Research School Network: Introducing our ELE team – Tara McVey We are really excited to introduce our newly assembled team of ​‘Evidence Leads in Education’ (ELE)

Introducing our ELE team – Tara McVey

We are really excited to introduce our newly assembled team of ​‘Evidence Leads in Education’ (ELE)

by Durrington Research School
on the

As Vice Principal, I have the joy, privilege and responsibility of being part of a team who have transformed a school. I don’t say that lightly – or boastfully – but simply state it as fact.

Having trained as a Fast Track English teacher in 2002, I have worked in various schools in DfE priority areas, leading to a range of senior roles. I now lead on areas from strategic school improvement, curriculum, staff development and teaching, to data, assessment and feedback.

Education can absolutely transform lives and schools can transform communities. We know that highly effective schools can have a disproportionately positive impact on the life chances of disadvantaged students. So, looking at our best evidence around what works is part of a moral imperative.

As a school, our transformation was born of looking outwards, of being informed by the evidence – reading academic papers, research reviews, considering best bets, visiting exceptional schools. But even in schools that don’t require transformation, there is always something that can be done better. To extend the Dylan Wiliam idea, when a school gets better, even slightly, the benefits are experienced by every student that school will ever educate.

So, I am genuinely delighted to join the team of ELEs at Durrington Research School. Evidence informed teaching and leadership and school to school support is vital in a vision for education which allows ever more students the best possible chance to learn. I feel excited and privileged to be able to work as part of this.

The school closure period has been a challenging time, the embodiment of the Robert Quinn idea of building the bridge as you walk on it. But one thing has held true – that many of the things we are trying to do now, are the same things we were trying to do then – just that the tools are different.

Schools consciously construct collective identity, appealing to what Dan Pink calls the human instinct to want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.’ So, during lockdown, we need to focus on keeping that sense of being a collective. From daily letters to parents, communication with students, bulletins to families and staff, Google meet staff briefings, subject team hangouts, we need to make the community feel connected, like we’re all in it together.

Planning high quality remote teaching, as Daisy Christodoulou has said, must make sure it is not focusing more on trying to replicate the visible surface features of a classroom and less on the invisible mental processes underpinning it.’

In schools we start with creating the conditions for learning. So, remotely, this means both the practical consideration of access to devices, and clear structures for all. We can remove extraneous cognitive load from a distance, creating common lesson structures, and reminding students to remove distractions before they begin. We can consciously construct social norms by narrating the world we want to see – saying that we have been really impressed by all the hard work being done, we normalise hard work; congratulating for effort, we normalise effort. If students feel that everyone else is working hard, they are more likely to join in.

So, once you have the conditions, how do you structure in order to maximise learning? Look to your model of learning and strip it right back to the essential features. We are basing our remote teaching on: retrieval practice; responsive feedback (checking whether students have understood new material and whether they have retained previous knowledge); explanations – reducing, simplifying, chunking them down to ensure we get rid of anything unnecessary; exemplars – both from teachers and students – and scaffolding to support; and clear, supportive processes for tracking engagement and effort.

But even with all of these mechanisms in place, there will be gaps. So, while maintaining our schools in this very different world, we are, at the same time, planning for the future. For how we will create the conditions to support our students, to give them opportunities to talk and interact without forcing, to make things seem normal, while also helping the bereaved, to help them reset and restart, all while assessing learning loss and intervening. And we’ll do it. Because we’re all in it together.

Tara McVey

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