When speaking to colleagues from different educational settings, it is clear that ‘evidence-based practice’ is considered to be a prize worth striving for and a term discussed on a regular basis.
This prize still remains beyond our grasp for a number of reasons but for some in the profession, it is viewed as an impossible dream. This seems to be due to the lack of clarity of what evidence-informed education actually looks like in our schools.
For some, they picture regular opportunities for all teachers to have a day at a university, talking to academics and exploring research which is of interest to them. For others, it’s undertaking large scale action research in their schools – with staff members on a significantly reduced timetable in order to undertake a project and do it justice, then share their findings with colleagues from the local area and beyond.
The financial and time implications for both of these are immense; headteachers just don’t have the money to make this happen, and it certainly wouldn’t be a possibility for all schools. Does this mean that we cannot all become evidence-informed?
Moreover, we are teachers; we came into the profession to teach! A day out of class we can plan for, but too much more than this and we will break out in hives at the thought of others teaching our pupils and not quite delivering lessons in the way we intended! What about the time it takes to implement all these new ideas? Especially on top of the workload we already have.
What is evident with these viewpoints is that it is not considered a bolt on – teachers, as always, would pick up this mantel and ‘do’ research to the very best of their ability and make it work. Because that’s exactly what we do, when new initiatives come our way.
So to avoid this culture becoming an unattainable dream, there needs to be continuing conversations that develop a shared understanding of what evidence-informed looks like – a model, if you like, to clarify intentions. What follows is my attempt at this to express this in the simplest of descriptions:
An evidence-informed school has an SLT that examines issues carefully using a range of sources then, where possible, finds solutions from the best available evidence and adapts this for their specific context. Websites such as the EEF and IEE should help giving an opportunity to check value for money against the possible impact.
With the implementation of new initiatives, it's important that time is taken to evaluate the impact – honestly and objectively. Has it really worked for the pupils involved? What decisions do we make as a result? Documents such as 'The DIY Evaluation Guide' published by the EEF gives the tools for school leaders to do just this.
CPD is developed that has foundations in research. This is presented to colleagues in manageable chunks; key principles and recommendations for the classroom that mean the teachers can make tangible changes to their practice where necessary. Time is given to collaboratively trial, develop and evaluate these in the classroom so there are sustained changes in practice, and student outcomes are improved.
There is access to a research gatekeeper (either in school or through a local TSA or research school) – a colleague willing to keep their ear to the ground, and their eyes on the internet! Someone who is research literate; they know where to access the best evidence and can critically evaluate it. Their aim is to point colleagues in the right direction by recommending the most relevant research in the area required.
This school has an openness to research possibilities – exploring opportunities to participate in a research trial, or share their practice with a local audience.
I know that others will have slightly different and far more detailed views on this. As these models are further developed in schools and shared through a range of different mechanisms, hopefully they will continue to present ways that all schools can move forward and embed positive changes into their practices.
With a culture developed in this way, without excessive reliance upon extra time and money, I think that the goal of evidence-informed education can become achievable for all.
I was initially hesitant about the research lead training. The treadmill of working in schools is all-consuming and I wasn’t sure I had the time to add in yet another role. I am not from the world of academia, and worried that it would be inaccessible, time-consuming and ultimately not beneficial to my school.
With each passing day of training, and with each resource that widens my perspective on education, I realise how wrong I was.
I thought it would be dictatorial - taking away my autonomy and dismissing my professional judgement. Not the case. I realise I can enhance both of these by using practical wisdom, making decisions based on good knowledge of content and research which have the highest likelihood of success. My judgement is further retained through intelligent adaptation – drawing upon the experience of my context to tailor to our specific needs without losing the core principles of the suggested change.
It has put a spotlight on decision making in school. Often with a sticky plaster approach, I have been too quick to judge the problems within our school and administer quick fix first-aid that will save the day without fully considering the true nature of our problems and gathering the necessary evidence to discover whether this is really an accurate picture.
It has also challenged my perspective of evaluation – showing more than ever that impact is the key. Sometimes, we continue with ineffective activities and methods because we have not taken the time to take a step back and consider why we are doing what we do, and the true benefits that it brings.
Active research has been another interesting part of the learning process. I have found that it is hard to take a step back from a project you believe in and really consider the true impact that it has. Developing this objectivity, and a more thorough approach to decision making, is vital in order to best serve the pupils in our care.
I have realised that staff buy-in for change is a must; there has to be a winning combination of key principles and research underpinning what we do paired with a clarity in the process and instruction to avoid ambiguity and confusion. Research must be presented in exactly the right way to encourage engagement and ellicit a shared understanding.
The best part of the training is that it has reignited my own thirst for learning; opening my eyes to the many possibilities of what can be achieved and how we can do this – learning from colleagues across the country and beyond.
