In mid-June, The Key heard from Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, who now chairs the executive group of the Institute of Effective Education (IEE). During her visit, Baroness Morris spoke to us about the IEE’s work and how classroom practitioners can be supported to use research more effectively.
Improving access to research
The IEE aims to establish what works in teaching and learning, and why. Its research evaluates practice at nursery, primary and secondary level, with a particular focus on literacy, numeracy and science. Baroness Morris stressed that there is no shortage of excellent research. Besides the work of the IEE, the Education Endowment Fund’s Toolkit and John Hattie’s table of effect sizes may be particularly helpful for practitioners, while the National Foundation of Education Research (NFER) and Durham University’s School of Education are examples of institutions producing high-quality work.
For Baroness Morris, the priority is not producing high-quality research (though this is still hugely important). What really matters for the sector is finding ways to help teachers find and use good research more often and with greater confidence. This will help make teaching more evidence-based, and progressively more effective.
One challenge, of course, is time. Teachers are busy people, and simply finding the space to engage meaningfully and critically with research can be difficult. Another challenge is to know how best to respond to research findings. What should happen when teachers find that the conclusions of a study don’t tally with their own experience?
Research will support, not replace, professional judgement
Professional judgement is important. Baroness Morris stressed that a teacher’s experience in the classroom is crucial – there are many questions research has not answered, and cannot be expected to answer. So research neither will nor should replace professional judgement. It can, though, help teachers see what has worked previously, and guide decision-making where there are different solutions to a problem.
What’s more, research findings can be inconclusive or, worse, inaccurate or misleading. So it’s important for school leaders to support their professional understanding of what works in the classroom with research, but also stay sceptical, and think carefully about whether studies are accurate, reliable and applicable.
At The Key, we’re interested in helping schools make better use of research. We’ve summarised research on the impact of ICT on teaching and learning and on effective use of teaching assistants for our school leader service, and on our governor service we’ve looked into research on effective use of the pupil premium. To help make sense of research, we’ve also asked leading academics to speak at our events. We’ve already heard from Professor Steve Higgins at our pupil premium conference, and we’re planning to hear from others as our programme develops.
Watch this space for more details.