Part One: In which I doubt my position and get inspired by two blokes off of Twitter.
I’ve blogged about ResearchEd before and Saturday’s Research Leads Network was an equally empowering and exhausting day as all the others. I don’t know if it’s one of those ‘end of term’ things but the further away from ResearchEd 14 we’ve got and the more stuff I’ve taken on, I get an increasing sense of ‘what the hell and I doing’ and I was really looking forward to spending time with lots of people all thinking about the same stuff.
There was a lot said on the day about how all of us in a research lead role (or thinking about it) are in new territory and no one really knows what they should be doing. I know everyone’s making this up as they go along, but I really have bullied my way into doing this. I basically prattled on without taking a breath in my support and supervision last year and was rewarded with a nominal role in the operational handbook. I didn’t particularly know what I was going to do with it, I just didn’t want anyone else to get there first. As it turns out, school (and particularly our deputy head) are being great and letting me do lots of things.
One thing that struck me on Saturday was the emphasis on how this is a leadership role. I’m doing a lot of new things, but there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m not even a senior TA – let alone a qualified teacher or on the leadership team. I’m not saying everyone’s wrong about this – it’s more that it adds to the feeling that I’m in the wrong place (or at least not being paid enough).
Alex Quigley and Carl Hendrick’s session did a lot to encourage me (even though they didn’t dance. Something about cables and dangerous break dancing). Their summaries of their respective roles included quite a few of the things I’m trying to do – albeit on a greater scale than mine.
I found the structure of Carl Hendrick’s system interesting and I suppose sort of a standard to aspire to. Having said that, I don’t think it would be for everyone but before Saturday I thought anything these guys were doing would be way out of my league and I could at best pinch some tips. Actually, what I found was that I’m already involved in quite a few things:
- Conducting research – We’re taking part in the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn research trials with the National College of Teaching and Leadership. We’ve part of their Research Lesson Study trial and we’ve just had our second training event with Curee. As well as co-ordinating this in school I have taken on the role designed to be filled by a member of SLT which will include disseminating our work to the staff team.
- Journal Club – I’ve started holding a semi-regular journal club at school. All are welcome, at any level and it’s been a really positive experience.
- Links with University – I want to do more on this. I have started by signing us up to have MA students coming into school next year and attended a free event in October so far.
- Critical friend/ Devil’s advocate – Our Deputy Head asked me to be her critical friend in the development of the ECHP transition meetings format.
- Body of knowledge – MEd and ResearchEd for fun count as this surely?
- Translating research – Advising colleagues where they can provide evidence to support initiatives they are running and sourcing information for them. I think there’s a good opportunity to do more of this.
- Consulted by leadership – So far this term I have been consulted on two draft policies for our federation, the EHCP process and asked to complete a couple of follow up question sheets from staff meetings I wasn’t at.
When I write it down like that, it doesn’t seem like too bad a start.
One of my favourite parts of this role is my Journal Club. It’s bit rough and ready at the moment, but I’ve got some regular attendees and it’s them asking me about when we do the next one. It’s nothing as regular as Carl’s fortnightly literature reviews with his staff research fellows; and rather than selecting them through written application, I’m bribing with biscuits. It is my baby and it’s wonderful to see how everyone who has taken part so far has loved it. Realistically it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone is invited and my personal crusade is to persuade those who are interested but think it’ll be too hard for them to give it a go.
I was pleased that neither Carl nor Alex seemed concerned about getting everyone to rush forth and conduct their own research. Facilitating this is certainly part of a Research Lead’s role, but personally, I would much rather get my school involved in large scale research projects coordinated by organisations like the EEF than worry too much about trying to squeeze any sort of reliability out of our 50 pupils. I do want to encourage people to critically evaluate their practice and if they want to do this through some sort of investigation I am happy to help. I just won’t get caught up in trying to have everyone conducting RCTs. As a few of us are venturing into Lesson Study for our CtG research I can see that this is possibly the best way to ease staff into using evidence in their everyday practice so I’m hoping that goes well.