With school budgets squeezed year upon year, we simply cannot afford to waste money on a hunch of what will work based upon the opinions of one or two individuals. Research gives us the opportunity to employ best bets, to be more considered in our approach and hopefully experience a higher rate of success for our pupils.
I am now excited for the ‘what next’. The best part of being a teaching school is the opportunity to collaborate and work with colleagues from across our local area, and the benefits this can bring. Our next steps, I hope, will be to use research based inquiry across a range of schools to address some of our local education issues and, eventually, share with a wider audience what we have learnt. We have some way to go before we reach this point on the path ahead but I feel that we are slowly heading in the right direction.
To those that are sceptical of using research – that feel it is just one more chore to add to their endless list of daily jobs – I say give it a chance. The benefits it can bring to the effectiveness of our classrooms, and the resulting impact on pupils will make it time well spent.
Many thanks to Stuart Kime, for his time and expertise, and to those that made it possible for us to be part of this cohort.
I am an educational thief. I have stolen the concept of ‘Loops of Learning’ from the North Somerset Learning Exchange in the way that most educational ideas are founded in the work of others and reshaped for each individual context.
As with most things implemented in schools, it started with a CPD session - an opportunity to listen to Kerry McArdle, Assistant Head at Bourneville Primary School. Amongst the many nuggets she shared, I was struck by the simplicity of the Loops idea, and how much sense it made.
Loops of Learning in its simplest terms is a cohesive way of planning, where lessons are planned with a common goal – to move pupils towards a successful presentation of understanding – the purposeful demonstration of knowledge and skills. Through every point of this, the learning journey is shared with pupils – they know how and why the sessions fit together, and know that these can be tailored to suit their needs.
As with enthusiasm around any new development in school, immediate full implementation is tempting but never the best option! Instead the case for adoption was built. The book was purchased in order to learn the full theory behind the process, and to explore a range of case studies. The reflective nature of these were excellent; short soundbites from practitioners which detailed how it worked for them, and the things they would adjust in future.
Armed with this research, the approach was trialled in one class for Literacy – an opportunity to test this out over a two week period. The benefits of this struck me straight away. Display materials gathered from each lesson clearly mapped the pupils journey towards the end point – a great start for the following lesson. I thought I was reflective, but the planning format for the loops of learning meant that I was far better at recording this and reacting in subsequent sessions.
The concept and feedback from the single trial was presented to a year group of 3 classes who were then asked to trial this way of planning. The staff enjoyed the opportunity to share the learning journey, and pupils felt valued with their own loops added - they relished understanding the purpose of their sessions. Work from this unit was fantastic, with author booklets now on display in our local public library.
Armed with research, case studies, and school experience, the concept was ready to be shared with the whole staff. An interactive CPD session was designed to develop staff understanding of the loops of learning and the opportunity to learn from the experience of colleagues within the school. Time was given for teams to plan for their first loops of learning with presentations of understanding that could be shared with the wider school community.
It is still a process that is in it's infancy – several terms on from the initial spark. Loops of Learning has been revisited in staff meetings with feedback from monitoring activities and opportunities to share successes and discuss areas for development. CPD time has been allocated for planning loops across the school; we cannot expect colleagues to change their practice without allowing the time to explore and develop. Our year teams are now moving towards their first presentations of understanding through a cohesive planning process, with increased pupil participation and better knowledge of our pupils’ learning.
This is why I am an advocate for learning from research – not through stealing anything and everything and lifting it into our schools, but through polishing those educational jems that will really work for our pupils.
For those that may be interested:
Winning the 2017 Pupil Premium Award has been an affirming experience for all the staff who work so hard to ensure that every pupil at Springfield achieves very well, and also experiences a wide range of sporting and cultural opportunities.
We are keen to share good practice in many ways. We offer thorough Pupil Premium Reviews, led by myself. I am an accredited Pupil Premium Reviewer under the National College for Teaching and Leadership. We host visits for leaders from other Education Authorities and work with other Teaching School Alliances and Research Schools. In addition, we are establishing a half termly pupil premium forum attended by local leaders in this area to share good practice and ideas. We understand that the dynamics of the groups of children we encounter change yearly; what works for one cohort doesn’t always necessarily fit for another. But armed with the best research, and case studies from across different schools, we should have the tools to adapt our practice to fit specific needs.
What works for us:
Our strategy broadly cover 3 areas:
- High quality teaching with targeted support
- Pastoral provision
- Enrichment and experiences
A Relentless Focus Quality Teaching
As a teaching school we have put on over 50 courses attended by delegates from 88 schools, which our staff have access to - these aim to share the best in local practice, and expertise from carefully chosen educational consultants. PD continues as staff implement changes and regularly review together as a team. In school, we release teaching staff simultaneously to meet for one afternoon monthly. Our monitoring of provision for disadvantaged pupils is robust and takes into account attendance, data and engagement with wider opportunities.
