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Engaging with research

I’ve had a number of conversations today that have got me thinking about educational research, Ofsted guidance, and how they are, or worryingly often aren’t, linked to what’s actually going on in schools.

During one conversation with a PGCE student I was informed about certain practices which were heavily integrated into the CPD offer at her previous placement school which have now been totally debunked. This led the conversation down a windy path. We discussed lots of things but the crux of it was centered around how this could have happened.

The reasoning isn’t necessarily fully correct, but we hypothesised that this could happen when people leave their own learning behind once they qualify. The possibility is that people can be trained in whatever is deemed good practice at the time, but without continued learning and engagement with research and policy they don’t necessarily know when the world moves on.

In another conversation a colleague of mine seemed shocked that I was writing an essay, and when I told him that a few of the books were great and would be worth his investment he suggested that that takes one hell of a commitment to education. I took this as a compliment, and thinking about it later it struck me that it does take one hell of a commitment to education, and only a handful of staff at the school would have such a commitment.

Is it any wonder, then, that despite Ofsted changing tack in line with the most up to date research some schools are still working from an old playbook? Many schools are still grading lessons, I even know of some where grading and judgement are attached to a constant programme of learning walks. This is despite of the fact that all evidence points towards a developmental process of lesson observations being far more productive and beneficial to the teachers.

I feel lucky to be in a school that has stopped grading observations, and where learning walks are fed back to the entire school as a “we saw this good practice” style report. It would seem that this is not commonplace elsewhere.

In some schools, it would seem that management have little interest in the research and as such are working from massively outdated ideas. We need to work on ensuring the profession is moving forward, that we are developing new staff as best we can, that we are learning from our mistakes and learning from the research. This means engaging with it, and questioning it where appropriate, as David Weston (@informed_edu) and Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) suggested in York. When we have engaged and questioned, then we can apply it to our own context and each improve our own practice.

How can we do this?

At ResearchEd York John Tomsett (@johntomsett) mentioned that at his school he has appointed Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) “Director of Research”, this sounds like a fantastic role, and shows how seriously this is taken at Huntingdon. Perhaps more schools would benefit from such a role.

Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) tells us in this post that he sees the development of a research based CPD programme as a major priority as he starts a new headship, which shows how committed he is to this vision.

Shaun Allinson (@shaun_allinson) runs a “blog of the week” for his school, to engage staff with the Blogosphere, this is a way into the research and could be beneficial for all.

These are a few excellent examples, but I fear they are in the minority. I think, though, that above all, the burning issue is time. 3 hours isn’t enough time to “Plan, Prepare and Assess” for up to 27 lessons. The majority of teachers work 55-60 hour weeks as it is and would baulk at any additional “work”. It’s not impossible to engage with it on a full timetable, I do it and I know others who do and benefit from it, but to get buy in from everyone on top of such vast workloads is unlikely.

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