The annual celebration of the release of Taylor Swift’s now classic album ‘Red’, took place on Saturday at South Hampstead High School in London.
There were some noticeable absences which was a shame (although there were people I didn’t see at all and I know they were there because of twitter, and I didn’t see one Bennett point-and-wink ALL DAY), but it was another jam-packed, triumph of a day as the researchED juggernaut hurtled through London on its way back round the globe. I’ve already written a bit about my own session so this one’s more of a mulling over of the themes and ideas that I’ve taken away from the day (not at all in the order of viewing).
2013 was the year of ‘no lunch’, 2014 the year of jealously staring towards the single box of air conditioning, and 2015 the year of a steep hill and many, many stairs. The overarching message of researchED though has remained and that is all about taking control, but now with increasing support. There still seems to be a determination to keep accountability away from this precious seed of control and I’m really glad this is the case. We’re still ‘working out what works’ and surely the whole point is that we’re open to shifting ideas – making schools accountable increases the need to find answers right now. I can sense it in the TSA requirement for research and development and I think this is great (certainly providing me with opportunities) but it’s important that there’s still the chance to find our own way.
Becky Allen showed clearly how accessible a role involving research can be – no special equipment needed. Yes, she gave a mention to journal clubs and perhaps I’m biased towards that, but it’s a great example of how you don’t need a dedicated research lead or super access to research to get involved. She had a lot of advice about how to get going and I think the next steps for me need to be around developing areas for research in my setting. I know it’s not the direction for everyone, but I think I’ve got to try. I’ve got the added difficulty of working in a small school so numbers aren’t ideal for any sort of pilot, but maybe there’s room to use the TSA.
I was really interested to hear about Nick Rose’s research lead role and how he is coaching colleagues in teaching enquiry and using teaching logs as a scaffold. Allowing teachers to engage in enquiry and explore ideas in a low stakes environment, before using the outcomes to help inform professional targets is the best way I can see to encourage teachers to engage with research and use the information that comes out of it without people feeling like they might get it wrong. I’m coming to the end of a few projects this year so I need to keep the momentum up in school. Nick has sparked me to look at the SIP and see where I might be able to suggest ways research can inform our response to that. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but I feel I’ve tested the water with the support of other organisations and maybe now’s a good time to push it a bit further.
I’ve managed to gather a few ideas for my next issue(s) of Relay. Particularly drawing on the sessions from Daisy Christodoulou, Tom Sherrington and David Didau. Daisy and Tom both focussed on how we can use research to inform the decisions schools are having to make. Daisy’s was first and discussed using research to develop assessment without levels. I’ve read most of her blog posts on these issues but she managed to put it all into an easily digestible capsule and I’m going to go back and read her blog again. Particularly the parts on multiple choice questions (had a course that used these as the exam at university, hated it but now have a greater appreciation of their worth), and comparative assessment (this is how we do it in art and it’s good to have some back up for our methods). I thought back to one of Daisy’s points on writing multiple choice answers during David Didau’s talk when he said ‘when we’re certain, we stop looking’ and I definitely think it’s something we should consider.
In a more personal way, Tom Sherrington took us through the process he had used to make decisions about literacy provision at Highbury Grove School. It is fairly easy for any headteacher to search for an answer on Google and run with the results, but not everyone would question what they found and email the researcher to ask. It’s actions like this that will change the way we use research in schools. Not by taking part in massive RCTs (although brilliant), not by sitting on government committees ( I know that’s good too), but by understanding how to read the research we find, questioning it and finding out how it really can inform our practice.
David Didau posed perhaps the most important question of the day; ‘Are you a fox or a hedgehog?’. Despite the slight hint of Barnum statement, I am deffo a hedgehog. Mostly because spikes and the grumpy face. I don’t know if this was the answer he was after, but then again, we don’t know what we know we don’t know, if we know we know what we don’t know. Y’know? #teamhedgehog
My final session was in Sam Freedman’s Room of Despair. He took us through the top five issues facing the government including classics such as funding, capacity and infrastructure. Despite the lack of lols, this is a man who knows his stuff. I’ve already paraphrased him several times in school and whilst most of us left feeling a little deflated, Howard left with the new found ambition to become a Regional School Commissioner. It takes all sorts.
So that was my day. I suspect more elements of it will filter through over the coming weeks. Special mention needs to go to Davis Weston’s posture. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing and if you don’t give a fig for educational research, go to one of these gigs just to see him glide.
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.
Well I wasn’t quite sure how the direction of this re-started blog would go and it turns out that it’s going to be eclectic.
Next weekend we are popping over to Paris for my Open University MEd graduation. It’ll be a small, intimate* affair at Versailles *might not be. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I chose that venue but it will be the culmination of three years spent squeezing reading and research, tutorials and assignments, into everyday life and holidays. Whilst it doesn’t lead me to any particular job and there’s no pay rise, it was worth every minute.
It seems almost perfect that this final part of my MEd journey comes the weekend after the first ResearchEd conference, bring together teaching professionals, educators and researchers to open up the debate of research in education.
It all came about when Ben Goldacre spoke about research and education and it created a spark on twitter. Within a day Tom Bennett found himself ploughing forth with a conference and a huge amount of support from all corners of education. It turns out that people are interested in bringing high quality, reliable research to the forefront of education and maybe what happened yesterday is the catalyst for bringing everything together.
