Evaluation of the NERF Bulletin Trial: Phase Two Report
22 July 2005
On behalf of the National Education Research Forum (NERF), the DfES commissioned two issues of an evidence-based bulletin for practitioners. The Bulletin aims to provide a conduit for research to reach teaching communities across England. In doing so it is hoped that the Bulletin will make an important contribution to school and college improvement and teachers’ professional development. NFER was commissioned by NERF to evaluate the effectiveness of the Bulletin by obtaining a representative cross-section of views from teachers and LEA staff.
The research described in this report carried on from a questionnaire survey conducted at an earlier stage of the investigation. The outcome of this survey, suggesting that a research bulletin would be of interest to teachers, informed methodology for more detailed research, the findings of which are described below.
Conclusions and recommendations
Our main conclusion is that the Bulletin can make an important contribution in communicating research to teachers. It will add to and complement existing products. Practitioners recognised that the content of publications differed depending on their purpose. They felt that the Bulletin was a particularly useful addition for busy practitioners because it enabled the reader to get a quick overview of research findings, which they could follow up if they wished to by further reading or accessing the recommended websites.
One of the consistent themes to emerge was that in order to be useful, research must be relevant to practice. But it is important to recognise that relevance is a multifaceted concept. Practitioners wanted research to be relevant to their phase and to demonstrate an empathy with classroom practice. Research into topical issues was considered to be highly relevant, as was educational theory. Participants also paid tribute to the importance of personal contact with inspiring researchers or with colleagues who recommended research to them.
As well as the importance of relevance, this study has reinforced the multifaceted nature of knowledge transmission. Teachers may encounter research through magazines, newsletters and the press. Research does little more than raise awareness among some, but for others it may lead to further reading, reflection and even impact on their practice. Research may reach teachers directly, or indirectly though influencing policy makers, opinion leaders and trainers.
The recommendations arising from this study are simple and straightforward.
- NERF should continue to produce the Bulletin.
- The Bulletin should be redesigned to make it more visually appealing.
- Thought should be given to increasing the relevance of the Bulletin for different phases of education. Grouping items together in relation to educational phases and/or themes would help to increase its appeal.
- The Bulletin should be promoted to teachers using both direct and indirect pathways (e.g. through key publications, websites, organisations and roles).
About the study
The study comprised two phases. It began in September 2004 and was completed in May 2005. In phase one, questionnaires were sent to approximately 1200 teachers, randomly selected from the General Teaching Council database. Teachers were sent a copy of the first edition of the Bulletin and were asked to complete a short questionnaire giving their reactions to it. From this survey, 222 responses were received (18 per cent). The NFER would like to thank the GTC(E) for making its database available as part of this research. Data was also gained from a subsequent telephone survey of 30 similarly registered teachers.
In phase two, teacher focus groups were conducted in seven institutions across four educational phases (nursery, primary, secondary and further education). These took place after the second edition of the Bulletin had been distributed. Participants were asked for their views on the Bulletin, other publications and websites, as well as the types of research they use and the methods they use to find out about research.
The NERF Bulletin is well positioned among other kinds of products available for communicating research to teachers and lecturers.
The Bulletin offers quality-assured research summaries with potential appeal to teachers and support staff. It also provides sources of further information. These features make it of potential interest to teachers, who see it as a useful addition to the market place.
Teachers will tend to skim-read the Bulletin, only choosing to read items of particular relevance to their work. For this reason, design features that make the content easy to navigate are much appreciated.
The current appearance of the Bulletin is not sufficiently appealing and would deter teachers from wishing to engage with it. Suggested improvements include better layout, more space on the page, use of colour and visual elements.
Teachers are likely to use the Bulletin in a number of ways, including:
- for general information
- to follow up items of particular interest with further reading
- to recommend items to colleagues
- to contribute to further study
- to inform their own research
- to validate their practice
- to change their practice.