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How can you make your school more research-sensitive?

How can you make your school more research-sensitive?

3 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed

Earlier this year, we published a blog all about how the majority of teachers report struggling to use education research to inform their teaching, despite finding it interesting and believing it to be valuable.

However, a recent report by the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) has revealed an overarching framework for how schools can become more “research-sensitive”, which aims to make this process easier. Here’s what you need to know…

What is this framework for?

Over the last 15 years, good effort has been made to conduct and make available good-quality research in education, which has led to some schools making great leaps in using evidence to inform their practice. This has been seen as a key route to help close the attainment gap.

The IEE started the Research School Project, with the goal of working out how “research-sensitive schools” could be developed, to open this possibility up to a wider range of schools. Their vision, in their own words, is to have “a school system where teachers and policy makers base decisions on the best evidence available so that a body of professional knowledge is built up and passed on from generation to generation”.

Based on their report, here are eight things which schools that use research well do that we can learn from.

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What do research-sensitive schools do?

  • They prioritise teaching and learning. They have leaders who set priorities and then delegate the responsibility of implementing these among school staff. Generally, research-sensitive schools also have a good framework in place for behaviour.
  • Research-sensitive schools support their teachers to be reflective practitioners who review and question their practices.
  • They get staff who are experienced in digesting and applying research to help other teachers become more reflective practitioners.
  • Research-sensitive schools manage any tensions between whole-school priorities and individual teachers through basing current priorities on research evidence.
  • They ensure they have regular communication, meetings, high-quality teacher CPD and performance appraisals to support and enhance delivery of priorities.
  • Research-sensitive schools develop a “community of practice” through encouraging regular and casual conversation among staff about teaching and learning.
  • They do not see classrooms and departments as distinct groups separated by firm boundaries, as is often seen in schools. Instead, teachers and departments are encouraged to discuss and share ideas about different teaching practices. One way to promote this is to have an open-door classroom policy.
  • Research-sensitive schools adapt new teaching and learning approaches to suit their individual school, and use small-scale evaluations to judge the effectiveness of these.

What did they find?

So, what was the impact of these strategies in these schools? Through interviews with teachers, the researchers identified several key outcomes of becoming a “research-sensitive school” following the above principles:

  • They developed a positive school culture, which led to shared ideas for the right way of doing things;
  • They developed a positive school moral purpose of achieving the best outcomes for children;
  • They developed teaching strategies based within solid evidence, rather than going off the latest “whim”.

Though these certainly suggest powerful benefits of developing a research-sensitive school, do keep in mind that they are only based on interviews with teachers. For more concrete evidence on the effectiveness of “Research Schools”, the IEE calls for there to be large-scale, scientific investigation.

Final thoughts

Initiatives to improve education are often short-lived. But developing a culture of research-based practice in education needs to be a long-term approach, aimed at raising the standards of education for all children.

Unfortunately, as the report itself says, the “research-sensitive schools” studied in the report are single examples of practice. To open the door of this kind of practice to all schools across the UK, there needs to be a nation-wide framework to support this, including funding, building a stronger relationship between educators and the research community, and evaluation of this movement to support its effectiveness.

To learn more about this, we do recommend reading the full report here.

And to learn more about research-informed teaching strategies, take a look at the hundreds of blogs we have written on the subject, or our guides to key T&L strategies. You can also find out more about our evidence-based teacher CPD workshops.