Translation of evidence is something I’ve been very keen on doing – equally I am an annoying devil’s advocate so I think I can manage to play that part too. Hopefully the more people see that I am happy to source evidence for them, the more they’ll ask me to do it. One of the most important things I learnt during my MEd was that it’s OK to realise sometimes research is unreadable and makes no sense. So many people assume that it’ll be beyond them and if I can help by translating and summarising important and relevant information then I think that is a good use of my time.
I’m going to have a bash at the whole Devil’s Advocate thing now…
Every ResearchEd event stirs up the pain of access to research. I love access to research. I love finding interesting studies and following a trail of papers. I really miss having access through the OU – I looked into all sorts of things during my three years. A lot of people want research to be free for teachers, but someone has to pay and whilst free access would be a lovely thing, I don’t know how achievable that is. The cost of access is a big issue in the university sector with the major publishers and providers charging huge amounts of money. So much so that even universities have to be selective in their subscriptions. Even when I was studying I’d get my Dad to access some things for me, or one of the students doing some work at our school. We want to avoid a situation where the free to access research is the bits sponsored by profit making organisations or lacks peer review and I suspect in the long run, the best way to provide access is through membership of a professional body. I’ll let you fight it out about that, but I will add that it shouldn’t just be for teachers. I want access too.
The Quigley-Hendrick experience was a good way to knock me out of doubting what I’m doing. I may be in a small school with a handful of staff and pupils, but we still have to fulfil all the criteria other schools get and I’m quite convinced that what I am trying to achieve is benefitting the school. That should keep me going ‘til March anyway.
I have put together a list of some ways to access to research, free and not free, which I’ll post after this as a light break before Part Two which will feature the SUPER Network, some CPD and my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network.
A few people have asked me about the Open University’s Masters in Education programme and now I’ve completed everything I shall impart my wisdom upon the internet and hopefully persuade other people it’s a good idea.
The OU hold several graduation ceremonies across the year and graduates can choose any one, so a couple of weeks ago I ditched the UK for the Palace of Versailles in Paris. I’m not an extravagant person, I promise, so quite how I convinced myself that opting for Paris was a good idea, I don’t know. Actually, I blame Pam Jarvis, my third course tutor, for putting the idea in my head. She was tempted to opt for it as her next OU venue – I wonder if she did?
As it turned out, it was a brilliant way to round off my whole OU experience. I actually finished my MEd last year so I’ve had a whole school year’s worth of holidays without having to write assignments which has been lovely, but I’ve enjoyed the reminder that Reasearch Ed and graduation have given me that I loved it and hopefully I’ll keep it up.
I’ve worked in the same school as a teaching assistant for almost exactly ten years now. It wasn’t a plan that I’d be doing it for this long but in that time I’ve worked across the school, in class with KS3 and KS2, delivered on-to-one literacy full time and closely supported GCSE English and Art. The school has grown from twenty secondary pupils to forty-five 7-16 pupils, staff numbers have more than tripled, we’ve federated with another special school and there are plans for us to expand even more. So whilst I’ve had the same job on paper, I’ve had a huge number of roles and work in what can seem an entirely different school to the one I started off in. As I say though, I never planned to be doing this and I’ve still not worked out what I want to do.
A few years ago I decided that if I wasn’t physically going anywhere I’d have a look at other options – it’s hard to do anything in education without a PGCE but I really don’t want to go down that route, and I stumbled across the OU Masters programme. It seemed quite a lot of money and a lot of time to invest, plus I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do it. I graduated in 2002 with my Psychology BA and hadn’t really done anything academic since. Even though it wouldn’t lead to a new job or a pay rise, I decided to give it a go.
Open University Masters in Education
The OU programme is modular and uses a points system. You can take up to seven years to complete the qualification. Most courses are worth 60 points and you need 180 points for the MA Ed/MEd (same courses, you choose your title). One of the things that helped me decide whether to go for it is that each 60 points is its own qualification so if I decided not to keep going I wouldn’t have wasted my time or money.