We use research to identify solutions to challenges, trial them within our school and then share our practice. Recent examples include using the ‘Bar Method’ in maths and using ‘Loops of Learning’ to improve curriculum learning.
Building Effective Staff-Pupil Relationships/Dialogue
Regularly over the course of the year, pupils and teachers have 10 minute mentoring meetings. This has multiple benefits: it builds relationships and creates time to explore individual barriers to learning and promote resilience. It also enables teachers to introduce (and explain) precise learning targets.
High adult pupil ratios across the school provide the capacity for numerous pre-planned intervention groups (and also ad-hoc interventions according to need). There is an absence of ‘intervention culture’ as groupings are fluid and cater for different abilities and subjects. These interventions take place before, during and after school - but are planned to minimise pupils removal from other curriculum sessions.
To improve reading we have a competition each week (across the school) between classes designed to ensure that each pupil reads 4 times at home per week. For pupils who cannot do this (often our disadvantaged pupils) we have a reading buddies system so that pupils can read aloud at school.
We ensure that pupils who join the school in year 3 have a successful transition with a programme which begins at the start of year 2. We have been committed over recent years to increasing the number of classes from 3 to 4, and ensuring there is a range of abilities in classes conducive to mixed ability learning. Disadvantaged pupils access more teacher time, and this reduces dips in attainment during year 3 - especially those that are often prevalent in Junior schools.
Our fully funded daily breakfast club ensures pupils have a good breakfast, and are ready to learn. It improves attendance/punctuality and is an opportunity for extra reading/maths games and intervention groups.
Our Family Support Worker builds relationships with parents, attends meetings, maintains records which are shared (as appropriate) with relevant school staff so that class provision can be adapted. She supports 24% of our disadvantaged pupils and a further 12% have social service involvement.
Each month pupils partake in a mixed aged ‘apprenticeships’ afternoon, led by local experts and instructors from a range of disciplines and focused on different countries and cultures.
Clubs that are offered to the pupils offer a wide range of unique experiences drawing on the skills of our multi-talented staff and visitors. They offer pupils opportunities to experience success and develop self-confidence in other areas. These include fishing, circus skills, card making and musical theatre - to name but a few!
We put on an extensive range of trips so pupils are acquainted firstly with their local area and, secondly, places of national interest (such as London). In this way, pupils experience more culture, history and geography.
Daniel Jones, September 2017
People often ask us to share the key to our success. As a Teaching School, we are happy to open our doors and invite others to see what we do. But articulating always seems a struggle as so much of what we do seems to us to be common sense and practice that already occurs in many schools.
I have realised it's so hard for us to define because there are so many qualities that work subtly together to create the school we have. It's the complexity of all these that have resulted in the success.
When reading Danielson's Framework for Teaching in 'What makes Good Teaching?', I realised that all of these requirements also hold true as a framework for an effective school and these qualities permeate throughout ours.
It would take hours to distil all that we do but I thought I would share some of our ideas in small chunks in the hope that others may find it useful.
Knowledge of content and pedagogy
Whole school CPD is derived from our school development plan with a few key target areas identified using a range of school evidence. CPD is sourced carefully and time given to launch an initiative or change - giving staff the opportunity to consider and discuss the proposed changes. Teachers trial these changes in their classrooms and report back to year teams, subject leads and SLT through different channels including PPA or staff meetings and informal conversations. This keeps the target area high on our collective agenda. We try to be reactive to our school environment - refining and developing in response to the needs of our pupils. Teachers are able to access support through additional training, joint planning or model lessons to further refine what they do. The target area remains a priority until it has a chance to become embedded into our school practice.
From visiting other schools, we developed an effective model for CPD that shows staff that we value this training time. Once a month, all teachers gather together for a Friday afternoon training session whilst pupils are taught by visitors and other school staff. Pupils are organised into smaller mixed age groups and rotate around different activities as the year progresses; last year these focused on the children learning about different countries. A yearly timetable allocates a slot for most subjects and release time prior to this enables subject leaders to plan for and organise their CPD session in line with the SDP and subject action plan.
Establishing this culture means that we have teachers that understand that we always have more to learn, that actively seek out new knowledge and seek to clarify and refine together in order to provide the knowledge base and consistency required to teach our pupils effectively.
I understand how lucky we are to have the resources to be able to make this possible - the benefits of working in a larger school. But I think the principle of valuing CPD and allowing staff to develop through training, trialling, adaptation and discussion that spreads across the academic year (or in some cases beyond) is a powerful model to adopt.