What does an evidence-informed school look like?

10 September 2018

Author: Shaun Allison

As a network of Research Schools, we are spending a great deal of time working with schools from all over the country, to help them become more ‘evidence-informed’.  Whilst doing so, it’s important that we step back and think about what we are trying to achieve.  What are the ‘active ingredients’ of an evidence informed school?  Not in a theoretical sense, but in a practical sense.  What does it look and feel like to work in an evidence- informed school on a day to day basis?  We need to know this, as in order to help schools with the journey towards becoming evidence-informed, we should be aware of what the destination looks like.  Or at the very least, what it might look like.

The following is an attempt to distil the active ingredients of an evidence-informed school.

1. The SLT is committed to the idea of using research evidence

This has to be at the top of the list, because if the headteacher and other key people in your SLT are not fully committed to an evidence informed approach, your progress will be limited.  This is key, because when implementing ideas from research, they can sometimes appear to be counter intuitive and it will often take a long time to see the results (there are no silver bullet, overnight successes).  It takes a brave leader to accept this and stick with it.  This should also be reflected in the staffing structure of the school.  A growing number of schools are appointing a ‘Research Lead’ role to help drive this approach across the school – more on this here.

2. Articulate an evidence informed approach to teaching, curriculum and assessment

Schools contain large numbers of teachers, all trying to help students to learn in the most effective way.  In order to support this, it makes perfect sense for a school to be explicit about what they expect from their teachers in terms of effective teaching – based on the research evidence i.e. what are the ‘active ingredients’ of effective teaching?  This is not about a ‘tick box’ approach to teaching.  It’s about sharing with teachers what the ‘best bets’ are in terms of effective teaching.  So for us at Durrington, that means sharing these six pedagogical principles and then supporting teachers to implement these effectively in their context:

The next development with this idea, is to extend this approach to curriculum and assessment.  What does the research evidence suggests makes for an effective curriculum and assessment?

3. Use evidence to filter and shape whole school approaches and policies

School leaders make decisions that inform policies and procedures around a wide range of themes e.g. homework, feedback, literacy, attendance etc.  Rather than basing these key policies on what might work, a more sensible approach would be to use the research evidence as a starting point.  This is easier said than done, as there is a huge amount of research out there and much of it is tricky to decipher.  The EEF ‘Teaching and Learning Toolkit’ is a great entry level for this.  It provides leaders with usable information about research evidence (in terms of cost and impact) that can be used to inform decision making and policy writing, when they are looking address many of these themes.  A great example of this is using the research evidence to write a more sensible ‘feedback policy’ to replace marking policies, that often present a huge workload challenge for teachers, with very little impact on learning.

As well as helping school leaders to decide which approaches to adopt, evidence should also be used to help them decide what to ditch e.g. lesson observation grades, triple impact marking, VAK learning etc.

4. Use evidence to shape CPD

A wealth of research evidence exists around what makes effective CPD in Schools.  The TDT and CUREE have both published reviews on this research.  Their findings suggest that effective CPD in schools is:

  • Targeted
  • Evidence based
  • Collaborative
  • Sustained
  • Evaluated

Schools should be using this evidence to shape the CPD that they offer to their staff.  All too often, this guidance is ignored by schools, who offer one-off generic CPD, that is never really developed or evaluated.  You can read how we have used this to develop our CPD at Durrington here.

5.  Use CPD to communicate and mobilise useful research evidence

Teachers are very busy people and haven’t got the time to plough through reams of research papers.  With this in mind, it’s useful to find ways of distilling this research evidence for teachers.  Journal clubs are a great way of doing this (informal gatherings of teachers where a research paper is read and discussed).  This can be developed into an edu-book club during INSET days.  We publish ‘Research Bites’ to help teachers with this.

6.  Model and support evidence-informed implementation

Many well-intentioned new approaches fail in school, because of poor implementation.  This doesn’t need to be the case, but it does require implementation to be viewed as a well thought out process, rather than an event.  The EEF ‘Implementation Guide’ is an invaluable resource that will support leaders with this process.  This blog picks out some key themes from this guide.

7.  Rigorously evaluate what we do

Another thing that we are not always great at in schools, is rigorously evaluating a new approach e.g. a senior leader might have a new idea for improving the attainment of pupil premium students.  They try it out and after one term, some of the students seem to be doing better.  As a result, this new approach is rolled out across the whole cohort.  Sound familiar?  All too often, too much time and energy is wasted like this on things we think might work, without us really knowing. So, we need to get better at evaluating new approaches, to help us make a judgement about whether they are worth pursuing or not.  The EEF ‘DIY Evaluation Guide’ is great for this.

8.  Use evidence to make decisions around strategic funding

Schools receive a significant amount of funding to improve the attainment of their disadvantaged students.  It is imperative and morally necessary that we use the available research evidence to use this funding on approaches that are most likely to have a positive impact on this.  Again, the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit is a great starting point for this.  Will it give us all the answers? No.  Will it point us in the right direction? Yes. As Professor Rob Coe says hereWhat science does provide is a process for becoming gradually more right, on average“.

9.  Extend the threads of being evidence informed beyond our classrooms

Don’t just stop at supporting the teachers in your school to use research evidence to inform their practice.  Use it to support students and parents/carers e.g. run workshops that tell them about the most effective revision strategies from cognitive science (The Learning Scientists are brilliant for this).  Also, support collaborative working across your MAT, Teaching School Alliance or other professional networks.  You could even set up a blog to share what you are doing – as hundreds of teachers up and down the country are now doing (some great examples here).

10.  Don’t flog a dead horse!

Be sensible enough to give up on things that aren’t working and try something new…or change it to improve it.

Schools that are doing most of these things, or thinking about how they can get better at them, are probably well on their way to becoming more evidence-informed.  Of course, this is not an exact science and there will be other factors that are just as important, but this is probably a good starting point/checklist for school leaders.  Please do get in touch to find out how we can help you with this, or sign up for one or more of our training programmes.

 

Posted on 10 September 2018
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