- 60 points = graduate certificate in education
- 120 points = graduate diploma in education
- 180 points = masters in education
Throughout my studies, the cost of each course was around £1100 but it went up each year and I’m not sure what they’re on now. I was lucky enough to have some money towards my courses from school but for qualified teachers there is a scheme to help with funding too. They estimate that you should spend around twelve hours a week studying but this varies. The course materials are well structured and some give time breakdowns for activities.
Most courses are assessed by a series of tutor marked assessments (TMAs) and a final, longer, end of module assessment (EMA) which is double marked by other tutors. There is one compulsory course, ‘Educational Enquiry’ which is a 60 point course and is a sound introduction to research methods in education and foundation to the rest of the programme. Courses change slightly each year and are listed with their end dates to help make choosing a bit easier.
There are a lot of courses available and it can be difficult to select the ones to do. The OU seems to be moving towards more and more online delivery. Resources are both posted and online, with online academic journal access. There are forums for qualification, course and tutor group which are very useful and an online tutorial facility ‘Elluminate’ for long distance tutorials. One of my reasons for choosing the courses I did was that they offered face-to-face tutorials. Even though I had to travel to Leicester, Birmingham, Canterbury, London and only a had a couple in Nottingham, I value these ridiculously highly and think it would be terrible if the OU got rid of them completely.
So. My courses.
E891 – Educational Enquiry
This is the compulsory course for the masters. I think it’s designed to be studied first as it has some really step-by-step elements (which you can skip if you’re confident) for people new or returning to academic study. There is a focus on where educational research sits in relation to other academic spheres and different methodologies/ methodological techniques. Running throughout the whole masters programme is an emphasis on critical appraisal and E891 guides students through this. There is the opportunity to study in relation to your own setting and conducting literature reviews is central to the course.
I found that there was a range of people with different backgrounds on all my courses. There were teachers from all areas of education, TAs, early years practitioners, prison services, and at all stages of their careers. Some had read academic papers before, others didn’t know what an abstract was. Everyone had a different perception of this course and I think experience and whether they had already studied other courses influenced this. I enjoyed it and found it exercised my brain without being too daunting, but for others it was a dry course that they just had to get through. I don’t know quite what the course is like now because they were changing it as I was finishing and I think they have moved it to online only.
E804 – Managing behaviour in schools
I managed to get this one in before it was retired. It was written in 2004 so had been running for a while and the coalition government had just been formed. Everything in education policy was changing and as a lot of the course was looking at policy there were many aspects that were on the verge of being outdated. I believe that they are re-writing it and will bring it back at some point. I was required to evaluate my own abilities and conduct a whole-school needs analysis.
This was my favourite course. I loved the content, I loved the tutorials, I loved doing my own research. This was a course that I felt everyone working in education should do and when I had finished it I felt like I had shifted my perception of so many things that it had left me on a completely different track to the people I work with. That sounds a bit nobby but it’s true, We discussed it in our tutorials, how we were finding things out but it was difficult to pass any of it on because you sound like the ponce doing a masters. Quite suitably I recently found reference to a paper that talks about this very subject. It’s in a collection of papers (Part 1 (3) W.C. Clay). I’ve bought it second hand to give it a proper read!
E804 was co-written with The University of Waikato in New Zealand. New Zealand has similar behavioural issues with Maori children as we have with black boys and there was a lot of information about these groups across the course. I found the cultural references, not only with New Zealand but around the globe, very interesting. There was a particular focus on the Clover Park Middle School, now Kia Aroha College, and their cultural approach to schooling. The passion for their school that these pupils held was stunning and the whole story of the school inspiring.
There was the opportunity to conduct two pieces of practitioner research in this course. I looked at background music in lessons and our whole-school rewards scheme. I found this challenging and I don’t know whether there was any lasting impact of my research but I found it an essential part of the course. One of the difficulties of E804 was the topic of policy and the TMA dedicated to this. We found that policy was constantly changing and had to decide on a point to stop and leave our assignments as they were. As the government shifted, entire websites disappeared and the online forums were awash with people posting links to archived material just so we could complete our references!
Useful reading that springs to mind:
Ysseldyke and Christenson’s (1987) framework to assess characteristics of the classroom learning environments in which students are placed.
