Communicating research to support the evolution of teaching

Evidence for the Frontline Conference

Jo Leaver-Cole and Georgina Stevens
Senior Lead Practitioners at Greenford High School

On a Thursday in June, we attended the EFF conference. Evidence for the Frontline is a brokerage service where school staff can post questions and these are answered by academics who provide research based answers. For example, there are lots of questions about setting and boys’ achievement. 

At the conference, the key questions for the day were:

•  How can we mobilize research in schools and classrooms?

•  What support or frameworks could help teachers to use this research?

We took part in facilitated discussions looking at what the evidence tells us about Growth Mindset, Flipping, Literacy, Marking and Maths & Technology.

We then heard presentations from teachers about how their staff have used Evidence for the Frontline and learned about how it has transformed practice by offering research-based answers to practical classroom issues that that they were experiencing. The sort of issues that were discussed were how you get staff using the EEF service, how you demonstrate impact and how it can be integrated into appraisal and CPD.

A panel also spoke about knowledge mobilization research and different models for this in practice. Professor Sandra Nutley spoke about the way in which objects and people span boundaries (2007) and generic features of effective practice to increase research use. She outlined knowledge mobilization archetypes (Davies et al, 2015) to look at the best ways to mobilise research. Dr Chris Brown, from the IoE, presented his model using professional learning communities to disseminate research. James Ricahrdson, from the Education Endowment Front, explained the ways in which they have funded projects to share and promote the use of evidence in order to bridge the gap between academic research and schools. One of the projects they have funded is Alex Quigley’s RISE project and he presented how they have developed the role of Research Leads across twenty schools. Lastly, Oliver Caviglioli spoke about his web based HOW2 model where he designed graphics that give teachers ideas for the classroom; all of these are evidenced by research as effective.

One of the key threads in all discussions was about the school culture in order to support teacher change. This has to be underpinned by a strong trust culture in the school.

If teachers have questions about teaching, learning, assessment or leadership, they can log on to the EEF website and pose questions. For example:

What research is there on strategies to challenge and improve the attainment of the more able pupils? In particular moving A grade students to A*?

There is a fairly recent systematic review undertaken by the Gifted & Talented Review Group and co-ordinated by the EPPI-Centre (2008).

The NFER review in particular is critical of the quality of the evidence, but has a good overview of the different approaches, the evidence and the challenges associated with some of them (such as acceleration or promotion to an older year group). There are challenges with definitions and who is identified as gifted and/or talented (largely how relative to their peer group or whole population), but most approaches involve within class differentiation (either by task or outcome), enrichment where G&T pupils are provided with additional more challenging activities (sometimes as "pull-out" where they miss some work their peers are doing), or acceleration/ promotion where identified pupils move more quickly through the curriculum "compacting" to the extent that they are moved into the class of older learners. The most recent meta-analysis I know of (Steenbergen-Hu and Moon, 2011) confirms the view that acceleration has a positive impact on high-ability learners’ academic achievement (a rather modest effect of 0.18 - suggesting (to me at least) we have yet to find ways to support such learners effectively).

From the conference, we took away ideas about how to get staff using the Evidence for the Frontline website and the ways in which teachers have used the responses to modify or change their own practice. Overwhelmingly, it seemed to be having a positive impact on the learning of the students they taught. It was good to hear from various teaching professionals, from Headteachers to classroom practitioners, about they have implemented these ideas in their schools. We found it useful to hear from academics who are undertaking research at the moment, especially Professor Sandra Nutley, who is exploring knowledge mobilisation.

Jo Leaver-Cole and Georgina Stevens