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Research: it's just finding stuff out about your school.

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
You trust, you must
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Foo Fighters

The aim of this post is to lay out a few ideas that I believe in. Ideas that, if you search through the ten years of this blog, I've always held. The cult of edu-bloggers is an interesting phenomenon as it perhaps has led to many questioning their own practice (a good thing) and throwing out ideas that they have found to work in the past (a bad thing). Read what I think about research in this post from 2014.

Research is simply the act of finding out about stuff in your school. An action that is important to ensure that teaching and learning improves. Since my teacher training days at Durham University, it's always been made clear that educational research is a little pants at times. Trying to generalise and recommend from fairly small studies is problematic. This isn;t to say that I'm against educational research. Indeed, reading it is very useful. It's just that the most important information is often contained in the school. 'Research I've read says we should....' is a common refrain, even when the internal picture in a school is not supporting.

Now, I'm against fads, and much of the support of educational research tends to be directed against fads like brain gym and learning styles.  Strange that, from my experience, teacher training from university has often pushed such things whilst my experience in school has never been to promote such fads. Perhaps I've just been lucky to work in places where the professionalism of teachers has been supported and encouraged. Indeed, the 'research says you must' seems to fly in the face of  encouraging teacher professionalism and our ability to make decisions that improve learning.

I'm not against research and reading before you kick off.  Indeed, I've found that small scale action research has led to informed policy decisions. It's called figuring out if it works in our school.  In addition, I believe that any research should inform policy and action and that any change needs to occur in the lower school to truly reap the benefits.

Two examples are our small scale research projects into disadvantaged students. These were funded through small (TLR 3) 6 month projects and last year focused on attendance.

Extra-curricular activity 

We found that extra curricular activity improved student happiness and their attendance. So, this year one of our aims is to provide extra-curricular provision for those with poor attendance. This is a brutal slog but one where we can see the benefit. In other words, research into our setting has led to policy change.

Reading with parents
This intervention worked with parents and students around reading and improved attendance. Now, this intervention took a lot of time and effort but has provided some useful insights into a current cohort of students that can be used to inform and drive discussion. What is interesting is that whilst attendance increased, there was no real change in progress and reading age. But, the foundations have been set. Should we stop such interventions because there isn't an immediate increase in academic outcomes? My view, and experience, is that we need to continue to do what we feel is right and reap to dividends in a few years time.  After all, even if you believe that education is about the transmission of knowledge, that's pretty difficult to do when the students are off being curious outside of the building.

In both cases, we worked with the lower school in order to form powerful habits. Habits that will enable young people to access the great teaching we have in our school. In both cases, there has been a shift in school policy. A nudge. 

One final example is Grit scores. Now, I don't believe that grit or mindset can be taught. It's all about the ethos and culture of the school. It's about modelling these traits and expecting academic excellence. However, I do believe that schools can create the conditions for growing grit.  After all, I was a shy underperforming boy before getting involved in the cadet services and being put out of my comfort zone. Research last year though suggests that, whilst attendance remains a key barrier, there may be some scope for a long term growing grit programme targeted at the right individuals and their parents. This could ensure that these students gain the necessary knowledge and aspirations to perform well in life changing exams. They may also pick up some strategies that help them in the future. 

I'll put some of the outcomes here (and please realise that I am aware of the problems around the Duckworth tests etc).

Now, please remember that young people are individuals before groups and you're looking at raw data. Unless you know the specific context of our institution and the stories behind the young people involved, it's difficult to get underneath the numbers. For example, the Gritty but underachieving was a very small cohort of students and a number of them had a lot of time off school for operations.

I guess what this post is arguing for is a measured approach to educational research. Like most things in teaching, there is no answer apart from creating the conditions where teaching and learning can be the very best it can be.  In order to do that we need to look within and beyond the classroom because learning is messy and non-linear and all sorts of issues get in the way. I personally believe that we do the most important job that there is, why wouldn't we want to be more informed about what we do and why wouldn't we want to take a systematic, information driven approach. Oh, and when Oftsed come calling, I know that we will be able to justify our decisions and show that we are spending a dwindling supply of public money on the right things. Indeed, in a climate where budgets are being squeezed, why wouldn't schools want to look into the impact of our decisions?


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