Green shoots at the grassroots will grow a better profession

By guest blogger Alex Quigley, Director of Learning and Research at Huntington School, York

Tuesday 16 December 2014

By guest blogger Alex Quigley, Director of Learning and Research at Huntington School, York

Few subjects in education can offer the promise of a consensus of opinion. Teachers, politicians and the mass of organisations in between, rarely agree on anything. And yet, there is a small number of emerging themes on which, it seems, many of us can find common ground – such as the need for a self-improving school system.

One way to achieve a truly self-improving school system is to deploy research evidence as a buffer against the whims of political policies, and provide school leaders with the ballast of useable evidence. A range of teachers, policymakers and researchers attended the final Coalition for Evidence-Based Education (CEBE) event last Monday, at The Wellcome Trust, to consider what actions and support would be needed to help root research evidence in schools (described further by Kelly Kettlewell in a previous blog).

In the gloom of December, the aim of the CEBE event was to provide green shoots of action for the year ahead, with the attendant goal of seizing the initiative and influencing policymaking in a general election year.

One topic of discussion among the group that I was involved in was the potential for Research Leads in schools – a small, but significant, proposal to begin brokering the expertise of Higher Education institutions with schools and classroom teachers. It was one of many workable suggestions that would help partnerships mobilise the knowledge of research evidence in schools.

The nascent role of the Research Lead is already in early development. Only this Saturday, ResearchEd, the exciting grassroots organisation led by Tom Bennett, initiated the first national Research Lead Network event (supported by NFER and CfBT). Speakers such as Professor Rob CoeDavid WestonKev Bartle and Sam Freedman, spoke about the potential of a Research Lead network to foster closer collaboration between schools, universities and researchers. Research Leads met, networked and looked ahead to building deeper partnerships and to support one another.

I had the pleasure to present with Carl Hendrick, Research Lead at Wellington College, and share our current experiences as Research Leads in our respective schools.

I spoke about my role as Research Lead at Huntington School in York, but also briefly about leading the RISE Project (Research Leads Improving Students’ Education), which is an Education Endowment Fund (EEF) funded trial looking at whether training and establishing a network of Research Leads can impact on student outcomes. Carl spoke about his leadership of the Wellington Research Centre and their work with Harvard University, and fellow teaching schools.

Carl and I also spoke about the many potential aspects of the Research Lead role that are currently in their infancy. Primarily, the Research Lead is not a researcher, but is first and foremost a teacher who is research literate, and who takes a lead in brokering research evidence with teachers, school leaders and researchers outside of schools. We raised questions about the role, knowing there is much to know and do.

So what does a Research Lead do, by our reckoning? The common principles that we agreed are:

• they help teachers find the right question/s
• they help find the research evidence
• they help appraise the evidence
• they help translate the evidence
• they help share the evidence
• they help embed the evidence
• they help evaluate the evidence.

Of course, much is to be done if this role is to become a scalable reality (if that proves a desirable outcome), but the prospect is promising despite the many obstacles that still stand in our way.

Our school system is fragmented, and we need to create the systematic supports required to enable the role of Research Leads to grow and flourish, and to have evidence rooted in schools – but because of events like these, actions are underway. My overwhelming feeling, after the two aforementioned events, was one of optimism. They promised the green shoots of a self-improving school system and that was enough to light up a dark and cold December for me.