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 we must keep asking questions about Research in Education #NTENRED.
I have had an idealised vision of a school culture I want to replicate pinned on my office wall since 1992; yesterday, at the NTEN/ResearchED York 2014 conference, I felt we might just be making some progress towards realising that vision…

I would welcome the chance to work in a school characterised by a high level of collegiality, a place teeming with frequent, helpful personal and professional interactions. I would become excited about life in a school where a climate of risk taking is deliberately fostered and where a safety net protects those who may risk and stumble. I would like to go each day to a school to be with other adults who genuinely wanted to be there, who really chose to be there because of the importance of their work to others and to themselves. I would not want to leave a school characterised by a profound respect for, and encouragement of, diversity, where important differences among children and adults were celebrated rather than seen as problems to remedy. For 190 days each year, I would like to attend an institution that accorded a special place to philosophers who constantly examine and question and frequently replace embedded practices by asking ‘why’ questions. And I could even reside for a while in a laundry dryer if accompanied by a great deal of humour that helps bond the community by assisting everyone through tough moments. I’d like to work in a school that constantly takes note of the stress and anxiety level on the one hand and standards on the other, all the while searching for the optimal relationship of low anxiety and high standards.

– Roland S Barth

Nothing is said that has not been said before. So wrote the Roman playwright Terence and Alex Quigley’s post this morning about yesterday’s NTEN/ResearchED conference at Huntington School articulated nearly all I wanted to say about the event. It might have been the sunshine, it might have been the extraordinarily high quality of the presenters, it might have been the wonderful, generous-spirited delegates, it might have the unbridled commitment of the volunteers and the Huntington School staff – whatever it was, there was magic in the air yesterday. And Emma Ann Hardy’s  #NTENRED People will forget what you say but never how you made them feel captures that sense of something special perfectly.
Compromise is the refuge of the unprincipled. Yet despite everything, uncertainty rules. I discussed David Didau’s dictum at the end of my keynote speech yesterday, which is available below from 16.30 along with my Prezi. I sometimes wish I could be so sure about things.

speaking pic


How do we build evidence into education? Ben Goldacre began this whole ResearchED thing 14 months ago with his paper Building Evidence Into Education; soon afterwards Tom Bennett took up the metaphorical baton and yesterday’s conference was the third in a series of ResearchED conferences, this time co-produced with David Weston’s National Teacher Enquiry Network.
[scribd id=221870524 key=key-1cad3qh8c7enjzq268ui mode=scroll]
At the ResearchED 2013 last September Ben Goldacre proposed this research eco-system whereby research findings find their way into the hands of teachers.

Copy of evidence based teaching root

Ben’s model has huge merits and if, like he says, in two decades’ time, we have such a model at the centre of a research-based teaching profession, I’d be delighted. What we have to do, however, is keep our eyes on the golden thread from what we do in the classroom to student outcomes; students don’t feature in Ben’s eco-system.


Can our education system benefit from research? At yesterday’s conference Tom demonstrated live his contempt of initiatives like VAK (and I’m sure you’d like to know Tom, if you read this, that during this Spring’s interview season I have had many a candidate mention the importance of VAK when planning lessons!). His was some performance…

tom speakign

Furthermore, he suggested that rather than become researchers ourselves, teachers should engage with researchers’ findings, something Ben Goldacre clearly agreed with last September…
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Having undertaken a small piece of research at Huntington into the effectiveness of oral feedback for Year 9 English students, I think I agree with Tom and Ben. I have explained some of the difficulties of undertaking such a piece of research here. And yet…Ron Berger says this about his colleagues who have undertaken research into their own pedagogy.

In the past 10 years I’ve had the privilege of spending time with many teachers who are investigating their practice. The excitement and knowledge that they develop is universal. Just like with students, the pressure that comes with making their work public compels them to put unusual effort and thoughtfulness into their practice.

Is it possible to undertake a research project which has no discernable impact upon your students’ performance but still makes you a more deliberate, reflective practitioner? I do think such a thing is possible, but, like the back of Strummer’s guitar suggests, I’m not certain.

strummer qm guitar

Tom proposed that schools should appoint a Director of Research. Is this the right thing to do? Will it ensure that educational research will get in to the hands of teachers and so improve student outcomes? A few weeks ago we appointed Alex Quigley to be our Director of Research in Teaching and Learning after two months of struggling with shaping a new school leadership team. Here’s the model of that team which places the development of teaching and learning at the heart of what we do.


Is Research in Education the new VAK? Even though we live 200 miles apart I can feel Tom Bennett pushing an 8 on his own personal Richter-scale of irritation! Despite that, it is, for me, a serious question. And it’s why, this coming Tuesday morning, at 9.30 am, I will begin a meeting in my office with Alex Quigley and Professor Rob Coe from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University to start some serious research into the efficacy of research in education. And when I say the efficacy of research in education, what I mean is, does research in education improve student outcomes. It’s all about the golden thread. Watch this space!

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This post has 6 Comments

  1. The trouble with your proposed research project is that if (as we all imagine) you succeed in showing that research has no effect in education, it would not in any way disprove the importance of research. The most likely reasons for the result would be:
    a) that most of the research that is currently done is of poor quality (in which case the quality of particular research might be questioned, but not the importance of doing research in principle);
    b) that even good research does not have any impact on teaching practice in the classroom – this would be the fault of the teachers n failing to read and implement research findings, not the fault of the researchers.
    In other words, the problem is not that Ian Gilbert’s tweet might be true – the problem is that the majority of teachers *believe* that it is true.
    You might like to comment on my post to this effect at “Why teachers don’t know best” at http://edtechnow.net/2013/08/27/blind/.

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