Putting evidence to work

There has been a resurgence in interest in educational research over recent years. Bottom-up movements like #ResearchEd have created a vibrant online community seeking to separate reliable evidence of what works from the dubious fads and fashions that are sometimes presented to teachers.

At a recent ‘What Works’ conference in London[1] a keynote speaker posed the question, “What is evidence good for?” His answer was spot on… “Absolutely nothing… unless it gets into policy or practice!” If we don’t use the evidence we have through practical strategies and tools then our knowledge is redundant.

Finding creative ways to maximise evidence is one reason the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) devised the Enquiring Schools programme. It is an approach to teacher development that puts engaging with research and in enquiry at the heart of a professional learning experience. Alongside the rigour, however, it is also about creativity and learning through doing.

And feedback from many participating schools would suggest that it is working. Dawn Hanwell, a Year 6 teacher from West London says that engaging in enquiry “changed my view of teaching. It made me stop and think about what I’m doing and to look at current research. I’ve been teaching a long time and it’s easy to get locked into a routine. The programme has opened me up to try out new things.”

Trying out new things is part of the attraction. The word research can conjure up concerns over long hours of extensive reading and dissertation writing. In fact, engaging in enquiry, collaborating with colleagues and setting up small-scale projects can be fun and energizing.

Figuring out how, say, peer review will work with your six years olds or sixteen year olds is part of the creative process. An enquiry to try something new and evaluate its impact is part of the professional challenge. Several schools go on to obtain the NFER Research Mark – a national accreditation and award scheme celebrating the energy, creativity and rigour that schools put in to evidence-based learning.

Creating a climate for evidence-informed innovation is not always easy. In a culture of narrow accountability, innovation can be suffocated. Sometimes initiatives are overloaded, leading to feelings of tiredness and skepticism, especially if implementing a policy flies in the face of the evidence base. However, many teachers invest huge time and energy in seeking to improve their impact on students.

We definitely need to do more to put evidence to work. Successfully driving evidence in education should be a lively, collaborative and creative act.

Gareth Mills is head of Enquiring Schools at NFER. Enquiring Schools is a programme using evidence of ‘what works’ to support disciplined innovation in schools.

The Enquiring Schools programme is part of a suite of NFER services, aimed at helping schools engage with research, drive CPD and school improvement. This suite includes the Research Mark, Self-Review Tool and key resources, designed to help schools at all stages of their journey.


[1] The first What Works Global Summit. See http://www.wwgs2016.org/