Part 2: In which I talk about the SUPER Network, some CPD, and what was going to be my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network but ended up being a brief conclusion due to me waffling on for too long.
One of the things I was interested in looking into at that first ResearchEd in the hazy, drawn out summer of 2013, was the potential for links between school and universities. I had just had my first year for a while without any academic study and I wanted to find out what was out there and where I could start.
During the session with Kay Yeoman from UEA I met, sorry, networked, with the lady next to me who happened to be Bethan Morgan (@morgteach) who works for the SUPER Network. We’ve tweeted about a few things, namely access to research and she recognised me at ResearchEd 2014 as doing a lot of pub quizzes (we run one, Thursdays at the White Horse in Ruddington if you’re in the area) and she was there with the SUPER (School-University Partnership for Educational Research) Network gang on Saturday to present a session and workshop on how Universities and Research Leads can work together.
Based at the University of Cambridge, they have a number of projects with partner schools including Masters programmes, research projects, dissemination of research and seminars. They host inquiry group meetings of their Teacher Research Co-ordinators (their Research Leads) six times a year and provide critical friendship to schools. From the university’s point of view, the programme enables larger scale, collaborative research, a wide reach for their work, and helps to keep the university staff grounded and up to date with the realities of working in schools. The schools involved benefit from an increased research culture and staff are able to maintain a dialogue post-MEd.
We heard from various people involved in the network – both university and school representatives. Every one of them was incredibly enthusiastic about what the network had done for them and their professional status. There was a reading list from Ruth Pineda which I scribbled notes on but thankfully took a photo of too –
and there was a reminder that research and practice should inform each other equally.
The session had a workshop style answering questions in groups part which was great (but lacked tables). The focus was on bridging the gaps between theory and practice, and school/university partnerships. Whilst we aimed to answer the questions, almost every group fed back that they had accidentally answered the questions whilst having a good chat. I have to say, that’s the bit I like most about the day – just chatting about what we’re doing in our roles with other people. I don’t think it mattered if we answered everything well enough, we were there to learn from each other and debate, and that’s what we did. I have made some initial links with one of our local universities and I think I should probably look into it again.
Another thing I think the research lead role could be of benefit for in our school is our CPD. I’m being realistic with this – I don’t plan on hurling academia at everyone and expecting to get my own way, but the way things seem to be going, I think if I make suggestions they’re at least likely to be listened to. I think useful CPD with research flavour is a good way to get it in there as a natural way of working rather than heavy handed.
Daniel Harvey had CPD at the centre of his session. He outlined how he is changing the way his school, John Henry Newman Catholic College, is transforming their CPD by introducing a programme of action research, and the up and down process he has gone through to make it a success. In small groups we were asked to answer several questions about the relationship between evidence and CPD in our own settings, including the use of ‘research partners’. I have to say, I don’t think our school is ready for this, but whether schools scout out their own partners as Daniel Harvey has, or are part of an organisation like the SUPER Network, opportunities for schools and universities to work together are good thing.
As far as using action research goes, I have mixed feelings. I quite like the idea of action research as part of being a reflective practitioner or even for trying things out in a setting in a controlled, evidenced based way, but I understand the reluctance to call it ‘research’ as there’s very little that will be transferable to other settings apart from providing catalysts of ideas. The cycle of trying out, changing, trying out, is better than doing everything at one as far as I’m concerned. I do wonder if introducing something like lesson study might be a more gentle way of getting staff involved in using evidence to change their practice that could lead to more rigorous research projects in due course. It’s easy to get carried away with ideas at a ResearchEd event as everyone there is enthusiastic and opting to spend their free time with the converted but of course not everyone in school will have research as a priority.
Actually, through all the talk of how the whole-school CDP action research programme had developed – the recognition of bad research questions, levels of participation and group dynamics; I rather thought that the most interesting and relevant piece of action research they are doing is in fact their action research. It’ll be good to see how they ingrain it into their school culture.
