The use of R&D in schools inches forward

By Claudia Sumner

Friday 20 January 2017

2017 began with the announcement that the new Chartered College of Teaching (CCoT) is to provide all members with access to published research. This is welcome news. A newly published NFER report, ‘Insights into the Role of Research and Development in Teaching Schools’ has found that accessing research evidence (which is often behind the paywall of an academic publisher) is one of the hurdles facing schools wishing to become research-engaged. But the challenge of making teaching an evidence-based profession is one that policy makers and educators have been grappling with for a number of years and, while the CCoT has made a welcome first step, barriers go far beyond the ability to click on a journal article.

NFER has argued that practical initiatives are needed to bridge the gulf between teachers and academics – at system and school level.

Insights provided in the recent report show that, in many Teaching Schools, embedding R&D across their alliance is a work in progress. But partnerships, MATs and the middle tier (in the form of Regional Schools Commissioners, local authorities, NLEs etc.) can play a valuable role in supporting teachers to translate research evidence into applicable classroom strategies.

Analysis of responses from a sample of 83 teaching schools and 80 other Ofsted-category outstanding schools suggests that teachers would welcome support from the research community; NFER is forging alliances across the sector to ensure joined up thinking and to maximise the impact of our collective effort on classroom practice.

The report explores the effectiveness with which teaching schools are delivering their research and development (R&D) responsibilities. Teaching schools are outstanding schools that work with strategic partners, such as universities and private sector organisations, to provide high-quality training and development to new and to experienced school staff. R&D forms one of their six key areas of responsibility, often referred to as the ‘Big 6’.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Many teaching school alliances (TSAs) report that R&D is treated as an ‘add-on’ and is considered less important compared to other concerns.
  • Many TSAs report engaging ‘to a great extent’ in producing evidence-informed outputs and yet do not appear to prioritise the development of their staff’s research literacy to the same degree.
  • There are many challenges facing TSAs in delivering R&D including the long time it can take to show the impact of R&D and the fact there is still a need to build an expectation for teaching as an evidence-based profession.
  • There is evidence to suggest that teaching school status does not necessarily enhance an individual teaching school’s level of research activity, as measured by selected R&D indicators, relative to other Ofsted-category outstanding schools.

Despite the challenges ahead, the report identifies cautious room for optimism: it found evidence to suggest that R&D is becoming increasingly embedded within the other areas of the Big 6, and particularly within school-led initial teacher training (ITT) and continuing professional development (CPD).

The question facing research organisations which support schools, such as NFER, is how to demonstrate to classroom teachers the value of research. Research engagement needs to be perceived as a useful tool that can be applied in order to improve classroom outcomes if teachers are to be convinced of its worth.