I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about why educational research matters more than ever.

Why How

It’s OK to be unsure about what you think. In a recent post I outlined the trouble with educational research; here I argue that, in the era of ever-shrinking school budgets, it’s more important than ever to be a research-centred school…
Could you tell us about a CPD experience which has fundamentally changed the way you teach? I asked this question of a truly great teacher at interview recently and after 30 or more seconds of furrowed-foreheaded silence a bluffer’s reply mumbled across the interview table. The truth was that in over 2,000 days of teaching and 50 plus INSET days this teacher of more than a decade could not remember a single moment of meaningful advice about pedagogy.
Never blame the students if they are not learning in your lesson; instead ask yourself, What is it about my teaching that means they are not learning? I was taught this 25 years ago by Dave Bradley, an inspirational History teacher at Dorothy Stringer School and my wife’s PGCE mentor. It is a truism which all teachers should heed and the CPD experience which still prompts me to change the way I teach.
The vast amount of high quality research into pedagogy means we know what works. The trouble is, too few teachers read the research; even fewer act upon it.
The features of a good teacher are obvious to any student. Extensive student voice research by John Corrigan of Group 8 Education identified the top six characteristics of a great teacher from a student’s point of view:
My teacher respects me;
My teacher is knowledgeable in their subject;
My teacher is friendly, approachable and willing to listen;
My teacher is positive, enthusiastic and has a sense of humour;
My teacher encourages and helps me to succeed;
In class I do work that is interesting and challenging for me.
It sounds easy to be a good teacher, doesn’t it? Ask your students and I bet you a year’s salary they will give you the same answer. Group 8’s most recent research publication is well worth reading
We know what it takes to be a good school. Two of my favourite educational thinkers are Sir Tim Brighouse and Chris Husbands and between them they articulate how to set up a good school and how to improve our school system respectively.
We have to stop guessing about what works. Our budget is getting tighter and tighter; the forthcoming rise in National Insurance contributions will help matters not a jot. It is even more important, then, that every penny we have left to spend impacts positively upon improving the quality of teaching and student outcomes.
We need to know ensure that knowledge about what exactly helps children learn impacts upon our classroom practice. We haven’t got the money to experiment wildly to find out what works, and we don’t need to. Improving teaching is about working deliberately at the margins of our practice. At Huntington we use our educated intuition about what works, alongside the relevant educational research, to shape our school improvement strategies. We focus heavily upon implementation of strategies and we evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. It is a model we are refining with the help of Dr Jonathan Sharples, who is currently working with the Education Endowment Foundation. If you want to find out more about how we are becoming a (cost-efficient) research-centred school – and hear some brilliant speakers to boot – then please come to the NTEN/ResearchEd conference we are hosting on 3 May. A Bank Holiday weekend away in the UK’s most romantic city with Tom Bennett and Helene Galdin-O’Shea thrown in – you know it makes sense!


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This post has 7 Comments

  1. Hi John. Started to read and have stopped after 2nd paragraph to write this. I could answer that question (thank goodness)… but I fear it is rare. I was lucky enough to use my MA research. to complete action research in my ex-school. In a nutshell; my pedagogy shifted to a simple 3-part questioning technique that I use in everything I do; from lesson planning; to dealing with difficult conversations and planning staff training days. A simple ‘What? Why? How? process for action-research. Daft as it sounds; but when using this approach to form a synopsis, it has proved invaluable for everything I think and do and has shaped my teaching-practice for the better.
    My research project is here: http://teachertoolkit.me/2014/01/26/can-semiotics-be-used-to-improve-teaching-and-learning-by-teachertoolkit/
    I will also add again to any readers; my recent discovery of @BELMASOffice has proved an extremely valuable insight, into academic research – AROUND THE WORLD – not just focusing on research in the UK alone. It’s well worth singing up for a 1st year FREE membership.

  2. John
    What about teachers who refuse to acknowledge their role and focus on students/parents/anybody else to avoid all reflection?

  3. Hi John,
    I admire your determination and commitment for school improvement. After more than 20 years as a Headteacher I am afraid I think increasingly that research has little to add in this country. In order to really learn, we need to be prepared to drop many of the issues drummed in to us over the years and look further afield to countries where education systems are very successful, but also very different to those in the UK; systems where the who theory behind child development and learning is different; systems which are hard to implement in UK schools because of the pressure from LA’s, and in turn the pressure on them from higher authorities still.
    I am happy to be different. I am happy to defy the LA and stick to my beliefs that I know best what is right for my school. Equally I am happy to sit down and discuss these and justify them to the LA knowing that I have a flagship school, not because of intake, but because we’re good.
    I know this is political, but separating education and government is unrealistic in the UK, but the brand of modern Headteacher being churned out as though on a conveyor belt fills me with horror. I do much work on school improvement for my LA and several others; I inspect schools; I am seconded to other schools which need help, so I have not been written off by my LA, despite my rather balshy attitude to them in my own school.
    My point is we earn the right to move our schools down a different path sometimes. Mine is seen as ‘pioneering’ and I get fed up with the ‘intrusion’ of others coming to observe best practice. Intrusion? Yes – it is when it happens so regularly as it detracts from being able to do what we want which is get on and educate in the way we do best.
    I urge you to reflect beyond the research of this country and look at the research of other countries as well. Be open minded, be resolute, but above all remember that teaching is more a gift than a skill. A non-teacher can become more skilled, a gifted teacher is truly inspiring. Employ the gifted ones and don’t compromise.

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