Research School Network: Eight Things From Five Years Departing Director Shaun Allison reflects on what he has learnt over the past five years

Eight Things From Five Years

Departing Director Shaun Allison reflects on what he has learnt over the past five years

by Durrington Research School
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Being the Director of the Durrington Research School for the past five years has been an incredible honour. I have got to work alongside some amazing people and learnt a huge amount, doing a job that I have absolutely loved. Next year I will be taking on the role of co-headteacher at Durrington High School and Chris Runeckles will be our new Research School Director – a move that is richly deserved. This has put me in a reflective mood, so I thought I would share some of the things I have learnt over the past five years.

1. In my mind, the use of research evidence in education has always been about moral purpose. Our children get one shot at education and so it shouldn’t be based on what we think might work, but on what the evidence says is most likely to work. Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson sum this up brilliantly in their 2017 book What does it look like in the classroom’?

My view is that there is an ethical imperative to provide the best possible classroom conditions in which the students in our charge can flourish. This means rejecting what wastes time and embracing that which makes the most use of it. It’s difficult to think of another serious profession that has so willfully discarded evidence and embraced the transient and the facile as much as education has, and while evidence cannot give us all the answers, it can at least provide us with a roadmap to avoid the dead-ends and backroads of faddism and misinformation”

2. Engaging with research and thinking about how this then relates to our own classrooms is professionally enriching. We are all graduates and it’s great to see our profession embracing this and having conversations about research evidence. Like any conversation though, we need to listen to each other – especially when we might have opposing views. In the words of Ken Blanchard – None of us is as smart as all of us’.

3. We are not talking about snake oil! Research won’t answer all the questions and it’s also fluid (like oil I guess?!?) As we learn more, the research findings will change and that’s fine. That’s what happens with research in any field. It is about best bets though. Research will point us in the right direction and enable us to use our time and energy efficiently, to address many of the same challenges we are all facing. We also need to be brave. Sometimes the evidence will suggest that it’s probably best to stop doing some things…and that’s fine.

4. It’s a workload win. Teaching is hard and school leadership is hard. We’ve spent too long trying to chase the next big thing in education and exhausting ourselves in the process. Using the research evidence to shape our work not only gives us the confidence to trust our decisions (because they are based on what the evidence says is most likely to work) but also to do less, but do it better – without flitting from one thing to another.

5. We are at an exciting stage of the research journey’. We know lots about cognitive science, metacognition, literacy, feedback etc. However, much of this has come from trials outside of classrooms, or from a narrow age range/​subject. What matters now is how we mobilise these findings in the classroom. If I’m a busy teacher, how do I really make retrieval practice work for me and my students? There are some brilliant bloggers who write about how they are doing this (see here). These people are heroes and need to be applauded. Here at Durrington we have always said that the magic happens when research evidence is combined with teacher expertise. This is important. We should never forget the knowledge and wisdom of excellent teachers. Like Mr Clarke or Pam McCulloch!

6. All of this matters for all pupils, but it especially matters for pupils who have experienced socio-economic disadvantage. We must break the link between family income and educational achievement. What we do in the classroom matters most. What we expect of all pupils; how well we understand the challenges to learning they face; how we use the evidence to shape our teaching to address these challenges; what we believe is possible. I have learnt so much from the brilliant Marc Rowland on this subject – he’s an inspiration.

7. Implementation and Professional Development really matter. The implementation guru Jonathan Sharples describes implementation as lots of small things done well…uncommon, common sense’. The EEF have produced lots of incredibly useful guidance reports in recent years, but I think the Implementation guidance report and the professional development guidance report are invaluable to school leaders. They really are essential reading. Thinking carefully about the four stages of implementation and then how the mechanisms of effective PD will be used to support this are key to successful school leadership.

8. People make the difference. We can read research evidence and think about what it might look like in the classroom, but we need brilliant people to make it come alive in schools. People who are passionate, committed and enthusiastic about evidence informed teaching – and who have the time and space to think about and develop their practice and the practice of others. School leaders need to create a culture where brilliant people like this can thrive.

I’m looking forward to my new challenge in September, but am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have worked with so many brilliant people over the past five years – there are far too many to list.

If you’re interested in some training around evidence informed teaching, please take a look at the Deep Dive Days’ we are offering next year.

Have a great summer

Shaun Allison

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