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Research School Network: Our first half-term…reflections from a fledgling Research School


Our first half-term…reflections from a fledgling Research School

Our first official half term as a Research School has flown by with the level of support and interest, both within our MAT and across the region so encouraging.

It has been fantastic, from the outset, to be developing close links with the two other Research Schools in the East (Norwich and Littleport) and supporting the provision to recruit a further RS in Ipswich. It is very clear that we will need to work together closely to make our vision a reality – #TeamEast and #easternevidence have taken root! Research School Campaign Map

It has been such a privilege to visit schools across the region, recognising some of the great evidence-based practice in place and discussing the opportunities for collaborative work in the future.

Our campaign map’ (right) shows that we have – at the very least – made personal contact with a range of schools, organisations, teachers and leaders.

Highlights have included:

  • Growing awareness with leaders at SASH, TSC EENEL, Essex MAT2MAT
  • Supporting another MAT with their professional development conference
  • Co-presenting with Rosendale RS at PP Conference in Essex
  • The opportunity to share our thinking at researchED London
  • Taking part in Maths Guidance Working Group
  • Growing our newsletter contacts and Twitter following
  • Further development of our Research Lead Programme with Suffolk leaders
  • Evolving #TeamEast
  • Establishing local links to join the dots’ of evidence-based practice

Going forward… 4 C’s

In an attempt to outline a structure around our work, it might be helpful to think about the 4 C’s – Coherence, Capacity, Clarity and Culture.

Coherence

What has been clear from visiting schools and headteachers is that a number of them are expressing concern with the fragmentation of the system. This level of fragmentation also runs to the number of organisations contacting schools/​teachers promoting’ EBP. I think this has the danger of diluting the message and rigour of EBP. We have started regional work with the Chartered College, WomenEd and others to start to help tie networks together and try to ensure a consistent language and approach.

At our initial planning meeting we were really pleased that our Samuel Ward Academy Trust CEO, Tim Coulson, was able to come and meet our developer (Stuart Kime) and facilitator (Kerry Pulleyn). He asked Stuart: In three years, what would success look like for the Research School movement in the East?”. Stuart gave a really powerful response, saying: To ask any teacher in any classroom in the region why they were doing what they were doing and to be met with a balanced answer that considered research evidence along with a number of other factors”. We certainly share that goal.

2x2 Matrix Brown and ZhangIf we consider the 2×2 teacher research engagement matrix (left) suggested by Brown and Zhang (2016), to move’ teachers to Type 1 there appears an additional level of coherence required – that teachers should be able to describe how working collaboratively and using research with colleagues has improved their practice and how their engagement with research links with school and regional development priorities.

Capacity

The simple geography of our region means capacity will always be a significant challenge. We have been lucky enough to be working with Stuart Kime through Evidence-Based Education and Suffolk LA to train up our first cohort of Research Leads. These high-quality professionals will be absolutely key in sharing the word and driving through changes in their institutions this year. Last year, we partnered with the SSAT and brought our Lead Practitioner programme in line with their excellent nationally recognised scheme. We are fortunate to have attracted 28 potential LPs for accreditation this year and also to have be recently been designated a Lead Practitioner Learning Centre. This will allow us to bring the training and coaching of LPs in house and most importantly ensure a consistency and rigour of message around EBP that exactly aligns with our Research School direction. These highly effective and reflective practitioners will help grow and nurture future cohorts of LPs, promoting high quality EBP.

Clarity

We have defined and shared our definition of evidence-based practice. The words balanced, disciplined and nuanced’ resonated from our excellent launch session in July so we added this to the mix.
SWAT Enquiry CycleOur Enquiry Cycle aims to learn from best practice (lesson study, spirals and own experience) but attempts to overcome some of the barriers to implementation. It sets out to provide a disciplined approach that is time-efficient and provides a platform for meaningful engagement with research. It is pleasing to see teachers from over 10 schools using the cycle this year and we will be looking to learn and refine the process based on this year’s findings and then roll it out more widely in 2018/19.

Culture

I recently attended Lucy Crehan’s seminar at Cambridge Assessment. Her book Cleverlands is a tome that keeps on giving and continues to ask challenging questions of our education system. I was struck by Tim Oates’ comments that although a significant number of factors in the world leading systems (as identified by Crehan – through Pisa results) are beyond the control of practitioners, a lot of their success depends on culture. He then went onto say that, as leaders working within our schools, surely we have a chance to define the culture. This really resonated with me and the culture we are trying to spread through the work of the Research School. o how do we best shift the culture of our practice to become more evidence-based?

Hold up the evidence-based mirror

While we hold up the mirror to classroom practitioners and ask them to become more reflective and use evidence to improve their practice, there is a sense of turning the same mirror upon ourselves. How are we, as leaders of the Research School movement, using evidence about leadership approaches and behaviour to influence our way of working? How are we using the significant body of evidence that exists about building networks in the business world to inform how we build our network? Surely organic growth’ is not informed enough for a Research School…….?

Again, referring to Brown and Zhang’s 2×2 matrix, our aim has to be moving as many schools and teachers towards and into the first quadrant (Type 1). As such we may need to consider three key elements/​levers:

  • The quality and relevance of the teaching and learning evidence we are drawing upon. Close attention needs to be paid to implementation – how do we take the declarative knowledge (what does research say?) and move to procedural knowledge (classroom application of research findings)?
  • Our evidence-based leadership strategies/​behaviours as key players in the Research School movement. Are we walking the walk at leadership level as well as talking the talk?
  • Using evidence from both within and outside the education sphere to make our network plan explicit and evidence-based.

We have much to do and consider.

Exciting times…….

Chris Dale and Andy Samways
Directors of Teaching and Learning and Research School

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