ED841 – Understanding children’s development and learning
My final course was much more psychology based. This course is also an option for some of the other OU masters programmes and I think it had a slightly different feel to it. There was a focus on different methodologies and approaches to child development looking at the influence of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner etc and different learning strategies associated with their work.
As a significant part of my day job involves literacy I thought these aspects of the course would be interesting and I hadn’t chosen the OU module specifically related to literacy. When it came to it, this part of the course seemed out of sync with the rest of the course material and I opted to leave it out.
I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of this course, it was a bit more scientific and although the thought of remembering my undergraduate statistics brought a mild sense of terror, I had enough knowledge to understand the papers I was reading but wasn’t really required to put any of it into practice. As with E804 there was a research element but this was small-scale and the final EMA was a research proposal akin to a PhD proposal.
This was the only course where I had to buy most of my books in addition to the course materials. Most of them were al right but Garton (2004) was a very difficult book to understand and I don’t think I used it to its full potential. I also have to say that this was a bit of a slog towards the end and I didn’t put my heart into it. I knew the end was in sight and after three summer holidays filled with critical analysis I was ready to stop. When I think back on this course I remember it being difficult but actually I think I just needed a break!
Useful reading that springs to mind:
Child Psychology – Schaffer (2004). He made sense of things when other people didn’t.
Vandermaas-Peerler, M., Way, E., and Umpleby, J., (2003) – Scaffolding.
Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., and Ross, G.(1976) – Scaffolding.
Sun, J. and Rao, N. (2012) – Scaffolding in other cultures.
Was it worth it?
Of course it was worth it and I would recommend it to anyone working in education. I met some lovely people with brilliant ideas and perspectives. It’s made me more confident to express my opinion and challenge those of others. When Nottingham City were consulting on the 5 term year proposals my initial thoughts were that they handled it appallingly but I needed to find out what the background was. I found some research, emailed the researcher and received a reading list which I followed up. I still think the council were wrong but I’d had the confidence and skills to find out for myself.
What would you get out of it?
The Open University Masters in Education teaches you to read academic journals critiaclly, questioning the methods and findings of research. It develops your ability to pick out key information and be aware of bias and ethics. You’ll question research and ask questions when you don’t understand. One of the most important things I learnt was that if I don’t understand something, I probably will if it’s explained and if it already has been then maybe it wasn’t a good explanation and maybe other people don’t understand either.
I’ve learnt that most people use reflective practice all the time, it’s what you do with the knowledge that makes a difference. I’d love it if more people took an interest in education research and not just to grasp on to an idea or wildly trust what someone else says. I want people to investigate before dismissing and have the confidence to try things out.
My graduation ceremony was extravagant and fun. Everybody walking up on that stage, no matter the qualification, had made a concious decision to study and further their minds. I think that when I did my BA it was just ‘what you do after A-levels’. I worked hard and loved it but there was something about watching all those people who have opted to study alongside jobs and families, mortgages and children, that made it all feel a bit more special.
I’m not sure how I will use my MEd now. I’ve had an interesting conversation with out Executive Headteacher and there may be something around the corner which is exciting because the past few weeks have shown me that I love all this academic stuff and I’d love to do more of it. I just have to work out what and how!
Garton, A.F., (2004) Exploring Cognitive Development: The Child As Problem Solver, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
Schaffer, H.R. (2004) Child Psychology Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
Sun, J. and Rao, N. (2012) ‘Scaffolding Interactions With Preschool Children: Comparisons Between Chinese Mothersand Teachers Across Different Tasks’, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 58 (1), pp 110-140
Vandermaas-Peerler, M., Way, E., and Umpleby, J., (2003) ‘Parental guidance in a cooking activity with preschoolers’, Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, pp 75–89
Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., and Ross, G.(1976) ‘The role of tutoring in problem solving.’ Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, pp 89-100
Ysseldyke, J. E. and Christenson, S. L. (1987) ‘Evaluating students’ instructional environments’, Remedial and Special Education, 8(3), pp. 17–24.