Cover story - July 10, 2017 issue

Teachers lack skills to judge research evidence – report    

Most schools are not very effective at using robust research evidence to improve their practice, according to a report commissioned by the Department for Education.

Academics from Sheffield Hallam University, University College London, and Durham University undertook a two-year study that involved interviewing headteachers, teachers, leaders of projects aimed at developing research use, and analysis of the content of a sample of school websites.

The researchers found that most teachers interviewed valued research evidence, but did not feel confident in engaging with research directly, or feel able to judge its quality. They relied on senior leaders and organisations like the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to interpret it for them.

Most were unlikely to be convinced by research evidence on its own. They wanted to have it backed up by observing the impact themselves or by hearing trusted colleagues discuss how it had improved their practice and outcomes for young people.

There was limited evidence of teachers ‘directly importing’ research findings to change their practice. More typically, research informed thinking and led, at least in the more engaged schools, to experimenting, testing out, and trialling new approaches in more or less systematic ways.

Among the recommendations to the DfE in the report are:

● Find ways to strengthen school partnerships with higher education institutions (HEIs). This would include support for HEIs to help schools understand and apply rigorous evaluation methods.

● Review the place of research and awareness of research methods in Initial Teacher Education, especially in school based training. School leaders and teachers should be encouraged to draw on the new postgraduate loans funding to engage in Masters degrees that include a strong focus on strategies for leading evidence-informed practice.

● Expand the role of the EEF in developing and disseminating evidence-informed teaching.

● Aim to embed research evidence in the professional discourse and practice of teaching through production of a new peer review journal, and update the professional standards for leaders and teachers to encourage engagement with research evidence.

● Give Teaching Schools a stronger role in research and development.

Evidence-informed teaching: an evaluation of progress in England:


Cover story - July 3, 2017 issue

Learning tools: separating the ‘good’ from the ‘sounds good’    

Innovations in teaching are usually promoted by appealing to the emotions of teachers, rather than by citing evidence, a study has found.

Within education, many ideas, practices and products are routinely promoted as useful innovations for improving education practice and providing more effective learning. Innovations come in many forms, such as software applications, open source courseware, online learning platforms, and web 2.0 technologies [blogs, wikis, video sharing services, and social media sites].

The media plays an important role spreading educational ideas. The internet and social media allow innovations to be promoted and shared with and between teachers. But, for teachers, there is the difficult challenge of knowing how to sift through this material and separate innovations that hold value for their classroom from those that have simply gained wide appeal.

Nathalie Carrier of the University of Toronto examined how different types of innovation in teaching were promoted through mass professional and social media, including journal articles (education magazines and trade publications), mainstream newspapers and online blog posts. The purpose of the study was to explore the persuasion techniques used. She wanted to know: How are popular education innovations promoted in the media? What contributes to the appeal of these innovations? What is the role of evidence in this process?

She found that the language used to promote the innovations was often emotive or descriptive and rarely cited research evidence. Documents tended to emphasise the appeal and credibility of innovations rather than any evidence that supported, or did not support, them.

When evidence was cited, it was usually anecdotal or related to personal experiences, rather than providing robust measurement. When measurement was provided, it tended not to measure the innovation itself, but instead provided general statistics about the problems that the innovation sought to address.

Writing on, Carrier wrote: ‘The study demonstrates the great importance of practitioners developing the evaluative skills to distinguish evidence-based innovations that are effective and of real value from those that simply sound or look good.’

How educational ideas catch on: the promotion of popular education innovations and the role of evidence, published by the NFER.