I attended the Canons Park Teaching School Alliance conference on Saturday 12th November 2016 and here are my reflections on the day.
I must admit I have only dropped my son off here to for children’s parties and I have never been through the doors. It is a large space, well suited to this type of conference. It could be anywhere as it looks like most hotels and conference centres do with the light wood doors, swirly carpets and Molton Brown soaps. However, you get a surprise every now and then as you turn a corner or look out a window to be confronted with the stands of Barnet FC. Come on you …. bees?
A warm welcome from Kev where he reminds us of our task; to mind the gaps between research and evidence, to question our current practices, to work out what evidence is there and what is missing and be more comfortable with ‘not’ knowing.
The ingenious Oliver Caviglioli has made some of his summary notes which I will use as an aide memoir in my reflection. Massive thank you to Oliver for these scribbles of beauty (if I could have one super power it would be to make notes like this!)
Keynote 1. James Richardson (EEF) Embedding research in 24000 schools – limits to the EEF’s endowment and the role of teachers.
As we approach the 5th anniversary of the establishment of the EEF, James walks us through the Foundations top achievements and how its work and focus has changed. I had not realised it was established with such a large endowment of £136 million to boldly go where few researchers had gone before. They have produced 66 reports, carried out 130 project evaluations and 1 in 5 schools have become involved in RCTs. An significant beginning.
Historically, schools have been the passive recipients of university research, but this paradigm is changing with schools taking the role in leading trials. The EEF has three clear roles including summarising the existing body of research (meta- meta analysis), finding gaps and making grants for those areas to be researched and sharing the results. It is sharing the results which has proven to be the most challenging. Whether teachers believe the research depends on many factors including trusting the advocate, the practicable applications and how much effort the change would take. Schools tend to listen to other schools (which could be a great way of sharing the good practice but it has also been a sure fire way of sharing some questionable activities – look how quickly triple marking spread as a solution- to a non-existent problem). The task of research schools will be to carry out this research and help disseminate and communicate the agenda. I think this is a tough challenge as we are asking teachers to change their habits, and most of us are creatures of habit and routine. Information alone does not change peoples behaviour, we need to engage the profession with a space and capacity for reflection.
What seems clear is that the EEF evidence does not always speak to the emerging canon of work in cognitive psychology. The cognitivists have a wide range of lab-based studies but the challenge ahead is for the EEF to use research schools to see if this evidence can be replicated in real-life settings. Current gaps in the research include: marking & feedback, leadership and culture.
One interesting debate was about whether it is important for all teachers to read all the research? Not all are willing to engage with research for a variety of reasons. More must be done at ITT stage, to establish evidence-based practice as a core professional quality. However, I wonder if we are not all engaging with evidence-based practice then how are we meeting our annual 30 hour CPD commitment? Surely, the lions share of this time should be given as time and space to find out about and reflect on current research and evidence?
Best practice would suggest all schools need to have a research advocate who can help bridge the gap and help embed these national debates into everyday practice.
One of the messages I was left with, is just how long it takes to embed research. The EEF would like to become the educational version of NICE, but people at NICE suggest that it can take 15 years from the publication of their research and guidance for this to filter down into day-to-day medical practice, 15 years … I am not sure I have another 15 years in the profession?
Keynote 2: Phillipa Cordingley CUREE
Phillipa introduced me to the work of Viviane Robinson and used a really rich case study to get me to think about the tools we use and how we can evaluate them. Leadership is important here as well as the bravery to use or peer support to deal with the difficult stuff rather than just reinforcing our existing beliefs.
Session 1: David Weston, Phillipa Cordingley, Helene Galdin-Oshea.
The CPD Standards and Professional Learning.
The panel gave us an overview of the work of the CPD Expert Group and the 5 standards of effective CPD. The guidance was music to my ears and I hope signals the end of poor quality professional development. For too long, CPD has been something which is done to teachers rather than a genuine opportunity for personalised, evidence-based enquiry that improves the outcomes in our classrooms. Professional development should not be a ‘done to’ process, teachers need to be engaged with evidence, given time for collaboration and a process which is deeply embedded into the school culture.
Session 2: Candida Gould – Empowering Teachers.
Candida led a thoughtful session reminding us of the why we must engage in research and the benefits to our classrooms and our morale as teachers. She spoke about how the journey into the world of evidence-based practice is full of many stumbles and falls, but it is this not knowing or being uncertain which drives us on. Engaging with research should take us out of our comfort zone. We need to disturb the educational equipoise.
Is it good to do what we have always done? What is the opportunity cost of changing our practice? On balance, what is the evidence for our current practice?
There is much uncertainty in our practices, but we should embrace this and be curious about what we don’t know.
Candida talked about how her school had started to become more evidence-based with the following ingredients:
- A culture of asking why
- A common language to talk about pedagogy and evaluating research.
- Continuous exposure to research, sharing blogs, research bulletin.
- Recommendations for reading linked to performance goals and development projects.
I liked lots of her ideas and began to wonder how evidence-based the schools I have taught in have been. One of the intriguing ideas Candida has left me with is this idea of a T shape learner, where the top represents the skills and the vertical the knowledge. The idea is you cannot deepen the knowledge without developing the skills. I need to find out more as it seems like a sensible way forward in the skills versus content debate.
Session 3. Richard Found – The Sandringham Learning Journal.
A very thought-provoking example of how to change a school culture from Richard Found. The experience of writing and publishing articles for a learning journal has transformed how staff (and students) at Sandringham approach research and professional development. Richard described how the journal had evolved from a rather make shift in-house production to a more professionally produced journal and how the opportunity to have an article published had inspired all sorts of action research and teacher reflections. The journals are a thing of beauty and something Sandringham should be rightly proud. Not all the articles are as ‘evidence-based’ as one would perhaps like but they are a clear statement of intent and a culture of enquiry. We read a few in the session and you cannot help but be impressed with the range and depth of the articles. All staff contribute to this journal, not just teachers so articles from governors and support staff add to the diversity of voices. This has been developed alongside a teaching and learning website www.sandology.co.uk and spin-off versions for the students. However, to work this needs advocates and senior staff commitment. I like it.
Plenary: Dr Gary Jones. Effective Leadership of evidence-based practice.
Admittedly, I had to leave half way through this one as I had a lift organised. However, it seems clear that we need a genuine culture shift in our leadership teams rather than pseudo-enquiry which plays lip-service to this agenda.
Another thoughtful day. My thanks to Keven and Helene for organising. Much needed chicken soup for the teaching soul.