Study investigates ways to support science teachers to improve their teaching practice

Press Release

Tuesday 29 March 2022

New research by the Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found that training and development programmes that support primary teachers and secondary science teachers to engage with and use research can improve their teaching.

The study also found that teachers’ engagement with and their use of research was boosted when their training and development was tailored to their career stage, role, interests and the time they had available. Research was also more likely to be used to enhance science teaching in schools where senior leaders supported teachers to share research-informed ideas and resources with colleagues and provided the time for them to plan how to incorporate research into their lessons.

The research, funded by Wellcome, aimed to find out what impact additional support to help teachers engage with or carry out pedagogical research has on science teaching and what types of support are most helpful. The study involved over 470 primary teachers and secondary science teachers who took part in four Continuing Professional Development (CPD) projects.

The research found:

  1. Evidence that training and developing science teachers to use, or to do pedagogical research themselves, can support better science teaching.
  2. Research use is most effective in schools that encourage teachers to discuss, experiment, and plan collaboratively. In these schools there is strong senior leadership commitment to enable teachers to have the appropriate time allocated to do this.

Lee Robinson, a primary teacher from Premier Academy Bletchley in Milton Keynes, who took part in the Journal Clubs project, which supported teachers to appraise and engage with research articles and develop research-informed ideas and resources for their teaching said:

“There’s two things I got from participating in the Journal Clubs project. First, bringing into focus the value or using research to inform teaching – all too often we just get through the day and don’t look at what we are going to do in the future – the Journal Clubs helped me value looking for what works and what doesn’t and exposed me to new ideas.

“Second, talking to like-minded teachers around the country, not just our own local group – and sharing ideas and getting their experiences, realising that we are all pretty much facing the same issues, and sometimes it confirmed what we are doing and other times, it made me stop and think about things.

“I’ve got a bit more confidence now in leadership meetings to challenge forward planning and make sure I ask questions about ‘what’s the research to support those ideas – what’s does it say has worked and what hasn’t’.”

Nick Dawson, from Barlby Community Primary School, in North Yorkshire, who mentors primary trainee teachers and took part in the Research-2-Practice project, which provided summaries of research on difficult to teach topics and lesson plans, said:

“The lesson plans provided by the Research-2-Practice project made it easy to teach the lesson content in line with the National Curriculum, this is particularly useful for teacher trainees.  They were easy to adapt to the school scheme of work where necessary, and the fact I know they are evidence informed gives me confidence in using them.”

Commenting on the research, Professor Bronwen Maxwell from the Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University said:

“This research demonstrates that supporting teachers to use or undertake pedagogical research can improve the quality of their teaching – the single most important school factor that improves outcomes for children and young people. Our research found that different types of CPD are needed to support research use, depending on teachers’ career stage, phase, role, interests, and available time. The Government and other organisations need to ensure a range of CPD opportunities to support research use are available to teachers. To maximise the impact of CPD, school leaders need to ensure that teachers have the time to work with school colleagues to plan how to use research-informed ideas and resources in their teaching.”

NFER Senior Research Manager, Julie Nelson said:

“Our study shows that supporting teachers to use, or do, research can have a number of really positive benefits. Participants in the CPD were more confident about engaging with research after receiving the CPD than previously, and they were more likely to use or undertake research in their teaching. Their science teaching practices also became more evidence informed over time.”

Download the full Report: March 2022Supporting science teachers to engage with and carry out research (pdf)