Research School Network: The Role of the Research Lead ELE Mark Enser describes his work as a research lead and what to do if you are interested in this role.

The Role of the Research Lead

ELE Mark Enser describes his work as a research lead and what to do if you are interested in this role.

by Durrington Research School
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Most roles within a school are fairly well established and, if people aspire to them, they have some idea of what they involve. You might know that you would like to be a head of department, a pastoral lead, assistant head with a focus on CPD or on behaviour or you might have ambitions for the job at the top as Headteacher. Whilst the actual details of what each of these roles really entails may come as something as a shock (who knew that being a head of department involved so much admin?!) you would probably be able to have a rough guess at the job description.

In the last few years a new role has been added to these more established ones, that of research lead. I have been a research lead at Heathfield Community College for the last three years, having done much of the role more informally for a couple of years beforehand, and the two most common questions I get asked are 1) what on earth is a research lead and 2) how can I become one? I will try to answer those questions here.

What on earth is a research lead?

The short answer to this question is whatever you want it to be’, the long answer is probably more useful.

Broadly, a research lead is someone who provides a link between the school and the world of educational research. The world of educational research, and of research from other fields that may relate to education, is vast and findings are usually more complex than a headline would have you believe. The research leads role is often to be a research-literate and research-informed individual who can lay their hands on relevant material and probably recontextualize it for busy teachers or school leaders. This could involve helping to inform decisions on the content of CPD sessions or on running those sessions. It could also involve producing literature reviews to help inform school policies or their evaluation. As a result, the research lead often needs to work closely with members of the senior leadership team so that they can be directed to work on upcoming school priorities.

Another role for the research lead can be in helping to make the teaching in the school more research-informed so that they can make their own professional judgements based on the evidence we have to sit alongside their own experience. I would suggest the role isn’t (and doesn’t become) one where a person tries to dictate the pedagogy of the school. We might try to help inform people through writing or contribution to an in-house blog (our one, Heathfield TeachShare can be found here), setting up a journal club where teachers can meet and discuss research, or by drip-feeding interesting and useful pieces of research-informed teaching through staff briefing sessions. It could also involve working with individual teachers or small groups to help identify and potentially solve issues arising. For example, someone may come to you with a question on the research around effective homework setting or closing the gender gap in their subject. This might not be something you have a ready answer to, but you may be the person best placed to find the answer (see below).

A research lead may also be involved in carrying out aspects of educational research within the school. Sometimes these are funded projects through organisations such as the Educational Endowment Foundation or through local authorities; other times they are small pieces of practitioner enquiry designed to test whether a change in school is leading to a desired outcome. Perhaps the school is thinking of changing its policy around the type of homework set and wants to know what impact it has had, or they want to know if a new behaviour policy is leading to increased focus in class, a research lead may help to design and carry out a trial to help with this kind of evaluation.

How can I become one?

It is possible that the above paragraphs have convinced you that the role of research lead is one steeped in glory and accolades and you want in, so, what next?

Firstly, look for opportunities within your existing school structures. Do you already have a group of teachers looking at pedagogy or working groups leading on different areas of school life that you could join? Do you have a school blog that you could contribute to? If not, could you start one? Who contributes to CPD sessions? Could it be you? Second, look to make the role a formal one. Approach your school leadership with a clear outline of what you think the role of research lead could entail and, importantly, how it will help with the priorities for the school. Think carefully about what you would need for the role. If you are setting out a bold programme of actions that you plan to take, you will need time to do this in. Be honest about that and don’t pretend you can do it around your existing responsibilities in the time you already have.

One of the things I have needed most as a research lead is a network. As I have mentioned, the field of research is vast, and it helps to have other people to call on if you are looking for something outside of your existing areas of expertise. Look for like-minded people on Twitter (the number of people with research lead’ in their twitter bio grows by the day) and reach out to them. Get in contact with your local Research School and let them know that you exist and see how you may be able to partner up and support each other.

Look for opportunities for training. Research Schools run training sessions for research leads, or for those who want to be research leads. I am running remote sessions through Term 3 and Term 4 and you can find out more and sign up here. These sessions can help you to find out where to find and evaluate sources of research and how to implement them in schools.


If you are interested in educational research and, more importantly, in how this research can inform what happens in schools, then becoming a research lead could be a great move. When the role is done well, by both the research lead and their managers, it means someone has the time and space to think carefully about difficult decisions and areas of school policy. It means that there is someone in the school that teachers know they can go to for advice and support and who has the networks and expertise to point them in the right direction. It also means there is someone who can help to empower teachers by giving them access to the information they need to make their own decisions about what will work best for their classes and empower school leaders in the same way. I guess the only question left is a rhetorical one; why wouldn’t you have a research lead?

Mark Enser is head of geography and research lead at Heathfield Community College and an ELE with Durrington Research School. His latest book, Powerful Geography: Curriculum with purpose in practice is out soon. He tweets @EnserMark

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