Research School Network: Cultivating a new Evidence Network Rachael Wilson explores the impact of collaborating with other schools in her local area.


Cultivating a new Evidence Network

Rachael Wilson explores the impact of collaborating with other schools in her local area.

by Research Schools Network
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Rachael Wilson is Deputy Director at Norwich Research School, and Curriculum Access Lead/​Year 6 Teacher at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School.

Over the last 18 months, we have been collaborating with schools in East Cambridgeshire and Fenland, laying foundations for a new Evidence Hub: a community of evidence-informed and mutually supportive practice.

It has been a huge privilege to understand more about the experiences of schools within the area.

Why do words matter?

As highlighted in the most recent government Social Mobility report (Social Mobility Comission, 2022), it is easy to confuse terms like disadvantage,” inequality” and social mobility.” However it’s important to acknowledge that there are major differences between these terms.

Disadvantage” is a complex, context-dependent term. In East Cambridgeshire and Fenland, school leaders and teachers speak of the ways in which geographical isolation limits pupils’ access to experiences, from swimming lessons (the costs of fuel and travel are more prohibitive than in urban areas) to trips to the theatre.

Public transport and Wi-Fi are less reliable in this area. One teacher we spoke to described an online parents’ evening with a more reliable internet connection to a parent online, speaking from a foreign airport, than another parent just a few miles up the road!

Teachers find networking more difficult due to distance, and being in smaller schools means more individual responsibility, both increasing the need for teamwork and the likelihood of burnout. Recruitment, retention, and training pose problems to settings in this region. Teachers emphatically want to connect and share beyond their immediate professional circles.

We established from these conversations that there was a real need and appetite for cultivating this network of Evidence Advocates,” trained in sourcing and sharing reliable evidence of what may work in schools, coaching and implementation.

Over the last year, Evidence Advocates have gone through the process of writing and refining implementation plans, with regular network meetings and opportunities to review and discuss progress. Each Advocate is a school leader and/​or teacher, and together have a wide remit of specialisms and experience, coupled with huge energy and enthusiasm for impacting upon their communities.

What are the key messages?

When talking about disadvantage,” we must be careful to avoid using too broad a stroke or conflate barriers to accessing support with generalisations such as low aspiration. Socio-economic disadvantage creates more work for families. The playing field” for small rural schools does not feel level for them with timelines for funding and school improvement. There is much that is beyond a school’s capacity to change.

However, there is much that can and is being done. Mobilising evidence and translation of knowledge into impact are powerful change agents in these remote areas, but the potential and will to succeed in these more dispersed locations is more powerful and expansive than ever.


Social ~Mobility Comission. (2022, June). Retrieved from The British Psychological Society (2018) Code of Ethics and Conduct. Available at:… (Accessed: 22 March 2019).

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