Raising Standards Together

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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Professional learning


Teachers as researchers


Key contemporary research findings

One of the reasons high-quality research is important is because it helps practitioners understand how children learn and what influences this. Grigg (2015) sums up key research findings, from various disciplines, including:

  • diet: too much fast food has a negative impact on academic ability
  • exercise: learners who are fit tend to do better at multitasking than unfit friends
  • sleep: napping can improve performance
  • emotions: how learners feel influences how well they think as endorphins are released and enhance memory
  • environment: learners will struggle to learn if they feel afraid or uncomfortable
  • attention: learners are better able to focus and retain information if this is presented in small chunks
  • talking: cognitive development is aided when learners talk purposefully about and reflect on their learning.

In terms of effective learning and teaching, we know the following are particularly important in raising standards.

  • High-quality teaching.
  • Effective feedback.
  • Metacognitive strategies. 
  • Strong leadership.
  • Parental engagement. 
  • Early years’ interventions.
  • Teachers’ professional development.

The fluid nature of research means, inevitably, that findings are updated as new insights emerge.

Where can I find the latest educational research?

The development of the internet has meant that we can be overwhelmed by information, including the volume of educational research. Paradoxically, it has become both easier and more difficult to locate relevant, high-quality research. The good news is that many research organisations make their findings accessible to busy practitioners, for example, through abstracts, newsletters and research briefings.

Figure 2.3.1: Scales of research
Figure 2.3.1: Scales of research

Your research may tap into information provided at local and regional levels, for instance, action research projects and through professional learning communities, phase or subject networks. The regional education consortia may be able to suggest colleagues who have undertaken similar research or who might prove useful contacts.  

It is usually a good idea to read beyond the local and regional picture to get a sense of the broader context. Professional bodies, trade unions and subject associations provide a range of information, including surveys, teaching materials, legal advice and responses to government policies. Estyn (external link) publications should be consulted on a regular basis. These include inspection reports and remits, as well training materials and case studies of sector-leading practice.

There are many reputable sources of information at national and international levels, identified in this breakdown of leading research bodies (external link). For instance it might prove useful to consult relevant publications by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in England and Wales, the largest independent provider of research for education in the UK, e.g. Maughan, S., Teeman, D. and Wilson, R. (2012): What leads to positive change in teaching practice? [.pdf] (external link).

An international perspective can be gained through respected bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (external link). The Eurydice Network (external link) provides information on European education systems and policies.

For more detailed research it is worth consulting meta analyses which combine findings from independent studies, e.g. John Hattie’s widely cited works available at Visible Learning (external link) that cover around 53,000 studies of what influences millions of students’ achievement around the world.

In 2013 the Westminster government designated the Education Endowment Foundation and the Sutton Trust as the ‘What Works’ centre for improving education outcomes for school-aged children. Its widely-cited toolkit (external link) summarises what we know about the impact of 34 interventions on learners’ attainment, from digital technology to parental involvement. But as the authors point out, it is not designed to provide quick fixes or guaranteed solutions. Rather, it supports schools in their self-evaluation.  

From such sources we now know a great deal about good educational practices. For example, the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (1999–2009), the largest of its kind in the UK, drew on substantial evidence to compile a list of 10 principles of effective learning and teaching (external link).

Educational research is very wide-ranging and it is easy to become sidetracked, especially when browsing online. Hence it is important to:

  • have a clear focus, i.e. good research question(s)
  • employ an appropriate search strategy, e.g. use of Google Scholar, OpenAthens facilities via a university library
  • know how to search using key terms and ‘subsets’ of online information
  • distinguish between looking for information about available research findings and the findings themselves
  • make use of expertise, e.g. librarians, academic researchers and archivists.

Ethical signpost

The reliability of research findings is often limited by factors such as the size of the sample and the methodology adopted. You should also consider possible bias or misrepresentation in the collating and reporting of data.

Activity 2.3.1

Research is a contentious business. In recent years it has become popular to de-bunk educational myths, which are held by some as ‘established’ truths. Try to find out what reliable research tells us about one or more of the following that matter most to your school.

  • Learning styles.
  • Brain gym.
  • The importance of small class sizes. 
  • The contribution of teacher assistants to improve standards.

These references may help:

  • Adey and Dillon (2012)
  • Christodoulou (2014)
  • Goldacre (2009)
  • Hopkins (2013)
  • MacBeath (2013).
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