X Close

Institute of Education Blog

Home

Expert opinion from academics at the UCL Institute of Education

Menu

Research into practice: a 5-point checklist

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 April 2016

Chris Brown
Last week, delegates to the American Educational Research Association held its enormous annual conference in Washington DC. Engaging with research and evidence as part of effective professional teacher development is an obvious topic for such a gathering of teachers, academics, school leaders and students. It has benefits for teacher practice and pupil outcomes. At the same time school leaders often require help with understanding how to harness these benefits. As I note in Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools, however, school leaders can support evidence-informed practice by addressing the five key checklist items set out below.
CHECKLIST ITEM 1: does your approach to research and evidence use demonstrate your own commitment as well as facilitate the efforts of others?
School leadership must actively and demonstrably buy-in to research and evidence use for it to become part of a school’s ‘way of life’. This means that school leaders must not only promote the vision for and develop the culture of a research engaged school, they must (more…)

School-university partnerships: fragile and fragmented, but still worth fighting for

Blog Editor, IOE Digital18 March 2015

Toby Greany
It’s no great secret that partnerships between schools and universities are in a state of flux. Historical relationships are being reshaped by the push for a self-improving school-led system in England in particular, with the rapid expansion of School Direct giving schools a stronger role in Initial Teacher Education (ITE).
I have led two recent studies designed to track and make sense of these changes. The first was funded by RCUK and NCCPE and undertaken in partnership with Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities: it looked at school-university partnerships in the round across the UK, for example including Widening Participation and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) initiatives. The second was undertaken with Dr Chris Brown and funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund and the participating schools. It looked at how four current and emerging Teaching Schools in England are working with their partner (more…)

Middle leaders as catalysts for change in schools: an active, collaborative process

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 December 2014

Chris Brown and Louise Stoll
Over recent years, there’s been greater awareness in England of the important role middle leaders – people such as department heads, key stage leaders or pastoral leaders – can play in school improvement. Middle leaders are the key link between teachers and a school’s senior leaders. As such, they are well positioned to offer support and challenge to teachers and lead their learning both within their own school and across partner schools.
How successful they are at this, in an evidence-hungry policy environment, will depend at least partly on their capacity to engage with and share knowledge about high quality research and practice and track its impact on learning and teaching. In short, middle leaders have the potential to be catalysts for evidence-informed change.
We had the opportunity to explore this issue in a year-long R&D project, funded through the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC’s) (more…)

Election silly season: is research an ornament, a luxury good or ammunition in a war?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 September 2014

Chris Brown
As with many things in our Western consumer culture, research use may be conceived as an act of consumption. Correspondingly, research is often treated by its users as they would a consumer object, much like a coffee maker or television. In the case of educational policy making the research ‘consumer object’ seems to represent one of two perspectives; it is either viewed as a luxury item – with high use value and prestige, or its use is limited and it is primarily employed, much as we employ sparkly trinkets, to distract attention. (more…)

'Knowledge exchange' between researchers and practitioners must be a two-way street

