01 Feb 2017

Developing School Research-leads

Developing School Research-leads

This last month, Huntington Research School began training prospective Research-leads from a range of schools, both primary and secondary, across North Lincolnshire. The role of Research-leads is an emerging role nationally, so it is useful to share the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of having a Research-lead in your school.

We are all strapped for cash and teachers have too little time. In real terms, budget cuts (they are real and impacting upon pretty much every school across the country) mean fewer people doing more. In a school-led system, this can put stresses and strains on classroom teachers and school leaders.

The role of Research-lead, though obviously no panacea for declining budgets, can help us maintain and improve our schools in challenging times. First, it is helpful to define: what does a Research-lead do? This looks different in every school across the hundreds that have initiated the role, but we can draw common threads. In short, they help improve decision-making at a school level by doing the following:


By identifying that we need to, as schools, consider robust evidence, how best to implement changes and new initiatives, undertake thorough evaluation, we offer a role for a Research-lead to help shape school leadership decisions and support teachers with good evidence for ‘best bets’ in their classrooms.

As budgets squeeze, the notion of giving a new, or simply different responsibility to a teacher or school leader is daunting, but done well, it can effectively save us time and money.

What are the potential benefits then?


  • Save money. As Dylan William says, “we should probably stop doing so many good things”. How many times have we purchased an intervention or programme for CPD based on a slick sales pitch that didn’t quite work out in practice? With the appropriate training, a Research-lead can dig beneath the advertising and appraise the quality of tools, resources and interventions. In my experience, you stop buying so many nice things.
  • Improve decision making. School improvement is deeply complex and multi-faceted. We need to wade our way through inexpertly in many ways. A Research-lead, with a good handle on the best available evidence can steer decision making. Like a ‘Devil’s Advocate’, they could ask challenging questions and often slow down the white heat of school change, cooled by evidence and an awareness of ‘best available bets’.
  • Improve CPD. Teacher training should be robustly underpinned by evidence otherwise we can be prove to fads and passing companies seizing upon the challenges of new curriculum, assessment and more. A Research-lead, training specifically on implementation and evaluate can better support CPD by evaluating its impact.
  • Help tell your story. Accountability is a clear and present danger to all schools. As we muddle through new national assessment frameworks and ever-changing accountability pressures, we are forced to know our stuff and tell our story. A Research-lead can appraise data, identify trends, and spot quick wins (for example, how many schools are considering the ‘confidence intervals’ that attend their Progress 8 Scores?).
  • Improve teaching and learning. This is our core business. Improving teaching so that our students achieve better outcomes. In our North Lincolnshire training, there is a specific emphasis on reading comprehension. This is a real challenge for teachers. Happily, there is a wealth of evidence to support comprehension, but teachers seldom have the time to give it a look or apply it to their planning. The Research-lead can access such evidence, translate it where necessary, and share it as useable knowledge.

Taking on this role to see all these benefits come to fruition is no doubt a challenge and requires training and support, but the potential for the Research-lead role is vital in our challenging times.

It has been great to begin Research-lead training at the North Lincolnshire Learning Development Centre with ‘Teach North Lincs’. If you would like to know more, get in contact with us at huntresearchsch@gmail.com or contact Alex Quigley, our Director of Research School, at aj.quigley@huntington-ed.org.uk.