After all that, what am I taking away from the Leads Network? Well I could probably write another four posts on the day. The whole spirit of ResearchEd is bringing people together to find out what there is to find out and the first Leads Network was a brilliant extension of the more general conferences. I really like the idea of smaller, more focussed groups and even though the groups here ended up quite large, there were opportunities for discussion. I had wondered if having some sessions on more than once, to allow for everyone to attend but in smaller numbers might work? Maybe with tables next time though…
I think I seem to be on the right track with the Research Lead thing. I’m not quite on the scale of Skyping Harvard, but a handful of staff in my little learning pod is all coming from the same point. I might investigate the partnership thing a bit more next year but my main concern is not to rush anything. Professor Rob Coe started the day off by reminding us that there’s no evidence Research Leads work – a reminder to challenge our thinking, but also that we’re the first lot doing this on a wide scale and we’re making it up as we go along. At one point in the day I was told I was being a librarian for hunting down and saving articles for people to use. I’m quite happy for that to be part of my role at the moment. If we get to a point where access to research becomes a budget priority then that would be a wonderful thing. Maybe it will take some time, but whilst we’re getting there I think there are a lot worse things than getting together from time to time and learning from each other.
So in a garbled, tacked-on-to-the-start-of-the-staff-meeting speech, I’ve managed to introduce my new role as Research Champion (name change pending) to most of the staff at our school. I thought it might be useful to set out in writing how I see my role and how I hope it will develop following all the ResearchEd conferences, but particularly Saturday’s national conference.
The role of ‘research champion’ in schools is fairly new – certainly on any sort of scale. So new in fact that the title is still under discussion, as it turns out most of us think ‘Champion’ sounds a bit silly. When I muscled my way into the role last summer I asked to be Research Champion because that was the term I had seen bandied about online and at the ResearchEd events. I have a few projects on the go in school and my hope is that having an official title (and mention in the operational handbook) will give what I have to say a bit of clout.
Over the past six months there have been more and more people taking on in-school research roles and everyone is at different stages and doing different things. A suggestion was made on Twitter that it might be useful to form a network and to use the ResearchEd 2014 national conference to meet and discuss our roles over lunch. A fine idea; I said I was in. It turned out to be a rather surreal affair – suspended in a glass box above all the other conference attendees, with the great and good of education and me. Others have blogged about the lunch and to be honest, in the whirlwind of it all I don’t think I can remember it all too well, so I’ll brush over it. I did however choose my programme on Saturday with championing research in mind.
Having read several articles and blog posts recently, I have decided what I want my role to be about and not about. This is for both my own clarity of position and that of my colleagues who I really don’t want to scare off. This is what I came up with:
It is about: quality/ evaluation/ empowering/ expertise/ networking/ scepticism/ familiarity of research methods/ engagement/ consuming and producing research.
It is not about: scrutiny/ accountability/ politics/ ‘tainted ideology’/ everyone doing research.
I see my key role as facilitating access to research, encouraging an environment of critical evaluation and reflective practice, creating links between the school and researchers, and helping to provide ways that our school can be part of research. So this is my plan so far:
Closing The Gap: Test and Learn
My enthusiastic leaps following the first ResearchEd gig prompted our Executive Head to put me forward to lead on this. CtG is a scheme from the National College of Teaching and Leadership providing grants to schools within a teaching school alliance to take part in a series of RCTs. These have to focus on ‘Closing the Gap’ in literacy and numeracy. I won’t go into vast amounts of detail, but our school was allocated Lesson Study. This was piloted last year and at some point in the near future I hope to find out what will be expected of me.
In June I attended an event at Swiss Cottage Development and Research Centre focusing on developing research in special schools and nurseries. This was organised by CfBT and we worked through the possibilities of starting our own research and were provided with practical advice to having a small cohort, accessibility of post/pre-tests etc. Hopefully this will prove to be a continuing network and as I scribbled in my notes for the day, they have some money to spend and non-CtG schools are welcome to join in if interested.
One of the things I have been keen to do is create links with our local universities. I started by looking through the biographies on the University of Nottingham’s website and found someone I thought might be both valuable to us and us to them. The name was familiar and it turns out he was a governor a while back, so I emailed him. I now have a contact, a free course on restorative approaches for two staff, and we have re-engaged with their student volunteer programme. Sometimes a brazen emails work wonders.
Howard, my husband, works for the NHS and whilst his job isn’t clinical, his office is opposite the room where they hold their monthly journal club. He has always encouraged me to start one at school and I’m hoping this can become a reality soon. The hospital journal clubs are held every 4-6 weeks but in between this they hold patient case reviews in which they apply the knowledge covered in journal club to individual cases. I’m planning that this could be a feature of the way we use journal clubs in schools eventually.
After announcing it as a proposal in the staff meeting I have had a couple of people express their interest, including one person who was unsure as they might not be ‘academic enough’. I really hope this isn’t too common a feeling and I can open this up to everyone as I see that as the main reason for the whole job.