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 May 2014

 Louise Stoll and Chris Brown
Both of us are fascinated by how research finds its way into policy and practice. Most researchers hope their findings will be used, but engaging people isn’t always easy or straightforward.
It’s good to see an increase in initiatives focusing on this challenge – for example, the Education Endowment Fund’s recent call for bids in relation to encouraging the uptake of research in schools. Many terms are used to describe the process – dissemination, knowledge transfer, knowledge mobilisation, research utilisation to name a few. Whatever their intention, the message they can convey to practitioners is that researchers have the knowledge that practitioners need to receive.
Our attention has been caught, though, by the term ‘knowledge exchange’. This suggests a two-way flow in a more equal relationship, which makes a lot of sense. Everyone has their own knowledge and experience to share and research can enrich this, as well as pushing researchers to think again about what their findings mean in different contexts.
An R&D project, funded through the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC’s) Knowledge Exchange Opportunities Scheme has been giving us the opportunity to explore researcher/practitioner relationships in more depth. Over the last six months, along with our colleagues Karen Spence-Thomas and Carol Taylor, we have been working with Challenge Partners, a group of more than 230 state-funded schools across England that work collaboratively to enhance the quality of their teaching and leadership, with an ultimate aim of improving outcomes for children and young people. Challenge Partners (CP) aim to provide a vehicle for their schools to learn from the best of their peers.
Our project has been adding research into this mix. It’s exploring and learning about establishing an expanding and sustainable network of middle leaders (such as department heads, subject leaders and key stage leaders) across CP schools that can: exchange evidence-informed knowledge about effective middle leadership that changes teacher practice; track its impact; and find powerful ways to exchange the outcomes of their applied project work more widely within and beyond the partnership to benefit a broader range of educators. For a summary of our project questions and the project, see: ESRC Middle Leaders Project.
In workshops, we share both research findings and effective practice. These are then blended together to create new knowledge that middle leaders use to design and refine processes and tools to help them lead more effectively and track their impact. In between sessions, the middle leaders test new ideas and trial tools with colleagues and teams both in their own and in other schools. They do this both via face-to-face engagement and through social networking. With us they will also be developing processes to embed the notion of sharing high quality research-informed practice between schools in their own networks and for practitioners in other networks. We have a parallel evaluation strand where our researchers and researchers from two Challenge Partners (CP) schools and the CP office are collecting baseline and follow up information, and following project activities.
Partnership is absolutely critical. We co-designed the project with CP, are now involving middle leaders in planning and facilitating sessions, and are co-evaluating the project. Through this, we are trying to model knowledge exchange and collaboration by drawing on the expertise and practices of researchers, knowledge exchange professionals (a term used by the ESRC to describe people who help translate research findings) and practitioners. We hope this will increase the project’s potential to benefit the middle leaders and their colleagues and pupils.
Ours is a two-way relationship: we are learning from our partners as well as them from us, and we have combined our research knowledge, Challenge Partners’ prior experience and published knowledge, and the middle leaders’ knowledge. At times this challenges our thinking – we are tracking this as well – but we know that powerful professional learning does just that.
We will be back with an update in a few months.
 

Time to re-think the unthinkable: how can we get our research messages discussed by politicians?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 September 2013

Chris Brown

The party conference season is a useful barometer for those who champion the more widespread use of evidence within policy making. Among the announcements and denouncements, we start to get an understanding of the gamut of policy positions being developed by the main political parties and, importantly, by those who advise them. These are, to use the ancient Greek idea, the nascent policy “agoras” (pdf), or gathering places for policy.
They matter because they illustrate that whoever wins the election will have already devised their manifesto for government. This positioning of perspectives will also frame the nature of the evidence policy-makers will or won’t engage with once in office. Clearly the scope of any policy agora (the breadth of the arguments it contains) depends on the extent to which ministers wish to let their civil servants investigate potential solutions for particular policy problems. But if the trend set by the current education secretary continues, then the positioning both of evidence and of those who offer advice worth listening to, is something that will need to happen long before the electioneering for 2015 has even commenced.

The year ahead, as a result, represents the period when we can work with potential future governments to re-think the unthinkable: to champion new ideas at the expense of the current ones and to reposition the country’s journey over the course of the next electoral cycle. This of course takes time and effort, but it also requires an understanding of the appropriate strategies to employ.
Historically academics, in addition to their day to day business of writing journal articles, have been encouraged to ensure that their research outputs are both digestible and applicable: that what they write can not only be easily understood, but that it is also immediately ‘policy ready’. Often efforts to do so result in frustration. This is because while useful, these two qualities alone are unlikely to lead to a greater uptake of research by policy-makers: ideas may still sit outside of the policy-agora or policy-makers may simply fail to see any need to act on what is presented. Importantly, then, what is also required is substantial ground-work to enhance the “social robustness” of any idea – to promote its importance and the need to act as a result.
Efforts to enhance social robustness can be directed via the general media, social media or through cultivating links with special advisors and others who matter, but the ultimate endgame of this action is to advance ideas towards what Malcolm Gladwell describes as the “tipping point“: ensuring issues enter and dominate the mainstream and so must be addressed.
As well as relating to general ideas, however, we can also direct similar efforts towards promoting ourselves as experts, whose advice should be sought. Again, the result is the same, with those considered to be worth listening to finding it easier to catch the ears of policy makers than those who are not (as can be evidenced by those particularly skilled in this approach – Ben Goldacre for instance, provides a prime example of what can be achieved here). So let’s watch this week’s Labour Party conference with interest and see if we can assess not only which of our research might be in favour, but also whether there is scope for enhancing the social robustness of the messages that are not – and make sure they are ready in time for next year.
Dr. Chris Brown’s new book, Making Evidence Matter, published by IOE Press, is out now