02 Oct 2017

Research-leads – Part 1: The Storytellers

Research-leads – Part 1: The Storytellers

This blog is part one of a four-part series that characterises the role of the Research-lead in schools. Part one show how the Research-lead can play the role of storyteller as schools navigate the accountability system.

Human beings love stories. We always have. We find them comforting and clarifying. Therefore, it’s heartening to know that stories can be an effective tool for a Research-lead to employ, especially when Ofsted may come a calling.

The school I worked at last year as a Head of English was ‘Ofsteded’, and it was a surprisingly civilised experience, in part because of the confidence in being able to tell the story of the department I worked in.

Research-leads may find themselves in a similar position, and the ability to tell an accurate tale will come from a deep knowledge about the evidence that attends school decision-making. You do not need to know a ream of data sets off by heart, but you no doubt will know what data has informed your school planning over the previous three years or so. You should have the confidence to tell this story, even if there are dips in exam performance.

Of even more importance is your ability to tell the story of where the school is planning to go. Of course, this does not mean conjuring mythical scenarios full of idealised CPD and miraculously full school coffers. Your tale should quite rightly include plot strands associated with school funding and curriculum changes because it is against this background that your school’s story will play out.

Overall, it must be a convincing, evidence-informed narrative about the objectives the school has, why they were chosen, and how they are going to be tackled in the short, medium and long-term. This type of story, while useful for Oftsed, is actually more integral to a school’s and Research-lead’s day-to-day business. Providing a truthful but persuasive basis for why change is needed is integral to securing staff buy in – after all they will be the people to enact the change that will bring about the improvement that will so impress the big ‘O’.

A Research-lead is integral in taking big, overarching, often complex ideas and starting to make them manageable for classroom teaching. The Ancient Greeks pulled off a similar trick: big complex idea about how the sun rises each day – tell a story about a chariot of fire being pulled across the sky by a God.

So too for the Research-lead. Big complex idea about how the curriculum has changed and the new challenges it brings – tell a story about the three-headed hydra of reading comprehension, mathematical knowledge and memory retention. Characterising it, giving it a form, starts to make it seem more manageable. Especially if you then just ask teachers to focus on chopping off one head at a time.

These stories are not about dumbing down or avoiding the complexity of some of the issues faced by teachers. But if a Research-lead is going to be successful at distilling research and applying it to their school setting, a well-placed story can really aid that process. After all, once you start telling stories about the monsters under the bed, they start to become less frightening.

Even Ofsted.

Marcus Jones, Huntington Research-lead: Literacy


If you see a role for a Research-lead in your school context, or you are a budding, or existing Research-lead, then take a look at our ‘Building Confident Research-leads‘ programme.