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To be transformed by research-informed practices, schools must have the right leaders

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 February 2021

Qing Gu  and Simon Rea.

What does it take to transform practice, culture and outcomes in the schools that need it most? Our evaluation of the Education Endowment Foundation’s Research Schools Network shows that the essential ingredient is committed and strong leadership.

This national network was launched in September 2016, and the research schools (RS) are funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to share what they know about putting research into practice, and lead and support schools in their regions and beyond to make better use of evidence to improve teaching practices.

These schools’ primary purpose is not to conduct academic research in classrooms or schools. Rather, they help schools to access, understand, critique, and apply external evidence in their own contexts through disseminating newsletters, blogs and other materials. They also provide CPD and training in their areas. In essence, RSs are brokers between the EEF’s evidence and school practice.

Our evaluation report on the experiences of the first five RSs in their initial three years provides clear and (more…)

Exploring what it means to be ‘evidence-rich’ in practice

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 April 2018

Naomi Bath. 
The RSA’s Learning About Culture programme aims to develop more evidence of what works in cultural learning and to help practitioners to use evidence from their own work and elsewhere to improve their practice. At the centre of the programme is a partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) who are undertaking five randomised control trials that are being evaluated by IOE and the Behavioural Insights Team. Alongside this, the RSA aims to support schools and cultural organisations on their journey towards what we are terming ‘evidence-rich practice’. In this blog, we want to explore the origin of the term and what we mean by it.

Questions of terminology

‘Evidence-based practice’ or ‘evidence-informed practice’? ‘Evidence-engaged’ or ‘research-engaged’? One could be forgiven for avoiding these terms for fear of getting lost (more…)

The sweet smell of success: how can we help educators develop a ‘nose’ for evidence they can use in the classroom?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 February 2018

Mutlu Cukurova and Rose Luckin
A good nose for what constitutes solid evidence: it’s something a scientist is lost without. This finely tuned ‘nose’ is not innate, it is the result of years of practice and learning. This practice and learning through constantly questioning and seeking evidence for decisions and beliefs is something that we academics apply equally to our teaching as to our research. However, recent headlines cast doubt on the belief that other practitioners are able to make good use of research. An article on the TES website argues that “Teacher involvement in research has no impact on pupils’ outcomes”. Can this really be true? If so, what can we do to ensure that the billions of pounds spent on educational research are made accessible to, and used by, our educators?
The realisation that this evidence-informed ‘nose’ is not necessarily shared by many of those involved in education, and in particular those involved in the design and use of technology for education, has also became starkly apparent to us through our development of a training course to help entrepreneurs and educators to understand research evidence. This enterprise is part of the EDUCATE project at the UCL Knowledge Lab.
One of our aims is (more…)

What works? examining the evidence on evidence-informed practice

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 January 2018

IOE Events. 
The rhetoric of ‘evidence-informed practice’ – or ‘what works’ as it is sometimes known for short – now pervades the school system in England, as it does in many other places.  Through our latest IOE debate ‘What if… we really wanted evidence-informed practice in the classroom’, we wanted to look behind the advocacy: where is this agenda taking our education system and the teaching profession in practice? How do we realise the prize and avoid the pitfalls?
We kicked off the debate with an individual at the centre of the what works movement in education, Sir Kevan Collins of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). Sir Kevan set out what was on offer if we truly moved beyond the rhetoric: transparency in place of black boxes; collaboration in place of competition; empowerment over compliance; professional curiosity in place of ritualised behaviours – oh, and an end (more…)

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…)

Brain science and education: seeking the right connections

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 February 2014

 Kevan Collins
What can neuroscience tell us about education? This question elicits a wide range of responses from teachers, neuroscientists and educators – from the pessimistic “Nothing. What can a brain scan tell a teacher about what to do with a difficult Year 9 class?” to the very optimistic “Everything! If only I could see what my pupils were thinking I’d know what to do”.
At the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), we believe the answer is likely to be much more complex and that the potential for this area of work is huge. That’s why we have joined with the Wellcome Trust in a £6m Neuroscience and Education funding initiative.
Neuroscience has already confirmed that certain existing educational practices have an impact on the brain. But it can also prompt questions about how best to implement them. “Spaced Learning” – the idea that it is better to split the time spent learning something into several short bursts rather than learning it in one large block – has long been used in education. However, recent neuroscience research suggests that the positive impact may be due to the additional time spent thinking about the material. This raises questions such as: How long should you leave between sessions? And what type of activity should you do in between?
Neuroscience can also provide us with fresh ideas for educational approaches. One such idea is that of uncertain reward and computer games. It seems that one of the reasons that computer games are so compelling is that they employ “uncertain reward”. Sometimes an action is rewarded and sometimes it isn’t, so whether you progress in the game is partly down to skill and partly down to luck.
This type of reward structure stimulates a much greater dopamine release in the brain than completely certain or completely uncertain reward. Dopamine is important for motivation, but also for memory formation – a combination that would surely prove useful educationally. Learning games that employ the same reward structure as commercial games are being developed [link] and could provide a powerful learning tool.
Ensuring that neuroscience can usefully inform education requires the involvement of many groups: neuroscientists, psychologists, educational researchers and teachers, for example. It also requires the careful use of evidence throughout the process:

  • firstly looking at the evidence generated by neuroscience to select those ideas most likely to be useful to education;
  • then ensuring these ideas are applied within the classroom in a way that is both feasible and supportive of teaching and learning approaches identified as effective by educational research;
  • and lastly the neuroscience-informed approach or intervention needs to be rigorously evaluated.

It is this process that the Wellcome Trust and EEF are hoping to facilitate through the new funding initiative.
Many practitioners are excited by the idea that neuroscience could influence education; indeed a recent Wellcome Trust survey found that eight out of ten teachers would collaborate with neuroscientists doing research in education. This is very encouraging. However, it’s also important that ideas are not adopted before they have been rigorously tested, and that their neuroscientific basis is sound.
There is then potential for neuroscience to inform education, enhancing current practice and providing new ideas. Developing educational interventions truly informed by neuroscience would also stop unproven commercial products from filling the current gap in the market. The EEF and Wellcome Trust funding initiative intends to generate evidence about the impact of existing neuro-informed educational interventions, as well as funding some more developmental projects to develop and pilot new approaches. Generating a much larger body of evidence to provide an answer to our opening question and hopefully identifying approaches that raise the educational attainment of young people.
More information on the funding round can be found here, including a literature review that discusses other ideas from neuroscience that could be applied within education. 
Kevan Collins is Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation and a Visiting Fellow at the IOE