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.