Introduce EEF and ResearchEd Websites
My first moves are going to be introducing the EEF and ResearchEd websites. I mentioned them briefly in my hasty introduction to staff but I will make a point of going round and showing people individually. As a taste of what this is all about, they are clear and undaunting sources that will get people interested. I haven’t settled on an article for our first journal club yet, but I am contemplating using some of the EEF reports to kick us off before delving into something more intensive.
I’m also hoping to be able to contribute some things to the ResearchEd website. I’ve sent emails anyway.
I won’t go into much analysis of my day at the conference but I should mention the sessions I attended.
- Session 1: Prateek Buch – Evidence Matters – getting the public and the teaching profession to stand up for evidence in the classroom.
- Session 2: John David Blake – What’s class got to do with it? Education research in the UK is obsessed with class.
- Session 3: Michael Cladingbowl and Sean Harford interviewed by Andrew Old.
- Session 4: Martin Robinson – The teacher and researcher: the time has come to talk of many things…
- Lunch of Champions
- Session 5: Toby Greany and Chris Brown – Schools, universities, evidence and partnerships: Getting it all to work.
- Session 6: Wayne Holmes – The lure of the next miracle cure. Thinking about the evidence base for educational technology.
- Session 7: Rebecca Allen (and the House of Cards man whose name I didn’t write down) – Can teacher journal clubs improve classroom practice?
- Pub session: Several pints of real ale and a few lovely chats with some lovely people before winding our way home.
There were clashes with almost everything I fancied seeing so I’ll be an avid viewer of the filmed sessions.
Some things I learnt:
- If you are reporting about impact of social class, have a good definition of social class. Also, one of the best differences between ResearchEd and a normal INSET is the chance of witnessing academics having a scrap.
- Scientific rhetoric is everywhere and we need to be careful about how we present the research agenda in schools.
- School-university parnerships need a bit of work.
- Journal clubs are proven to work in medicine for a number of reasons so let’s give ’em a go in education.
- Everyone loves a flashy pen.
Some things for next time:
- A journal club focus with smaller, seminar style sessions would be great.
- Larger print on name badges.
- A couple of blank pages in the programme for notes.
- More drinks (not necessarily real ale).
There are exciting times ahead for ResearchEd and I think they’ll be some exciting times for me too. I’m looking forward to seeing where all this takes us.
So there’s been another ResearchEd. This time a smaller affair and the first of what looks like many regional conferences; bringing researchers and educational professionals together to look at what everyone can do to make an impact.
I have to say, despite the fact that we didn’t have to get up before 5am this time and there was an official break for lunch, by the end of the day I felt as if my brain was full and I’d suffered a bombardment of information. I’m pretty sure this is all down to timing though – September’s was after 5 weeks away from work with a graduation to look forward to, this one was after a hectic term with two (ridiculous) days left of next week before the Easter holiday!
Another difference was that I helped out at this one. I say helped, Helene Galdin-O’Shea is some sort of Goddess that seemed to have everything smoothly under control, and my duties really only stretched to pointing cameras in the right direction and pointing some people to the loos. She even didn’t mind that I wasn’t keen on introducing speakers in front of the crowd. I was particularly pleased to be filming Richard Churches’ session as I am currently leading the Closing The Gap: Test and Learn trial at our school. Again, I say leading, we were assigned Lesson Study which is currently being piloted so I haven’t had to do much so far, but I’m sure I’ll be snowed under by September!
So. Here’s what I went to this time:
- Dr Lee Elliot Major and James Richardson ‘After the Toolkit: the next steps for an evidence informed profession’
- Susanna Greenwood and Stuart Mathers ‘Research Priorities: What are the key gaps and questions in education?’*
- Sarah Kitchen and Amy Skipp ‘Research in real-life schools’
- David Weston ‘Why most “dissemination” is useless and how we can fix it’
- Philippa Cordingley ‘Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable pupils; what makes exceptional schools exceptional’
- Richard Churches ‘Transforming practitioner research with teacher-led small scale RCTs’*
Dr Lee Elliot Major and James Richardson looked at how the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is producing research and perhaps more importantly, how it is embedding this into schools.