I have to say, not everyone at the event was in education. I dragged Howard along as I had a spare ticket – he works for the NHS as a data and systems manager for sexual health services. This isn’t exactly the coal face of education but he seemed interested by most of the day.
There was a lot crammed into the programme. Following Ben Goldacre’s keynote speech (with classic use of the non-connecting laptop/projector combo so many of us are familiar with), there were six sessions with up to six parallel speakers. It was difficult to choose what to go with but most of the sessions were filmed and hopefully I’ll be able to see some of the ones I missed. So here’s what I went to:
- Ben Goldacre – ‘The need for a better infrastructure to support evidence-based practice in teaching, and how to get there.’
- Dr Frank Furedi – ‘Scientism in the classroom: opinion masquerading as research.’
- Kay Yeoman – ‘School/University Partnerships Programme at the University of East Anglia.’
- Stephen Lockyer – ‘Copyrights & Wrongs: The rapid decline of provenance in Education, and why giving credit matters more than ever.’
- Daisy Cristodoulou – ‘Statistical significance &theoretical frameworks: how can we discover the root causes of successful teaching & learning?’
- Becky Francis – ‘Addressing gender gaps in attainment: what doesn’t work, and what might.’
I enjoyed everything I went to and managed to choose a good spread of topics, with contrasting opinions on the value of different research methods within education. There were some points in the day where I felt like I was at a rushed INSET event, but I think that may have been mostly down to the 5:30am start and no allocated lunchtime!
I suspect that on a professional level, the most immediately valuable session for me was the focus of gender gaps with Becky Francis. Working with boys who are (mostly) working at low levels, there was a lot that I’ll follow up from her presentation. On a more personal and long term level, I really enjoyed the session with Kay Yeoman and I am eager to get involved in some sort of School/University Partnership. There seem to be so many Trusts and Networks that work in this area that there’s surely something I can get involved with.
I only had a couple of disappointments from the day. The first was networking. With such a packed programme and short gaps between sessions/no lunch break, there wasn’t as much time to talk to people as I would have liked. Following the day up on twitter and through blogs will ease this but maybe next year it needs to be more spread out. My other disappointments are more selfish. In the whole day I didn’t hear anyone mention teaching assistants or special schools/SEN pupils. Obviously I wasn’t at every presentation or workshop, but even Howard got a mention of sexual health from Ben Goldacre so I felt a bit left out! I really believe there’s more space for integration with TAs and research, and as a special school we often have the opportunity to be more flexible in our approach to different pupil needs and I think this could be an ideal environment for pilot schemes.
My Reflections On It All
In some respects a conference like ResearchEd is preaching to the converted. Everyone there was likely to already be involved in practitioner research or interested in how it might fit in for them. I actually think you’ve got to be quite brave to get involved with research in schools. You face coming across like a bit of a nobber if you start arguing a point with references to academia, and it can be difficult to oppose the opinions of those higher up when you know you’re right but they’re in charge. For those who haven’t been ‘converted’ educational research is thought to be carried out by people locked away on a university campus and a waste of time.
We’re quickly getting to the point where most people working in schools, including a lot of TAs, have a degree and most of the pupils in schools, including those with special educational needs, are in the mind set that they will go to university and get a degree. It would surprise me if this wasn’t connected to the increased appetite for research in education – we have a host of people who have studied research methods and conducted research of their own and events like the one yesterday are perfectly timed to feed this appetite.
So how do we keep the momentum?
There are calls on twitter for journal clubs, virtual and live, lots of people are blogging about it and lots of people will go back on Monday to disseminate their experience. The focus of the session lead by Stephen Lockyer was about maintaining a level of provenance in our work. Throughout my MEd we were taught to conduct critical analysis – not take anything at face value and read around a subject to draw our own conclusions. There isn’t time to do this for everything of course, but a difference between universities and schools is access to journals. Our school subscribes to three journals and until last Christmas I had access to the online journals though the OU. Without this resource, how can we expect people to at least have a look at how research is conducted and what is out there? How can people be expected to take an interest if they can’t make an informed decision?
Another difference between schools and universities is the loom of Ofsted. It’s lovely to think you can try things out and find out ‘what works’ but it takes a brave teacher (or teaching assistant) to go against the routines in school and try out something new. When you’re given paperwork on how to deliver the ‘perfect Ofsted lesson’ you need to be brave to rock the boat. It’s not necessarily Ofsted who need to be open to new theories, it’s school leaders who need to be brave and take a leap of faith (too dramatic?). When it comes down to it though we are experimenting with children’s lives and the ethical implications of that. You can offer a successful drug to placebo patients after an RCT, you can’t offer a science intervention once the GCSE results are out.
Of course practitioner research doesn’t have to be massive or whole-school. You can conduct your own action research in your own class and it’s good to take a step back for a bit of reflective practice. The thing that has really excited me is the potential for partnership with academic researchers, not only in the education faculties but other departments in universities. Getting pupils interested in research, how to do it properly and how it relates to the ‘real world’ is a fantastic opportunity. I think the fire has been lit for research in education and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t go out. Let’s be brave!