders to support evidence-informed teaching.
- Find ways to strengthen school-university partnerships, including in relation to Initial Teacher Training.
- Aim to embed research evidence in the professional discourse and practice of teaching.
- Aim to align policy changes with the best research evidence available.
I hope the latter is achieved without bias.
Definition of evidence-informed teaching is about looking and surveying good, robust external evidence, comparing, judging, applying that with your past experience, with your present experience and trying to marry the two with some good judgment. ….[it] is about being supported, challenged by external evidence, testing it, being a better evaluator of your own practice and being more reflective.
Credit to: Mike Coldwell, Toby Greany, Steve Higgins, Chris Brown, Bronwen Maxwell, Bernadette Stiell, Louise Stoll, Ben Willis and Helen Burns; Sheffield Hallam University, UCL Institute of Education and Durham University.