One of the first things that was mentioned was that the work of the EEF was never intended to be about accountability and I was happy about this. One of the problems with (education) research is that people like something if it fits their agenda but are more reluctant when it starts to challenge the things they’ve invested time and money into and there’s little critical evaluation of what is being used. Research evolves and is questioned and I think quite often, not just in education, the prefix ‘Research shows that…’ makes for a convenient qualifier to whatever comes next. I want an opportunity to see that evidence and make my own mind up. Obviously when it comes to something like Teaching Assistants the issue can quickly become very emotive and it’s a shame to hear stories of sweeping personnel decisions being put down to findings that are meant to start a conversation and inform the development of further research. On that note, it would be great if the EEF Toolkit could be used to help guide TA deployment in a more effective way.
When the EEF first got going the majority of the evidence used was from overseas but now that the first EEF evaluation reports have been published the conversation is turning to how they get this information into use. There’s a drive towards ensuring access to research, disseminating and embedding in practice. I quite fancy this idea of being a ‘Research Champion’ – obviously Research Overlord is slightly more catchy, but I reckon that would probably prove more of a barrier to the whole dissemination thing…
A major focus of this session was they use their data to understand how different methods are used in real schools. How direct does instruction have to be (including levels of support) and what happens if you deviate from the model? Interestingly, their results show that whilst pupils made significant gains on the Catch Up Numeracy programme, pupils receiving unstructured 1-1 TA support made even greater progress. Another one for the ‘deploy TAs properly and get results’ bank.
The other thing to mention is a plug for the EEF DIY Evaluation Guide to use with small scale investigations. Currently in pdf form, soon to be interactive.
I was filming Susanna Greenwood and Stuart Mathers, the guys from the DfE, so didn’t make any notes and was slightly more concerned about whether the battery would last on the camera than making sure I took everything in. Having said that, half the session was a more interactive experience allowing people to look at synopses of research carried out by the DfE and discuss them. Post-it notes and everything.
I’ve read accounts from people that make it sound heated and tense. I’m not sure it was quite that bad – more a case of people not quite saying what was on their mind! The thing that’s stuck with me from this one was an audience suggestion that the DfE shouldn’t set its own research questions and I very much agreed with him. The example given was the question of ‘How academies work’ which infers that they do work and a better question is perhaps ‘Do academies work?’. There will always be a bias towards current policy that could be reduced with independent input.
Sarah Kitchen and Amy Skipp were from NatCen Social Research and are part of the Children and Young People team. Schools should know about these people but I don’t suspect they do. They are the people who do those surveys that then get quoted and everyone says ‘Well they didn’t ask me what I thought’. The thing is, they might!
They explained how they work and the obstacles they have come across working with schools, and asked for suggestions as to how they could make it easier for schools to take part. My favourite suggestion was offering something back to schools in the form of time. Payments and rewards can only go so far but I really think schools would jump at the chance to have someone come in to talk to pupils or offer work experience. Another important thing is maybe to publicise themselves more because I think so many people are wary of seemingly random phone calls that it would just be nice to know these people are real and not cold callers. Might see if we can get our names on their lists (it’s the sort of thing a self-titled research champion would do I think).
We had lunch after this. A treat for those of us at ResearchEd 2013. I could quite happily have had a nap after lunch – so much information for my tiny brain to process, but I had filming duties to perform and perform them I did.
I was eager to hear what David Weston was going to say about dissemination. After all, I want to effectively disseminate all this research stuff don’t I? The crux of it all was pretty much that we spend so much time ensuring information is disseminated well to pupils, and yet as professionals, we regularly have to sit through sessions that we haven’t particularly chosen and all nod off in. Keeping it relevant, differentiating, clear learning outcomes and following up are things we all want to do in the classroom and we just have to learn to do that as staff.
Sounds obvious I suppose but I suspect the dissemination of this one will be a bit more tricky. I think it may be a case of email a link to the session to management and duck. Having said that, it may well help shape my entries on the school’s Staff Share blog and when it comes to kicking off our Lesson Study next year I may need all the dissemination advice I can get!
So, speaking of Lesson Study, the next session I went to was by Philippa Cordingley from Curee who is currently running the Lesson Study pilot for Closing The Gap: Test and Learn. Had I not been filming the next session I would have spoken to her about it all but I didn’t get the opportunity which is a shame.
The discussion was looking at the differences between strong and exceptional schools with a high number of vulnerable pupils. The presentation is available here so I won’t regurgitate it unnecessarily. There was a small opportunity to explore some of the questions in small groups and some interesting points about cross-school models of pedagogy and the use of performance management. Our group discussed how performance management and CPD needs to be a working programme that develops alongside staff rather than simply ticking boxes. I seemed unusual in the group that our school practically pushes us to do CPD and it is a key part of our working life.
I felt quite proud that most of the things that were talked about are features of our school – or rather, I recognised them as features of when our school is at its best. Staff working together, from office to teachers, TAs, management, with a consistent message to the pupils; support in behaviour management, using staff subject knowledge to benefit pupils and working with other organisations. Obviously there are always things we can improve but it is good to know that what we do as a matter of instinct has some grounding in evidence.
The most contentious issue was around rigorous and systematic performance management with high stakes accountability. The idea of getting rid of staff who don’t live up to the exceptional expectations was difficult to agree with and I think it would be good to have more detailed information on this process.
Last up was Richard Churches, Principle Adviser for Research and Evidence Based Practice at CfBT Education Trust and Technical Director for NCTL’s Closing The Gap: Test and Learn. He was keen to show everyone that it’s possible to conduct valuable research in school setting with only a small amount of correctly placed knowledge. Again, I was filming this session so I didn’t make any notes but I did speak to Richard Churches through the day and at the end of his presentation.
The session started with a small audience based RCT with statistical analysis before our very eyes – a demonstration that it’s not difficult to do these things and you don’t need hundreds of participants or 18 months to do something worthwhile. The session included a number or real research questions and designs from schools which showed the range of opportunities and practical ways to go about it. The most important messages were that the design of a study – small-scale or otherwise – is important. Sometimes an RCT isn’t the best design and if schools are going to conduct their own research they need to be aware of a range of approaches and methods.
The other key message was about the use of statistical analysis when data has been gathered. Schools with Psychology departments may have access to programmes such as SPSS to help with data analysis and there are add-ons for spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel. It’s still a bit daunting though – I have Psychology degree and all the terms are familiar but I haven’t used those skills in any depth for nearly 12 years now and I think there’s a gap in the market for a way to help people out and encourage rather than scare off.
Quite a lot to think about there then. The videos etc. should be working their way online soon.
Thoughts from the day
I was happy that there was a bit more of a mention of TAs this time round. I really believe that there is an upward trend in TAs that have degrees or are qualified teachers. I hear about lots of people leaving teaching due to the stresses and workload but still wanting to work in the classroom. I overheard someone talking in between sessions about being a TA and not wanting to do teacher training for those very reasons – I’m not alone! All this means that there is likely to be an increasing hunger amongst TAs to be involved in research and development of the programmes they are delivering.
I mentioned in my post about ResearchEd 2013 that it can be difficult to go back into school and not sound like the nobber going on about research when educational research still has a mixed reputation. Add to that the fact that even though we have a reasonably level playing field across staff in school, I’m still a TA trying to give advice to experienced teachers and I have to respect that feeling that no-one wants to be told there’s a better way. Another barrier to this is that even at the conference there was, with some attendees, a sense of righteousness at being there – making over complicated statements and trying to sound intelligent when it’s not necessary. The whole point of this for me is getting rid of the barriers and that means it’s for everyone. It’s OK to say you can’t remember what a one way ANOVA is. I can’t. These attitudes are why you face a barrier in school when you go back and say you’ve been on a course.
I would like to hope that people are starting to get the courage to get involved in carrying out their own studies. Howard got annoyed when he overheard a couple saying ‘Well they should do some research on…’ and wanted to scream at them that the whole point is that they can do it themselves! (I say scream, I mean in a manly way. He also learnt the word pedagogy during the day). We need to look at ways to help people do this and do it properly.
We need to teach people how to critically analyse research but we desperately need to have research available. It’s great to have selective summaries available but there are biases attached to that and people should be able to get hold of the primary sources if they want to. Every time a publisher makes papers available for free I save them just in case. I ask my Dad to access papers now and again and I’ve been known to email researchers themselves for information but it’s not good enough. Comprehensive subscriptions are expensive and schools aren’t going to pay for that. Maybe there could be some sort of limited subscriptions available? I wondered if there could be a central subscriber with members like the Open University? I want to be able to dip in and see what’s been published. I want to check the sources that get thrust at me with the latest big thing. There isn’t always the time or inclination but I want the option. Maybe that’s my mission.
Anyway. There’s another regional conference in York next month (not going to that one, off to see Vikings) and the national ResearchEd conference in London in September (got my ticket and pencilled in to help already). It looks like this is all turning into a mega-movement and I like being part of it. Hopefully more and more people will be part of it too.